Clippers Enjoy Pause for Cause

And then, the Clippers rested.

They deserved time off, Coach Mike Dunleavy said, after winning their first playoff series in 30 years, and first in California, so he canceled practice Tuesday.

But break time is over.

The Clippers return to the Spectrum health club in El Segundo today, preparing for the biggest moment in franchise history: Facing the rival Lakers or Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals.

The Clippers have reached a level few in Los Angeles, or those in the Clipper organization, believed they could, but here they are.

They did their part to participate in the NBA's first intra-city postseason series, and the rest is up to the Lakers, who lead the Suns, 3-2, in that best-of-seven first-round series.

The Lakers need only one more victory to complete the in-house playoff showdown, and the Clippers said they would be watching closely.

"We know what those guys can do, and we have a lot of respect for them," point guard and co-captain Sam Cassell said. "But we know what our basketball team can do too, and everybody sees it now.

"We know what we've done together to change the way people look at the Clippers. It's like I've been saying all year: This isn't the same old Clippers."

The Denver Nuggets could attest to that.

The Clippers won their first-round series, 4-1, with a 101-83 victory Monday night at Staples Center.

The franchise last won a postseason series in 1976, when the Buffalo Braves defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now, the Clippers venture into new territory.

"Everyone knows we haven't been here before, and that's why it's just real special for the organization, the fans and just everybody in L.A.," sixth man Corey Maggette said. "We've been working real hard for a long time to get here, and now that we are, we just want to keep on going."

Their next opponent is familiar with this stuff.

The Lakers have won nine NBA championships since 1972. They have failed to qualify for postseason play twice since the 1975-76 season.

Phoenix has won consecutive Pacific Division titles, and is a perennial playoff participant. The Clippers have had only seven playoff appearances in their 36 seasons, and four in California.

But they're growing quickly now, Dunleavy said.

"I'm not going to jump ahead of myself, but I've always felt that this team ... could achieve more," he said. "I was asked, 'Did you ever think this team could get this far?' I think all the way [to a championship].

"I know it's not, in everybody's eyes, a realistic thing, but I can see a path. It's not impossible. We have to play very well, but we have the tools to do it."

And the ability to adjust to many styles of play, he said.

"I feel like this team was made for the playoffs," Dunleavy said. "We can match up with anybody, and we can play any way.

"We can go big, we can go small. We can play fast, we can play slow. Whoever our opponent is, we can match up and defend them."

Not surprisingly, it seems the Clippers have a preference for the next round.

"If it's the Lakers, that'll be even more special," Brand said. "Not only for playing for the Western Conference finals, but locally and for the rivalry and everything."