Shai Gilgeous-Alexander began putting a second consecutive Clippers loss behind him Friday night at his locker by slipping on a white T-shirt. Four words decorated its back: “Better days are coming.”
The Clippers sure hope so. After posting the NBA’s best record in March, the Clippers have cooled off in April.
A 32-point loss to Houston on Wednesday was followed by a stunning 122-117 defeat Friday against the short-handed Lakers — and the skid could continue.
The Clippers close the regular season with matchups against Golden State, the Western Conference’s top playoff seed, and fifth-place Utah, which is 2 1/2 games ahead of the Clippers. Since a 35-point home loss on March 23, the Warriors have appeared to round into playoff form by going 6-1 while winning by an average margin of 17.8 points. Utah is 2-0 this season against the Clippers.
The Clippers are jostling with San Antonio and Oklahoma City for postseason seeding and will finish somewhere between sixth and eighth. The Clippers have a 34% chance of staying sixth, a 36% chance of finishing seventh and a 30% chance of finishing eighth, according to probabilities calculated by playoffstatus.com. San Antonio would win a three-way tie, followed by the Clippers and Thunder.
Only days ago the Clippers (47-33) believed they’d put themselves in position to miss facing Golden State (55-24) and Denver in the first round. Oakland has been a historically difficult place for the Clippers, who have lost 10 of their last 11 games at Oracle Arena dating to 2014.
Before the Clippers worry about beating their first-round postseason opponent, however, they are first considering how to fix themselves.
“We just aren’t matching the level of intensity that the teams are coming and playing with,” reserve Lou Williams said. “That’s my opinion.
“We have a lot of first-time [playoff] guys. Once we clinched we kind of took our foot off the gas a little bit and that comes with experience. I think myself and [forward Danilo Gallinari] need to try and do a better job to get the message across to those guys that they have to finish the season out as strong as they can. It’s happened, that’s the reality and we have to get out of it.”
Williams’ review of the Clippers’ unfocused play mirrored that of his coach. Doc Rivers was steadfast that “we’ll be ready” for the playoffs but was also frustrated with his team’s lack of intensity for a second consecutive game, and its inability to find better shot attempts by moving the ball. He judged the latter by the box score, seeing that shooting guard Landry Shamet, who operates best running off of screens and awaiting passes, attempted only three shots.
“When Shamet only has three attempts, it screams that the ball is not moving,” Rivers said.
“A lot of it’s on me,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who scored 20 points. “Just playing the right way and trying to do so every possession. Not get caught up in being competitive and trying to go at someone one-on-one.”
Williams called the loss to Houston “humbling,” and Gilgeous-Alexander used the same word to encapsulate the defeat to the Lakers. But like his T-shirt, the rookie point guard settled on an optimistic outlook, saying he was not worried that unfocused losses — the Clippers’ first consecutive defeats since Jan. 28-31 — have come so close to the postseason.
“Honestly, I’d rather it happen now than in the playoffs,” he said. “I think it’s good for us.”
AT GOLDEN STATE
When: 5:30 p.m., Sunday.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 1150, 1330.