The core of the Clippers — DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford — is in its fourth season together, long enough for players to realize time may be running out in their quest to win a championship or to get past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Redick will be a free agent after this season. Griffin and Paul are signed through 2017-2018, but both have opt-out clauses that would allow them to become free agents this summer. Jordan and Crawford are signed through 2018-2019, but Crawford is 37.
"I think the more time you're together, the more impatient you kind of become," Crawford said Wednesday. "You feel like time is kind of passing by."
Sunday's fourth-quarter collapse, in which the Clippers blew an 18-point lead with a little more than five minutes left and lost to Sacramento, 98-97, could put some doubt in the mind of any team, even one that thinks it can compete with the NBA's best when it's playing to its potential.
How rare was the meltdown? According to ESPN Stats & Information, entering Sunday, NBA teams were 6,746-1 over the past 20 seasons when leading by at least 18 points in the final five minutes.
"The [sky] is not falling," Crawford said. "We lost a bad game, we've been kind of uneven, inconsistent. … but we still have a strong belief in our team."
Coach Doc Rivers can attest to that.
"I think sometimes they believe too much, and I'm not kidding," he said. "This team has a strong inner belief in how good they are. I sometimes wonder if that's good or bad. Against good teams, it's good, but we've lost a lot of games this year that we should have won."
Four months removed from an NBA-best 14-2 start, the Clippers have been highly inconsistent, especially on defense, since the All-Star break.
Their best hope now is to edge out Utah for the fourth seed in the Western Conference and home-court advantage in the first round. Golden State, San Antonio and Houston are clearly the class of the West.
"I think we're very confident, but there's a different swagger that teams like Golden State and Cleveland have, teams that advance far every year," guard Austin Rivers said. "We have a bunch of guys who want to get there, and who are close … we're not there yet, but we can get there."
The Clippers have six games left, including one at San Antonio and one at Houston, to build some momentum for the postseason.
"We feel that when the playoffs start, we'll be all-the-way locked in, but you don't want to miss any steps," Crawford said. "We still have to continue to build these last two weeks of the season."
Crawford became became the 68th layer in NBA history to score 18,000 points when he reached the milestone in Sunday's loss.
Crawford is one of eight active players with at least 18,000 points and 4,000 assists, and he is the only player to reach those totals while starting fewer than 500 games. He and Eddie Johnson are the only players since 1983-84 to score 18,000 points, with at least 9,000 of them coming as a reserve.
"Every night he breaks a record, it feels like," Doc Rivers said. "He's had a spectacular career, and when you think about it, I'm gonna guess that 98% of his points have been off the bench. It's amazing how he scores."