The Clippers have won nine consecutive games, the last eight without All-Star forward Blake Griffin.
They’ve tightened their defense, improved their three-point shooting and figured out which reserves work best as part of their second unit.
Something they haven’t done: beat one of the NBA’s top teams.
The Clippers are a combined 0-6 against the top four teams in the Western and Eastern conferences, and even their top triumph involved an asterisk of sorts. A victory over fifth-place Dallas came on a night the Mavericks were missing starters Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons.
Some might call the Clippers versus the Miami Heat on Wednesday night at Staples Center a statement game, though Clippers Coach Doc Rivers muffled the idea of attaching extra significance to any victory in the regular season.
Rivers’ point played out to an extent last season. The Clippers went a combined 7-13 against the top four teams in each conference and it didn’t hurt them during a crisply played victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.
The Clippers have certainly heard the more recent chatter that they haven’t beaten anyone despite all their winning the last few weeks. Their season-high winning streak was built entirely against teams that currently have losing records, though the Charlotte Hornets were four games above .500 when the teams played late last month.
Can the Clippers really be faulted for capitalizing on a soft pocket of their schedule?
“People keep focusing on that,” Clippers guard Austin Rivers said. “We’re just playing who is in front of us. We don’t pick our schedule. People are like, ‘You’ve won nine in a row, but who did you play?’ We played who we played.”
“D’s been playing with an unbelievable bounce,” Paul said of the 33-year-old Wade, who has shelved the maintenance plan from recent seasons, missing only one game.
The Clippers could have a notable absence Wednesday if center DeAndre Jordan does not sufficiently recover from the illness that forced him to miss practice Tuesday. Jordan is listed as questionable, putting the NBA’s longest active streak of 360 consecutive games played in jeopardy.
Miami center Hassan Whiteside is also questionable because of a knee injury that kept him out of the Heat’s 111-103 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday.
Something to watch Wednesday will be how the Clippers fare in the final minutes. They held fourth-quarter leads against San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Golden State (twice) before losing each game against the top contenders in the West.
“At the end of the day,” Rivers said, “you have to try to win as many games and if you’re going to do that, you’re going to eventually beat someone good.”
Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute said he had reached a financial settlement with the Sacramento Kings over the team’s voiding his contract last summer because of a disputed physical that he failed.
The physical pinpointed concerns about Mbah a Moute’s right shoulder, but he contended there was no issue. He later signed with the Clippers and has not missed a game while becoming a regular in the starting lineup.
The Kings declined to comment. Mbah a Moute would not disclose the amount of the settlement but joked that it was “enough to get a good burger at In-N-Out.”
The Clippers play the Kings on Saturday at Staples Center.
CLIPPERS VS. MIAMI HEAT
When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. PST.
Where: Staples Center.
On the air: TV: ESPN, Prime; Radio: 980, 1330.
Record vs. Heat (2014-15): 1-1.
Update: Miami has lost three of its last four games, including a 111-103 setback Monday against the Golden State Warriors that came with center Hassan Whiteside sidelined by a knee injury. The Heat usually relies on balanced scoring, with all five starters and reserve Gerald Green averaging double figures.