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Clippers’ title aspirations remain the same but the path will be different

Clippers coach Doc Rivers argues a call on the sideline.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers has been impressed with how his players have handled the coronavirus shutdown.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

From the moment this NBA season began, the Clippers’ expectation was to play longer than any other team in the franchise’s previous 49 seasons.

That goal remains on track — in ways they never could have expected in training camp.

On what would have been the day of the first game of the NBA Finals had the season not been interrupted by the coronavirus outbreak, the NBA’s Board of Governors on Thursday approved a return-to-play plan that will send 22 of its 30 teams to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., for games beginning July 31. The new Finals could play until a Game 7 on Oct. 12 — ending about four months later than usual.

The Clippers still envision themselves advancing to the championship round for the first time in playoff history. At the time of their game on March 10, the team was in second place in the Western Conference after winning seven of its last eight games. The strong stretch was the result of finally displaying the consistency the roster had lacked for much of the season because of injuries.

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Coach Doc Rivers has said that he has been impressed by players’ attitudes amid the hiatus, and about 12 of the team’s 17 players, including those on two-way contracts, have used the team’s practice facility since it opened May 18 for individual workouts.

If the goal of a championship remains the same, some things about the restarted season will look quite different.

To reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections, the league is expected to allow teams to bring about 35 people, including players, to Walt Disney World, where teams will stay mostly secluded at a hotel and the grounds of ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex.

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For the Clippers, that would mean paring down travel parties that this season sometimes included 45 staffers — a reflection of the team’s investment in additional medical and training personnel last summer. The group sent to Orlando would draw almost exclusively from the team’s coaching, performance and medical staffs because of their direct work with players. Others including those who help broadcast the team’s local games on Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket, including commentators, are expected to work remotely from Los Angeles.

Teams are expected to begin full team practices in late June and arrive in Orlando either one or two weeks later, according to a person not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. There is a possibility that teams could scrimmage before the July 31 start, though it has yet to be decided, the person said.

A closer look at the moving parts in the NBA’s plan to resume its season, including the standings and new format.

Speaking Thursday evening on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” show, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver suggested the league could implement rules that could keep coaches away from the sideline if they are at higher risk for COVID-19. According to the CDC, eight out of 10 deaths related to the coronavirus in the U.S. have been in adults 65 or older. Clippers assistant Armond Hill is 67, but whether the league will follow through with such restrictions is unknown. Rick Carlisle, the coaches association president, told ESPN late Thursday that Silver told him he had “jumped the gun” with his public comments.

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It’s far from the only detail teams are waiting to receive more information about. Teams know they will play eight games before the postseason begins, but have yet to be told their exact schedule. More information is expected through the weekend, after the National Basketball Players Assn. votes Friday on the NBA-approved plan.


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