Can these be the Clippers?
For the last three seasons, the Clippers have been all but eliminated from the playoffs by the All-Star break.
But not this year.
The Clippers won for the fourth time in their last five games, defeating the Golden State Warriors, 110-98, Saturday night before an announced 7,767 at the Sports Arena.
“We had a goal, a three-year plan or a five-year plan and we’re getting there, slowly but surely,” Clipper forward Loy Vaught said.
If the season ended today, the Clippers would edge the Warriors for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth. The Clippers (18-25) have won two of three games from Golden State (17-28) this season.
“I’m too busy to be surprised,” Clipper Coach Bill Fitch said. “I’m just glad that the guys are starting to pick it up and learning how to win.”
The Clippers shot a season-high 70.6% in the third quarter and led, 84-74, going into the fourth quarter.
But the Clippers, who squandered a 21-point lead in their last game, made it interesting.
With the Clippers leading 107-98, swingman Eric Piatkowski gave the Warriors the ball when he was called for an offensive foul with 1:30 remaining.
That prompted Fitch to rip off his jacket. But the Warriors failed to capitalize when they were called for a five-second violation.
“The difference between this game and the last game was that we had that lead and we managed to look like we knew what to do with it,” Fitch said.
Vaught, who shot 51.5% from the field in the first six years of his NBA career, shot 31.5% in his first nine games this season.
But Vaught, who averaged 23.6 points in his last three games going into the Warrior game, has turned it around.
Vaught had 25 points and 13 rebounds and made 11 of 17 shots as the Clippers shot a season-high 60%.
“Loy has had two back-to-back great games,” Fitch said of Vaught, who had 28 points and 11 rebounds in his last game. “It’s the bottom of the stove, you figure that one out. You know they called the bottom of the old coal stoves where the ashes came through, the grate. . . . he had a great game. “
Vaught made eight of 12 shots and had 16 points and seven rebounds in the first half as the Clippers took a 53-44 halftime lead.
“I’m just taking a very focused approach to the game right now,” Vaught said. “I’m just feeling good, the basket looks big right now, so I’m trying to change my mind-set from a rebounder to more of a scoring threat.”
Swingman Charles Outlaw, Lamond Murray and Piatkowski also played key roles as the Clipper reserves outscored their Warrior counterparts, 35-12.
Piatkowski made four of seven shots, including two three-point shots, and had 12 points, while Outlaw had nine points and four rebounds and Murray had seven points, three rebounds and two assists.
Warrior guard Latrell Sprewell, named to the All-Star team for the third time, scored 40 points.