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Clippers can look back as they glance ahead

Clippers can look back as they glance ahead
Clippers' Cole Aldrich, right, grabs a rebound in front of Phoenix Suns' Alex Len during the first half of onWednesday. (Ross D. Franklin / AP)

It was a mantra born in October, during a meaningless exhibition game that should have been forgotten by the time the Clippers reached the Staples Center loading dock on their way home.

Remember the Portland Trail Blazers!

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The Clippers had scrubbed away a 35-point deficit that night, with Paul Pierce looking like a veteran who was 38 going on his prime. He made four three-pointers in the fourth quarter and vowed afterward that the game would hold resonance in what might be his final pursuit of an NBA championship.

"Whenever we get down throughout the year," Pierce said at the time, "I'm going to go back and refer to this game."

Reminders won't be necessary anymore. Portland will be the Clippers' opponent in the first round of the playoffs starting with Game 1 on Sunday night at Staples Center after the Trail Blazers clinched fifth place in the Western Conference Wednesday night with a victory over the Denver Nuggets.

Meanwhile, a Clippers lineup of mostly second-stringers succumbed to the Phoenix Suns, 114-105, in their regular-season finale at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Clippers (53-29) kept four of their five regular starters home in Los Angeles to rest.

The matchup between the Clippers and Trail Blazers holds a lot more intrigue than a rematch of teams that engaged in one mildly memorable preseason game.

Portland General Manager Neil Olshey was a longtime Clippers executive who rose from player development coach to director of basketball operations, the position he held when he made the most important move in team history: acquiring Chris Paul to pair with Blake Griffin.

Trail Blazers backup center Chris Kaman, one of the players involved in the Paul trade, was linked with the Clippers point guard again last season when he shoved Paul after sustaining a blow to his groin area.

There was more controversy in January when Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum was inadvertently left off the active list and couldn't play against the Clippers. Reports from the Portland media suggested Clippers Coach Doc Rivers could have allowed McCollum to play but refused. Those accounts were untrue, according to an NBA official familiar with the situation.

"We didn't make a mistake," Rivers said. "That was on Neil Olshey and their whole group. But for us, we're just trying to play basketball. We'll let y'all do all the other stuff but there's no problems there, at least on my end."

Rivers and Portland counterpart Terry Stotts also had a testy exchange in that preseason game. Trail Blazers forward Ed Davis suggested a playoff series between the teams could get heated.

"With Coach and Doc getting into it ... Coach wants to you-know-what," Davis told reporters Monday. "We want to beat them. I wouldn't necessarily say it's a rivalry, but it can become that. In a seven-game series, things can get ugly."

The Clippers' main worry will be the Trail Blazers' backcourt of Damian Lillard and McCollum. Lillard has struggled in his career against Paul and the Clippers, his averages of 16.2 points, 5.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game on 38.7% shooting comparing unfavorably with career averages of 21.4 points, 6.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds on 42.6% shooting.

"He is the head of the snake, so we have to focus on him," Clippers guard Austin Rivers said. "If we take him out, we will win the series."

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter: @latbbolch

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