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Clippers players know they have to perform in the playoffs to avoid unfavorable legacy

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LOS ANGELES (AP) When it comes to the playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers’ history is short and not at all sweet.

The once-beleaguered franchise has never made it past the second round, and in two of the last three years under coach Doc Rivers they’ve blown comfortable series leads and ended up going home.

At least they’re going to open these playoffs at home, and given the team’s recent history, that’s no small thing.

Neither is the momentum they’re riding.

The Clippers won seven in a row and 11 of 13 to end the regular season. They clinched home court for the first round against Utah six months after starting the season as the NBA’s hottest team at 14-2.

“This really could be their year,” Sacramento coach Dave Joerger said. “They could really do something. They’re in a rhythm, they’re playing well.”

The Clippers have shown maturity down the stretch, seizing home court after the Jazz put the pressure on by winning on Wednesday night. The Clippers had to beat the Kings to end up tied with Utah at 51-31, and they owned the tiebreaker by virtue of winning the season series 3-1.

“This team has grown a lot,” Blake Griffin said. “Maybe more than any other season that we have had here.”

The Clippers survived a combined 42 games without Griffin and Chris Paul, going 19-23 in their absence. Their worst stretch was a six-game skid between Christmas and New Year’s and they responded by starting the new year on a seven-game winning streak, equaling their longest of the season.

“When you have as many injuries as we did, the ups and downs of the season, the length of the season, you go through a lot of adversity,” Griffin said. “You always say that when we come out on the other side we are going to be better for it, and I truly believe that we are.”

The Big Three of Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan are in their sixth season together and still in pursuit of their first title.

Their sense of urgency may never be greater.

Paul and Griffin are in the final year of their contracts, which include player options for 2017-18. Jordan has a year remaining, with a player option for 2018-19.

A year ago, the Clippers owned a 2-0 lead against Portland in the first round only to lose in six games after injuries to Paul and Griffin.

In 2015, they gave up a 3-1 lead against Houston and blew a 19-point lead in Game 6 with a trip to the Western Conference finals on the line. In 2014, Paul had an infamous meltdown, twice turning the ball over and fouling Russell Westbrook, who made three straight free throws to beat the Clippers by one point in Game 5 of the conference semifinals. They lost Game 6 back at home.

In fact, the Clippers have lost at least once at home in their last six playoff appearances.

“Because of the experiences we’ve had, I think we’re concentrating on finishing,” Paul said. “Trying not to have those different lapses in games. That’s probably where we’ve showed a little bit of growth and we won’t really be able to tell until the playoffs.”

Heading into Saturday’s playoff opener, the Clippers are healthy, with the exception of backup guard Austin Rivers, who missed the final six games with a strained left hamstring. He could return soon.

Despite their recent failures, Doc Rivers insists he never goes into a new playoff series thinking about the past.

“Does that mean there’s no residual effect?” he asked. “I can’t say.”

While they can’t change their painful past, they recognize it and clearly want to get past it.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Jamal Crawford, three-time Sixth Man of the Year. “Ultimately, we’ll be one of the teams judged on our postseason success, so we’re ready for it.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: Teams are calling Clippers about DeAndre Jordan trades

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Injuries have ravaged the Clippers. They started the season 4-0 have been without three starters from opening night: Milos Teodosic (plantar fascia injury, he is still in a walking boot), Danilo Gallinari (strained left glute), and now point guard Patrick Beverley is out for the season after microfracture surgery on his knee.

All this has led to the Clippers losing nine in a row before beating the Hawks Friday night. All the weight of the offense has fallen on Blake Griffin‘s shoulders, and while he’s been good most of the game in the fourth quarter his numbers have plummeted, and the Clippers have stumbled.

It’s left the Clippers with a couple of hard questions.

Do they need a coaching change? There was a sense from sources around the league that Rivers is already on his way out — he was stripped of GM/president powers over the summer — and what kept him around was the couple of seasons at $10 million a year on his contract. That’s a lot of money for an owner to eat, even Steve Ballmer, but the time may be coming as a way to shake up the team.

The other, what to do with DeAndre Jordan? They could not work out a contract extension with him (Jordan was acting as his own agent), and one of the league’s top traditional centers is a free agent next summer, but new head basketball guy Lawrence Frank said they want Jordan to be a “Clipper for life.” Does Jordan want to be a Clipper for life? Do the Clippers really want him back, and if so at what price? Does a Clipper franchise trying to get approvals for a new arena in Inglewood want to rebuild now, because it does not help that process? If it’s time to move on and rebuild, do they need to trade him now?

Teams are calling about Jordan, reports Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

DeAndre Jordan, who can become a free agent after the season, has been coming up in trade conversations, with multiple teams talking potential trades. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank said last month that Jordan will be a “Clipper for life,” muddled matters, as does the limited number of teams who need a center and the size of Jordan’s contract ($22.6 million).

Jordan is an All-NBA center, a defensive force in the paint who sets a strong pick, rolls hard to the rim, can finish with the best of them, and is averaging 10.4 points (scoring and attempts are down without Chris Paul feeding him) and 13.4 rebounds a game. Jordan knows who he is and plays within himself.

It’s not hard to imagine how he could help teams such as Cleveland, Washington, Milwaukee, and a host of others. The question is what would teams be willing to give up to get him — they have to send back salary to match, but will not want to give up assets that help them win now. The Clippers will be looking for good young players and picks back in the package, which makes it hard for a team such as Cleveland to put together a package.

But before they discuss trade scenarios, the Clippers need to figure out what they want to do. Life has come at them fast this season and led to a lot of big-picture questions that Frank and Ballmer need to answer.

Lonzo Ball finishes one-handed alley-oop on Willie Cauley-Stein (video)

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So much attention is paid to Lonzo Ball‘s father, jumper and passes. Those are the major storylines for the Lakers rookie.

But he has such a diverse skill set, and this is absolutely part of it. Ball is a savvy off-ball cutter in the halfcourt with the athleticism to get above the rim and finish alley-oops.

But finish them over 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, who was tracking the play (though slightly late)? That’s an eye-opener, even in the Kings’ 113-102 win.

Marc Gasol makes 3/4-court shot just after buzzer (video)

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When Marc Gasol‘s 3/4-court attempt went through the net, it seemed to barely matter the ball left his hands just after the first-quarter buzzer. After all, the Grizzlies led the Mavericks by 15, anyway.

Turns out, Memphis really needed that basket.

Watch Knicks string together 28-0 run against Raptors

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Toronto has been the second best team in the East this young season. Not that anyone is really convinced they will be called that by the time we get to the playoffs (or even the All-Star break, or even Christmas), but for the first 16-18 games of the season their new move-the-ball offense had them at 11-5 and looking solid.

Wednesday night the Knicks dismantled the Raptors.

Especially in the third quarter when the Knicks went on a 28-0 run to blow the doors off the Raptors (video above). The Knicks dominated the third 41-10, when Toronto shot just 1-of-16 from the floor.

New York is gaining confidence with each win this season, they are a fun team to watch that is starting to find an identity (now that a certain three-sided shaped one is not being forced upon them). Kristaps Porzingis is a monster, and while the Knicks overpaid the market for Tim Hardaway Jr. he has lived up to his contract this season. With rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina showing some nice defense and playmaking skills as a rookie (although he is undoubtedly still a work in progress), you can see a path to a strong future unfolding. There are real reasons for hope in New York. Someone just keep James Dolan distracted and away from the basketball operations side of the building.