CLIPPERS FOCUSED ON PLAYING ‘BEST BASKETBALL’
Lamar Odom knows what a championship team looks like.
He’s played in three NBA Finals from 2008 to 2010 and won two of them. So, when the veteran forward slouched against a wall in front of a handful of media members Thursday at the Clippers’ Playa Vista Training Center and said the most important part of the next week for the Clippers is establishing a “playoff mindset,” it’s safe to say he knows what he’s talking about.
“I think the most important part of the playoffs is the mindset and being able to stay poised and stay in the moment,” Odom said. “So, having guys like Chauncey [Billups] and myself and Chris [Paul], who have been in big playoff games and game sevens, is very important.”
And as the Clippers embark on a hasty two-night road trip in New Orleans and Memphis with four games to go in the regular season, it’s about gearing up for the playoffs as much as it is about scoreboard watching or fighting for home court advantage.
“I think the focus is to play our best basketball. We can’t help who wins or who loses,” Odom said. “We just want to play our ‘A’ game going into the playoffs. That’s what’s most important. Whether we’re home or away, so be it.”
Of course, finishing with the fourth best record in the Western Conference and hosting Game 1 of their first round series is within reach. They trail the Memphis Grizzlies, Saturday’s opponent, by a game in the standings and own the tiebreaker.
“We’re just trying to win games, and if we win games all of that other stuff takes care of itself,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We’d love to have home court, but we’ve got to be ready to go either way. We’re going to have to win games on the road in the playoffs.”
Through 38 road games the Clippers are a franchise-best 21-17 on the road, good for seventh in the league. They are one of only eight teams in the NBA with a winning record on the road, a group that includes three potential Western Conference playoff opponents (the Spurs, Thunder and Grizzlies).
And while the Clippers (52-26) have lost five of their last six away from Staples Center, they seemingly re-established their footing since dropping three games on a four-game trip through the Southwest Division two weeks ago. They have scored at least 109 points in each of their last three games, all at home.
On Wednesday Blake Griffin posited that their home loss to Indiana when they fell behind by 24 points in the third quarter on April Fool’s Day could have been a catalyst for their recent surge.
“I think after that Indiana game, we were really disappointed with how we played, the starters were,” Griffin said. “Our bench did a good job in that game, but when we lose, it can never be because of lack of effort. It has to be because a team played better than us. I think that’s been our main focus these past three games, to really play with a lot of intensity, a lot of pace, just understand that teams are going to score, we’re going to mess up, but as long as we push the ball right back at them to kind of make up for it.”
And that’s where the Clippers have been most successful of late. They are averaging 22 fast-break points per game since the beginning of April. They held Minnesota below 42.0% shooting Wednesday, something they have done 27 times this season without losing. The urgency that was talked about before but wavered at times on the court has returned. Perhaps, that’s what happens when the playoffs are no longer a checkmark on a distant calendar.
After practice Thursday Odom was asked if he would become more vocal during the stretch. The two-time champion’s eyes lit up. “100-percent,” he said. “I might do little things like bring some souvenirs by or relive some moments with them so they can understand how special this can be.”
Odom knows it as well as anyone.