They are seven words Doc Rivers said he would utter at some point, though he wasn’t sure when.
Maybe the Clippers coach will break them out before the series opener, or if his team falls into a lengthy in-game rut, or if he needs something to tell his players in hopes of rallying from a halftime deficit.
“No one thinks you’re going to win.”
It’s true. Even though the third-seeded Clippers finished with one more victory than sixth-seeded San Antonio, it’s the Spurs who are the consensus pick to win the first-round playoff series that starts Sunday night at Staples Center.
The sports betting website Bovada gave the Spurs 2-to-1 odds to win the Western Conference title. The Clippers? Try 9-1.
It seems all those years of early playoff exits and Donald Sterling silliness are hard to shake, particularly when pitted against the Spurs’ five NBA titles and Mt. Rushmore-like trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
“According to pretty much every single poll,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin said, “we’re supposed to lose.”
That’s something neither team in the series has done much of lately. The Clippers enter having won seven consecutive games and 14 of their last 15. The Spurs have won 21 of their last 25 games.
One of those streaks is going to skew in the other direction fairly quickly.
Here’s a closer look at the Clippers-Spurs matchup:
GUARDS: Chris Paul and J.J. Redick versus Parker and Danny Green. Paul is the leader of the NBA’s most efficient offense and the only player in the league this season to average at least 19 points, 10 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals. Redick made a franchise-record 200 three-pointers while shooting a career-high 43.7% from beyond the arc. Green nearly matched that total for the Spurs, making a franchise-record 191 three-pointers while shooting 41.8% from long range. Parker scored at least 20 points 18 times during a somewhat erratic season. EDGE: Clippers.
FORWARDS: Griffin and Matt Barnes versus Duncan and Kawhi Leonard. Griffin made a career-best 40.3% of his midrange jumpers this season while attacking the basket with his usual vigor. Barnes is the Clippers’ top perimeter defender and is also a three-point-shooting threat. The ageless Duncan is the only player in league history to average 13 points and nine rebounds at age 38. All you need to know about Leonard is the Spurs were 46-18 with him in the lineup. EDGE: Spurs.
CENTER: DeAndre Jordan versus Aron Baynes. Baynes is expected to start in place of the injured Tiago Splitter, who is out for at least the series opener with tightness in his right calf. Jordan had a second consecutive career year, leading the NBA in rebounds (15.0) and field-goal percentage (.710) while averaging a career-high 11.5 points. Baynes came on strong late in the season, averaging 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds over his last five games. EDGE: Clippers.
BENCH: The Clippers have one of the worst benches in the league with little of substance beyond sixth man Jamal Crawford, who has made only 10 of 36 shots (27.8%) since returning from a five-week absence caused by a bruised right calf. The Spurs’ reserves averaged 41.0 points a game, the second-highest total in the league, and regularly receive step-up performances from Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills. EDGE: Spurs.
COACHES: Rivers against Gregg Popovich. Rivers won an NBA title with Boston in 2008 and has logged 70 playoff victories, numbers that seem impressive until you consider Popovich’s five titles and 149 playoff victories. EDGE: Spurs.
INTANGIBLES: The Clippers have home-court advantage, which is significant considering they went 30-11 this season at Staples Center. They also may be secretly hoping Popovich employs the hack-a-Jordan strategy, considering the Clippers have gone 15-2 since 2013 in games in which Jordan has shot at least 12 free throws.
PICK: Clippers in seven games.