When Austin Rivers and Doc Rivers were tossed out of a game in Houston last week — in the span of less than 30 seconds — it barely made a ripple.
For one, it was the second time the father-son tandem had been run off the court together by officials in two weeks. Second, the Clippers currently look like the kind of team that only a mother could love anyway.
Power forward Blake Griffin had surgery on his right knee and is expected to be sidelined for another month, at least. Chris Paul has a nagging hamstring injury that has kept him out of the lineup for the past three games, six of the last seven games and could be on a minutes restriction when he returns. DeAndre Jordan has been playing with a hip injury. J.J. Redick is not fully recovered from a strained hamstring and Wesley Johnson is dealing with the effects of a sprained ankle.
With a 109-98 win over the Phoenix Suns last night, the Clippers ended a six-game losing streak that had them dropping like a piano off a rooftop in the Western Conference standings.
So here is another of the so-called “last chance for the Clippers” seasons going up with the chimney smoke before Christmas is even a memory. Paul and Griffin will both likely become free agents on July 1 and the chorus to break up the underachieving gang will only grow louder as the Feb. 23 trade deadline draws nearer and things keep falling apart.
“But what if we don’t?” asked the eternal Jamal Crawford, 36-going-on-who-cares. “What if we just stay together, stay with the daily task of focusing on our jobs and controlling only what we can control. You know, weather the storm.
“Look, no matter what we did from the start of the schedule to the end of the regular season was going to matter anyway. We’ve kind of graduated to where if win 60 games, everybody is going to say, ‘Let’s see what they do in the playoffs.’ ”
It’s the legacy and level of cynicism they have constructed by winning 56, 57, 53 and 56 games over the past four seasons and never once getting past the Western Conference semifinals. From untimely injuries to simply spitting the bit with a 3-1 lead over the Rockets in 2015, there is little misfortune and misplay they haven’t experienced.
Rather than a pair of back-to-back thumpings by 24 and 26 points at Houston and Oklahoma City to close out 2016 growing the doubt, the Clippers are trying to look at what has befallen them as a completely different kind of opportunity.
“We’ve kind of graduated to where if win 60 games, everybody is going to say, ‘Let’s see what they do in the playoffs.’ “
LA Clippers guard Jamal Crawford
“I tell our team we’re going through a tough time and at the end of the day there’s good in this,” Doc Rivers said. “I love this team. I love this team when we’re healthy and whole. Sometimes you have the year of health and win all year and get to the playoffs and you’re the No. 1 seed. Sometimes you have years when you’re not and you just have to get through the year, then get healthy when the playoffs start. Right now, with all our (bad) health, that’s what we’re doing. We are seeing things from our bench that will help us later. Right now, unfortunately for us, our bench (players) have to be our starters and it’s tough for them to help us now.”
For the first time since he arrived in Los Angeles in 2013, Rivers, as coach and team president, had assembled both a starting lineup and a bench that was not full of glaring holes. The additions of veteran free agents Marreese Speights and Raymond Felton made for less reliance on the up-and-down Johnson and the 39-year-old Paul Pierce. Then injuries began to hit and everything started to tumble.
“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us,” Crawford said. “That’s not the way this league works. It’s unforgiving. It’s cold. It’s real. So we just have to weather the storm. When you’re kids growing up, you just want to play every day. You never think about injuries. But that’s a big part of the game at this league, at this level.”
The Clippers gave up 110.5 points per game during the losing streak.
“It’s easy for the coaches to stay positive,” Rivers said. “I’m sitting on the sidelines. I’m not out there watching guys make layups and all that stuff. So I get that. But overall, they’re frustrated.”
How much more frustrated than a Clippers team that has finished in the top half of the West playoff bracket each of the past four seasons and had never been able to make that pay off?
“This business isn’t for the mentally weak,” Crawford said. “You have to go through some things.”
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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