The Los Angeles Clippers are currently chasing the two heavyweights in the Western Conference, but head coach Doc Rivers believes the team is “closer than people think” to winning a title, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports.
We are not trying to catch them now. We know we can’t. Our goal is to try to beat them in the playoffs. It’s going to be a challenge. But the playoffs start and everyone is 0-0. Everything you’ve done is over with. It’s what you do ahead. We’ve been through a lot of injuries this year. Our best players have been through a lot of injuries this year. Our goal is to get healthy, get right, lace them up and see what we’ve got.
L.A. has gone 21-7 without superstar Blake Griffin, who has been sidelined since Christmas Day—first with a quad injury suffered in a Dec. 25 game and then with a broken hand suffered when punching a team assistant a month later.
During his stead, Griffin was linked to trade rumors, with “just about every team in the league” inquiring on a potential deal, per Sean Deveney of Sporting News.
A deal that seemed to have traction was with the Denver Nuggets, as ESPN’s Chris Broussard (h/t Tommy Beer of BasketballInsiders.com) reported L.A. offered Griffin and Lance Stephenson for Kenneth Faried, Will Barton and Nikola Jokic.
Yet the Clippers vehemently denied they were actively shopping the 2011 first overall pick who has spent his entire career with the team.
“You can take the call, but you don’t have to listen,” Rivers said, per Spears, of the trade bites L.A. received. "We like our team. We’re in the job of trying to make our team better, but we like our team.”
Rivers also added there’s no timetable for Griffin’s return.
Other contributors—such as Paul Pierce, J.J. Redick and Austin Rivers—have stepped up in Griffin’s stead and helped the Clippers maintain their run in the West.
Rivers also believes there will be no major adjustment period once Griffin returns despite the Clippers’ success going small while he’s been away.
Last year, L.A. went a full seven games in each of its first two playoff series, winning against the Spurs and then falling to the Houston Rockets and missing a chance at the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
Rivers told ESPN.com's Zach Lowe, then writing for Grantland, last offseason that Golden State benefited from not having to play the Spurs or Clippers in its run to the title despite finishing with the league’s best regular-season record.
And he clearly likes his team's chances if they meet in a best-of-seven series this spring.