By Mitch Chortkoff
The most interesting part of the remaining NBA regular season games involve teams driving toward favorable playoff position.
There’s a big difference between having home court advantage and not having it. There’s a big difference from playing a powerhouse opponent right away or getting a series first to work your way in.
I’ve traveled with great Laker teams with players who understood this. Shaquille O’Neal used to emphasize to me the Lakers had to finish in the top four to get a home court edge in the first round. Otherwise, throughout the playoffs they’d be the road team all along and most likely the underdog somewhere along the way.
There is no mystery in what the Clippers are trying to do – pass one of the top three in the West, Oklahoma City, San Antonio or Portland.
I admire the way they’ve been playing lately, winning five of seven games on a trip that ended Monday in Milwaukee with a 114-86 rout.
There was that remarkable game in Toronto Saturday when the Clippers overcame 51 points by Terrence Ross to keep their momentum going.
And there has been the consistently outstanding play of Blake Griffin, who has raised his game this season to be much more than a first rate dunker.
Griffin was chosen as a starter in the upcoming all-star game over LeMarcus Aldridge of Portland, who is having a great year. That was a tough call, but Griffin has become a superb leader in the absence of injured point guard Chris Paul.
But if the Clippers finish fourth they’d have to win one series and then oppose the No. 1 seed in the second round.
So Coach Doc Rivers is driving them hard to pass one of the three elite Western Conference teams.
In the past two years the Clippers were in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 first round series, defeating Memphis two seasons ago and losing to Memphis last season.
Are the Clippers stuck there again, or can they do better?
It seems like a foregone conclusion the last few years that Oklahoma City and San Antonio would qualify for the Western Conference playoff final series.
The Clippers would like to break that pattern. That was a major reason why they hired Rivers as coach this season.
We’ll see if they can.
Paul will be back soon from his injury and Jamal Crawford just had a terrific road trip. So did the vastly improved DeAndre Jordan.
The Clippers have a nice stretch of home games coming up, giving them perhaps the boost they’ll need to crash the top three in the conference standings.
Bosmat Eynav contributed to this column