Blake Griffin goes up against Derrick Williams during the Clippers'… (Frederic J. Brown / Getty…)
If the NBA season ended today, the Clippers would face the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs.
But it doesn't end today. There's a week and four games left to play — after which it's all but certain the Clippers will still face the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs.
Left to be decided, however, is where those games will be played, a question the Clippers helped cast into doubt Wednesday with a 111-95 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
BOX SCORE: Clippers 111, Minnesota 95
It was their sixth victory in their last seven games at Staples Center, where the Clippers have played before sellout crowds in their last 90 games. So naturally they would like to be back on that same floor, where they have the Western Conference's fourth-best record, when they begin the postseason April 20 or 21.
But to earn the home-court advantage the Clippers will have to close a one-game deficit to the Grizzlies. That figures to require the Clippers' winning at least three of their final four games, including a crucial showdown Saturday at Memphis.
“We have to lock in as much as possible,” Clipper Coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We want to give ourselves the best opportunity to finish as high as possible to try to get home court in the first round.
“And the only way we're going to do that is by winning these games.”
The Clippers closed in on that goal behind big efforts from Blake Griffin, who scored 19 points in less than 30 minutes, and Chris Paul, who had 19 points and 11 assists. Lamar Odom came off the bench to grab a game-high 13 rebounds, and DeAndre Jordan blocked five shots — including two in the first 39 seconds.
“Everything started tonight with DeAndre Jordan,” Paul said. “His first-quarter activity blocking those shots is what got us going.”
And slowed Minnesota down. The Wolves had as many fouls and turnovers as points — two — in the first 4 1/2 minutes as the Clippers ran out to an early nine-point lead. Then, after the Wolves rallied back to within two points with 4:29 left in the second period, Paul (eight points) and Griffin (four) keyed a 16-4 run that put the Clippers up by 12 at the intermission.
Minnesota, which never led, fought back one more time, slicing nine points off that lead midway through the third period only, to see the Clippers spurt away again behind two three-point baskets from Willie Green to take a 16-point lead into the final period.
The Wolves were never in the game after that, as the Clippers, who shot 57.1% from the floor, had seven players score in double figures. Nikola Pekovic led Minnesota with a game-high 20 points.
But if Wednesday's win kept open the path toward home-court advantage in the playoffs there's still a lot of heavy lifting left to do — especially since the Clippers play three of their final four games on the road.
“We finish the season off with two back-to-backs [series], which isn't the best-case scenario, on the road especially,” said Del Negro, whose team opened the first round of last year's playoffs in Memphis and won the series in seven games.
“But the schedule is there. We're going to have to manage that as best we can.”