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Clippers' slide might put them back in Bay Area soon to open playoffs against Warriors

Clippers' slide might put them back in Bay Area soon to open playoffs against Warriors
Clippers coach Doc Rivers, center, guard Landry Shamet, left, and center Montrezl Harrell have an animated conversation Sunday. (Ben Margot / Associated Press)

This was a celebration.

The Oakland Symphony played Queen’s “We Are the Champions” while highlights of the Warriors’ three most recent NBA championships played on the scoreboard overhead. It was the finale of a halftime show honoring the team’s history in Oracle Arena, a history that was being honored Sunday evening in the Warriors’ final scheduled game at their home for the last 47 years.

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It would’ve been a real moment – except everyone knows this wasn’t a real goodbye.

“Are they not going to make the playoffs?” Clippers coach Doc Rivers cracked. “I hope they don’t. That would be phenomenal.”

Golden State coach Steve Kerr couldn’t even muster any fake sentiment when asked about his drive to work Sunday for the “finale.”

The Warriors will, of course, be in the playoffs. And if they’re able to move across the Bay next season to San Francisco with another championship banner, they’ll have played at least eight more games at Oracle before locking the door and turning out the lights.

And, it’s fairly likely that the Clippers will get a few more looks at Oracle Arena, too.

After losing 131-104 Sunday to the Warriors, it’s much more likely that the Clippers open the postseason in Oakland than it was a week ago. Three straight losses have the Clippers vying with the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs for the worst-case scenario for a winning team in the West — a first-round series with the defending champs.

After joking about how great it would be if the Warriors would be excluded for the postseason, Rivers said he actually wants his team to come through Oakland — just not right away.

“If you want to win, you've got to play somebody at some point. There will be no dodging,” he said. “I just want to be healthy and playing great in the playoffs. Do we want to play the Warriors in the playoffs? Yes. Do we want to do it in the first round? Probably not.

“But, you've got to take it when you get it.”

With three teams possibly headed for an end-of-the-season tie at the bottom of the playoff standings, the Clippers end up back in Oracle for the first round in nearly half of the possible scenarios still left to play out.

Combinations of everything that can happen get confusing, but here’s the gist: a loss to Utah on Wednesday at Staples Center almost certainly earns the Clippers a playoff series with the Warriors. A win Wednesday gives them the best chance of avoiding the defending champs early.

Golden State players haven’t been shy in saying that the Clippers are their preferred opponent — even if it’s not for the reasons you might think. While the teams were once hated rivals, those embers have mostly been smothered.

Now, it’s about travel times.

(The Clippers) are a good basketball team. They play well together, kind of all year, even with them trading Tobias (Harris). They’ve continued to keep it together. They know their roles, and they play their roles well,” Green said. “If that’s the team we match up with in the first round, we just have to be ready to accept the challenge.

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“And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a pretty close flight.”

Geographic preferences aside, a series against the Clippers would seemingly be the easiest for Golden State. The Clippers don’t have anyone at the level of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge or DeMar DeRozan.

They certainly look like the easiest speed bump on the road to round two.

The Clippers would like to prove the Warriors wrong, that they are talented enough and that they are tough enough. They’ve beaten good teams throughout the season; they believe they can still do it now.

They just would prefer to not have to prove it next weekend when the playoffs begin.

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