One must-win game is in the books for the Clippers, a 113-110 victory over the San Antonio Spurs. Four more must-win games are ahead for the injury-plagued team that still has a chance of reaching the Western Conference playoffs.
The Clippers comprehend that finishing the string with victories doesn't guarantee them a place in the postseason. They'll need at least two teams ahead of them to lose some games.
Each Clippers win, though, puts increased pressure on the other contending teams in the topsy-turvy, pressure-packed West, where the fourth through 10th place teams are separated by three games and each have at least two games against teams bound for the playoffs or still with hopes of getting there.
"Ultimately, it's on us," guard Austin Rivers said. "We put ourselves in this position. I wish we were six games in the playoffs and these games didn't matter like that. But the fact of the matter is, everybody in the West is fighting right now, four through 10. It is what is. We're all competing so we got to be perfect."
The Clippers survived their first big test during this final stretch by rallying from 19 points down to stun the Spurs on Tuesday night at Staples Center. The Clippers easily could have given in when they got down by nearly 20 points to San Antonio, which fell to fifth in the West with the loss.
But as they have done against other postseason-bound or contending teams in the final weeks of the season, the Clippers dug down and kept their playoff dreams from fading when Lou Williams scored 15 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and Rivers made a critical three-pointer to help deliver the win.
"Now we have to go 4-0," Rivers said late Tuesday night. "So it doesn't matter what run a team goes on. If we quit, we know we're quitting on the year. So it's just different at this point. If we quit on the game, then we're telling ourselves that we're probably not going to the playoffs. So, at this point, there is no quit in us."
The Clippers' next test is against the rapidly rising Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City on Thursday night. The Clippers play every other day until the season ends next Wednesday, the final three at home against the ninth-place Denver Nuggets, eighth-place New Orleans Pelicans and Lakers.
The Jazz, who play two other playoff contenders aside from the Clippers, have won seven of their last 10 games to work their way into fourth place in the West.
"All of our games are super important," said forward Tobias Harris, who led the Clippers with 31 points on 11-of-19 shooting Tuesday. "At the end of the day, this is a good time for the growth of the players, for the growth of the team."
The development of two front-line players helped deliver the victory Tuesday.
Boban Marjonovic, the 7-foot-3 reserve center acquired from Detroit along with Harris and injured guard Avery Bradley in the Blake Griffin trade, had eight points without making a basket, connecting on all but two of his 10 free throws. Marjanovic also had four rebounds, three of them offensive, and two assists in 11 minutes.
Reserve forward Montrezl Harrell produced 16 points and eight rebounds in 26 minutes. He was rewarded for his efforts by playing all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter, when the Clippers outscored the Spurs, 41-27.
"We're going to see what we're made of. Tonight was a good night to stay mentally focused and just keep on fighting," Harris said after the win Tuesday. "Every single game is going to be a dogfight. This is what we talk about when we say meaningful games. Every game is meaningful, but these are extra meaningful. We just got to keep on fighting, keep on going."
The Nuggets (43-35) have the toughest task with four games against playoff contenders or postseason-bound teams. The Pelicans (44-34) face three like the Clippers (42-36) and Jazz (45-33) while the Spurs (45-34), Thunder (45-34) and Timberwolves (44-34) each play two.
First, though, the Clippers have to take care of their own business by beating Utah. It has not been easy to get to this point after losing to injury Patrick Beverly, Chris Paul's replacement at point guard, at the beginning of the season as well as starting forward Danilo Gallinari, reserve point guard Milos Teodosic and Bradley, a standout two-way guard, for stretches this season.
"This is the ultimate competitive challenge," Rivers said. "It's not going to be easy. We had games like tonight where things aren't going well and we're like, 'Man, is this it?' The answer is, 'No!' You just got to keep competing. At the end of the day, we just got to give it our best and compete together."
CLIPPERS AT UTAH JAZZ
When: 6 p.m., Thursday
On the air: TV — Prime Ticket; Radio — 570, 1330.
Update: The Jazz average 103.8 points a game, ranking 20th in the NBA in scoring. But the Jazz give up only 100.2 points a game, tied for the second east in the league.