The Los Angeles Clippers are on the cusp of clinching their first playoff berth since 2006, their third bid since 1998 and only their fifth appearance since they were the Buffalo Braves in 1977.
L.A. players aren't doing cartwheels just yet and likely won't do them when the clinching moment arrives.
With the addition of All-Star point guard Chris Paul plus Caron Butler, Nick Young and Kenyon Martin, these Clippers are simply too talented to miss the postseason – even with a season-ending Achilles injury to Chauncey Billups.
Not a single player remains with the Clippers from their last playoff appearance.
Center DeAndre Jordan, who is 23 years old and in just his fourth NBA season, has the most career games for a current player with 260. He is followed by Bobby Simmons with 153 and former Oklahoma standout Blake Griffin, who is in his second season and has 139 career games.
In other words, the current roster has had little to do with the franchise's past failures, which explains why qualifying for this year's playoffs isn't the dominant topic of conversation.
“From our standpoint, it was our expectation to make the playoffs. We feel like we should be there,” Griffin said after Tuesday's practice in preparation for Wednesday's 7 p.m. game against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “We also have a tough road ahead of us, but we're capable. No matter where we are, it was a step in the right direction. No matter what seed, no matter who you play, it was a step in the direction and this is our first year really as a full team together.
“No matter what anybody says, it wasn't going to happen overnight. We all said this from Day One. We didn't come in with the same attitude of ‘championship or bust,' it's a process and right now we're laying the foundation.”
Though Paul began his NBA career in Oklahoma City with the relocated New Orleans Hornets from 2005-07 after Hurricane Katrina, Griffin said he did not meet Paul until the 2007 Jordan Brand All-American Classic at Madison Square Garden during Griffin's senior year at Oklahoma Christian School.
“Obviously, he's a great guy and watching him play his first two years here (with the Hornets) was a lot of fun," Griffin said. “I obviously had a lot of respect for him before I got to play with him.”
Paul often scrimmaged against Griffin's older brother Taylor, who was a freshman at OU in 2005.
Paul smiled and shrugged off his first impression of Blake. “I had enough going on. I didn't really care too much about OU or what he had going on. I had just gotten into the NBA.”
The Clippers spent roughly an hour studying film of the Thunder before taking the court at The Peake on Tuesday.
“They're having an excellent year and they've been together,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “(Kevin) Durant and (Russell) Westbrook obviously are a handful, but their other guys are playing together as a team and they're working together and you can see that when they're playing.”
BY THE NUMBERS
8-2 – Thunder's record on Wednesdays
3-3 – record this month
43 – consecutive home sellouts
17-0 – shooting 50 percent or better
25-15 – shooting less than 50 percent
15-0 – opponent scores less than 90 points
14-3 – opponent shoots less than 40 percent
8-0 – three OKC players score 20-plus points
28-9 – when Serge Ibaka has 3-plus blocks
20-5 – more assists than opponent
During the Clippers' last visit on March 21, Griffin finished with a career-low seven points in 33 minutes and shot 3 for 11 from the field.
Afterward, Paul tried to shoulder some of the blame. “I think that's my job to get him some easier baskets,” Paul said that night. “They guarded him well on the block. I've just got to figure out how I can be better, get him the ball in easier spots.”
Griffin countered: “No, it wasn't that. I got open looks. I missed shots. Games like that happen. ... They've got a lot of offense and they played well tonight.”
As for Wednesday night's game, Del Negro said: “We've got to do a good job of getting Blake on the move, getting him some easy ones, be very good in moving the basketball.”
Following this game against the Clippers, the Thunder hosts Sacramento at 7 p.m. Friday and then embarks on a five-game road trip to Minnesota on Saturday, to the Clippers on Monday, to Phoenix next Wednesday, to Sacramento on April 20 and concluding at the L.A. Lakers on April 22.
Griffin on how the Clippers are playing right now: “Winning cures a lot of things. It helps everybody feel better and kind of gets the ball rolling and I think that's where we are now.”