Clippers host Cavs with playoff position at stake
LOS ANGELES -- Excuse the Los Angeles Clippers if they are intent on waiting a bit before paying back a debt of gratitude to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Clippers moved into the eighth and final spot for playoff eligibility in the Western Conference when the Cavaliers defeated the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday. When the Clippers play host to the Cavaliers on Friday at Staples Center, they do not intend to lose any ground in the standings.
Adding to the Clippers' sense of urgency is their defeat this week to the New Orleans Pelicans, another team they are chasing in the West. In fact, the West is so tightly bunched that four games separate spots No. 3 and No. 10 in the conference.
The Cavaliers, third in the Eastern Conference, have plenty to fight for as well. The top four teams in the standings hold home-court advantage in the opening round of the NBA playoffs. The fifth-place team in the conference, the Indiana Pacers, is 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland.
But the playoffs remain more than a month away so a focus on seeding is a bit mature. The Cavaliers will remain in the present by putting a focus on their current western swing. Adding in a visit to Chicago, the current road trip is a season-high six games.
Friday's contest against the Clippers is the Cavaliers' second game of that journey, and they will remain in Los Angeles for a matchup with the Lakers on Sunday. A bonding road trip might be coming at the right time for a Cavaliers team that was rebuilt at the trade deadline and has gone 6-4 with its new look.
"This is a tough start to the road trip with us just coming together and playing (the Nuggets), who have been great at home all year," the Cavaliers' LeBron James said on the ESPN telecast after recording 39 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in Cleveland's nail-biting 113-108 victory at Denver on Wednesday. "To start this road trip off like this is a good start for us."
The Clippers, meanwhile, are in the midst of a six-game homestand, although they are just 2-2 so far. They have a loss to the Houston Rockets in that span, as well as Tuesday's 121-116 defeat to the Pelicans.
The Clippers know a little something about coming together after reworking the roster. They have gone 9-4 since Blake Griffin was traded to the Detroit Pistons in late January. And the recent run of success has come despite being without starting forward Danilo Gallinari (hand) and new point guard Avery Bradley (groin) for most of that time.
And March won't do the Clippers any favors. They not only face the Cavaliers on Friday, they also have to match up with the Rockets, Thunder, Trail Blazers (twice), Timberwolves, Bucks (twice), Pacers and Raptors in the month. All are expected to be playoff teams.
"It's not like we didn't know it was coming," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "There's nothing you can do about it. We have what we have. It's a tough stretch to have guys out, for sure, there's no doubt about that. It makes your bench so thin. But, we just got to find a way to win a game anyway."
Not only are the Clippers expected to be without Gallinari and Bradley, guard Tyrone Wallace (personal reasons) has been out since Feb. 28, while guard Jawun Evans (abdomen) has been out for more than a month.
The Cavaliers are without forward/center Kevin Love (hand), while forward/center Tristan Thompson (ankle) has missed the last two games.
Updated March 8, 2018