There’s a humility that’s part of the Clippers’ charm this season.
Ask coach Doc Rivers about looking into the future, about trying to get everything in order for the playoffs, about taking the foot off the gas pedal, and he’s had the same answer all season.
“We’re not good enough.”
The latest version of this happened after the Clippers beat the Indiana Pacers 115-109 Tuesday night at Staples Center. In his postgame press conference, Rivers closed things by taking questions from a group of student journalists.
One asked who, if anyone, the Clippers would like to play in the first round of the postseason.
“We’re not good enough to pick who we want to play,” Rivers said.
The teams that are good enough — teams like the Warriors — are allowed to have stronger preferences, and Tuesday night, guard Klay Thompson told reporters his choice would be the Clippers, keeping the Warriors close to home on their first steps towards another championship.
It makes sense. The Clippers are young, starting three players younger than 22 (Ivica Zubac just celebrated his 22nd birthday Monday). They don’t have a star in the way other potential first-round opponents do. They dealt their top scorer, Tobias Harris, in a deal that set them up for the future. And, more than any of the other seven teams headed for the postseason, the Clippers are the most surprising entrant.
Of course a team would want to play them. But is it really that wise?
Since the All-Star break, as they’ve pushed for the postseason, the Clippers have been better than they were with Harris. Through Tuesday, they owned the second-best record in the NBA since the break, 9-3, trailing only the 12-2 Houston Rockets.
The record has been bolstered by a stretch of eight-straight games at Staples Center — the Clippers won seven. Still, four of those wins came over likely playoff teams.
“It was nice that we were able to do that,” River said. “And those were tough teams. This stretch that we just went through, those were good teams that came through here.”
And the Clippers were better than them.
A combination of five Clippers wins and Sacramento losses will clinch the Clippers a playoff berth, locking in at least the No. 8 seed. If the team can keep winning, the Clippers could keep on climbing. Their schedule is favorable, with five of their next six games against teams with losing records.
But it’s not like they’re looking at the good position they’re in. The Clippers, remember, aren’t good enough for that.