LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles Clippers made history on Tuesday night, but you'd hardly have known it if you'd asked the team itself.
"Breaking franchise records is great, I guess," Doc Rivers said before his Clippers fended off the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center, 117-105, for the team's 57th win of the 2013-14 NBA season—a new franchise record. "It's good, but I don't think it's that big of a deal."
It didn't seem like a big deal on the court, at least for certain stretches. The Clippers allowed the Nuggets to shave what had been a 23-point lead in the third quarter down to a five-point advantage early in the fourth by way of a 25-7 run. Rivers left Blake Griffin and Chris Paul on the bench for the entirety of the final frame, opting instead to let the likes of Darren Collison and Hedo Turkoglu "figure it out," as Rivers put it after the game, alongside DeAndre Jordan, Matt Barnes and a rusty Jamal Crawford down the stretch.
This, despite the opening the Clips had (and still have) to catch the Oklahoma City Thunder for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. If OKC loses at home to the Detroit Pistons, L.A. can secure the second spot with a win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Doing so won't be easy, though, and not just because the Moda Center is a tough place to play for visitors. Rivers revealed at his post-game presser that neither Griffin nor J.J. Redick would accompany the team on its overnight flight to Rip City in order to allow each to rest his aching back ahead of the impending playoffs.
Griffin might not even be allowed in the building. He was assessed his 16th technical foul of the season during the game against Denver. That'll earn him a suspension from the season finale, unless the league office rescinds the tech—something it'd done three times already on Griffin's behalf through the first 80 games of the campaign.
Not surprisingly, the Clips didn't seem overly concerned with moving up another notch in the standings, just as they weren't exactly jumping for joy at the thought of being the winningest team in franchise history.
"Don't get me wrong. I'm very happy that we're doing this stuff, but it's not what we want," Rivers added after the game. "To get what you want, sometimes you get other stuff, I guess is the best way to say it...Winning the division, that's part of the stuff you get in the march to what you really want."
Paging the late, great George Carlin (WARNING: this clip contains some explicit language).
It's no wonder that the Clippers don't seem to have a prominent place for this "stuff" right now. Those 57 wins won't matter one iota in just a few days, once the regular season comes to a close and the playoffs begin in earnest.
At present, L.A. would face the Golden State Warriors, with whom they share something of a blood feud, in the first round. Those Warriors upset another 57-win behemoth (i.e. the Nuggets) in last spring's three-vs.-six matchup out West.
All while the Clips lost in six to the Memphis Grizzlies, after scoring a then-franchise-record 56 wins during the 2012-13 regular season.
"We were part of that last year, at least me and Blake were, and we lost in the first round," Chris Paul said while sharing the podium with Griffin, Redick and his son, Little Chris, after the victory. "It's all good and well, but I think we're at the point now where it's all about the postseason. We expected to do what we did, it's great, and it is what it is."
You can understand, then, why some of the Clips would be so blasé about this particular milestone. It's a nice feather in their proverbial cap, but it doesn't guarantee anything—not even a better spot in the Western Conference standings, much less the championship for which this club is currently gunning.
Not that there isn't some value in what the Clippers have accomplished thus far. If anything, it's a testament to this team's toughness and resilience through offseason turnover within the organization and injuries of all kinds that could've marred this campaign.
"I think last year's disappointment was the foundation for this year," said Jamal Crawford, who missed six of his nine shots and turned the ball over four times in his second game back from a calf injury. "Coming into training camp, if you asked me then if we would eclipse the amount of wins we had, I honestly would have said no, because we had seven new faces and a whole new coaching staff.
"To have all these injuries—myself, J.J., Chris—to still get 57 wins is remarkable. That's a credit to Doc and his staff."
Is this already the best season in Clippers history?
To that end, Crawford's assessment is spot-on. He's missed 13 games this season. Paul and Matt Barnes have missed 19 apiece. Redick twice sat out for stretches of at least 20 games.
And yet, here are the Clippers, needing a good game in Portland and a little bit of luck in the Sooner State to catch Kevin Durant and company in the standings.
When considered in that context, Win No. 57 might be of some significance, even if it doesn't carry much weight on its own in the Clippers' minds. Chances are, this team would've folded under those same stresses and strains in the past, when Vinny Del Negro was still at the helm.
Now, they're battle-tested and ready for more. Jared Dudley, whose first season in L.A. can be described by the first three letters of his last name, certainly is.
"Last year, they had a franchise record, and this year, getting that, it shows you what this team is capable of now," Dudley said in the locker room after the game. "Third time around going back to the playoffs, you bring in someone like Doc where expectations are higher, a lot of free agents coming in, and now it's time to get started.
"We have one more game left and then the showdown starts. I think the city is excited, and I think that, for this franchise, it shows that we're taking big leaps."
The biggest leaps may be yet to come. And if the Clippers make them, nobody will have to parse through disinterest if the history they write is the history they've been after all along.
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