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Clippers continue to show their sights are set on making playoffs

Clippers continue to show their sights are set on making playoffs
Clippers guard Landry Shamet looks to pass after having his drive cut off by Memphis Grizzlies guards Tyler Dorsey (22) and Mike Conley on Friday night in Memphis. (Brandon Dill / Associated Press)

If you didn’t believe Doc Rivers when he said it after the trade deadline and if you weren’t sure Steve Ballmer was telling the truth during a national television appearance Thursday night, you got proof on Friday.

It was right there on the box score.

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Clippers rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a key of a piece of the Clippers’ future as well as on the current roster, played 15 minutes and 21 seconds — half as much as veteran guards Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams — in the team’s 112-106 win.

Even after trading Tobias Harris in a package that netted the team multiple first-round selections, the Clippers are committed to making a playoff push. They were tied for the seventh playoff spot in the Western Conference entering Saturday’s games.

Before Friday’s win, Rivers again laid out his vision for the rest of the season and the importance of remaining competitive. A trip to the postseason, he said, could be valuable to the likes of Gilgeous-Alexander and the rest of the team’s young players.

It’s another way a young player can be developed in addition to a regular dose of minutes.

“I think the race, alone, would be a learning tool. If we can make it and they get in, you can’t have a better teacher than the playoffs,” Rivers said. “You can talk about the playoffs all you want, but it’s a different beast. For our young guys, they will be overwhelmed.”

That’s exactly what the Clippers want, their young players to be challenged now so that they‘re not overwhelmed in those positions in the future.

For the team’s veterans, the deadline deals for rookie Landry Shamet and third-year center Ivica Zubac didn’t signal surrender, especially when the Clippers were also able to acquire veterans JaMychal Green and Garrett Temple, who snatched up some of the minutes that could’ve gone to Gilgeous-Alexander or rookie Jerome Robinson on Friday night.

“I think our whole team looked at it like we still had a fighting chance,” Montrezl Harrell said.

The Clippers could be content with falling out of the playoffs and hanging on to their 2019 first-round pick, which gets sent to Boston if the Clippers make the playoffs. But that’s not the message sent by Ballmer.

“We just need to make the playoffs,” Ballmer said on TNT’s Inside the NBA on Thursday. “… Boom. Hardcore. Make the playoffs. That’s what we’re about.”

Things like reducing minutes for part of the franchise’s future, like the Clippers did with Gilgeous-Alexander, show their eyes are on the present.

“The team is a very good team,” forward Danilo Gallinari said. “We got some new guys who can really play and we really want to win and go to the playoffs. That goal doesn’t change.”

Nope, it hasn’t, even if the roster has.

“This is our team,” Harrell said. “This is what we have, and we still have tough guys in here. … All that this is about us running to the finish line and racking up wins.”

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UP NEXT

AT DENVER

When: 2 p.m. PST, Sunday.

On Air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570, 1330.

Update: The Nuggets have won three in a row after a 114-104 victory at Dallas on Friday. Denver, which is led by 7-foot All-Star center Nikola Jokic, has the best record at home in the NBA this season at 25-4. Jokic has 12 triple-doubles, second best in the NBA this season.

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