Moments before the Clippers took the court for their 82nd game of the regular season, they got word where their next step would begin.
The Clippers will face the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs, a matchup sealed when Dallas failed to hold onto a lead against the San Antonio Spurs.
The regular season ended Wednesday, with a depleted Clippers roster losing 114-105 in Phoenix, but this game, a lot like Tuesday’s win over Memphis, didn’t really matter.
Second-year guard C.J. Wilcox scored a career-high 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting in the loss.
The team played without Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford and Chris Paul, who all stayed home to rest. J.J. Redick also wasn’t with the team after bruising his left heel Tuesday, but he wasn’t scheduled to play anyway.
For the Clippers, it’s always been about the postseason; the process getting there never truly stimulated them, particularly early in the season when last year’s playoff failings were almost closer than next season’s opportunities.
That started to change after a pair of blown opportunities against the Golden State Warriors. And by the time Blake Griffin got injured on December 26, the Clippers were forced to approach the regular season with some urgency.
And once they got word Griffin would be back, they went to even another level.
Since Griffin was cleared, the team went 9-1 before losing Wednesday. They became the most efficient defense in the league over that stretch.
And, now, all of that’s about to get tested, with the Trail Blazers up first.
“We had some really interesting games during the regular season so I’m looking forward to it. They have two terrific guards,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters. “Terry [Stotts] has done an amazing job with their role players they have around those guards. I think they’ve improved all year so it’ll be a tough series.”
After losing in Portland early in the season, the Clippers have won three straight against the Trail Blazers, including a last-second win on J.J. Redick’s buzzer beater on March 24.
Portland, though, has defended the Clippers well this season, holding them to just 95.3 points per game. Only seven teams held the Clippers to a lower average this season.
That all gets erased now.
The past is just that. There’s no more time for boredom or compliancy.
The real season starts soon, and the Clippers know the first hurdle they need to clear.