For a franchise with a fairly uninspiring history, the Los Angeles Clippers are currently in a period of amazing success. Since acquiring Chris Paul in the truncated offseason of 2011, the Clips have gone from lottery mainstay to looming contender. With Blake Griffin having come into his own as a varied scorer this season and Doc Rivers providing a steadier hand from the bench, it wouldn't be a huge shock to see Los Angeles basketball's perennial also-ran make it to the NBA Finals.
For proof of the Clippers' ascendance, one need only take a glance at the NBA standings. For the second season in a row, the Clips have clinched the Western Conference's Pacific Division. That milestone became official on Wednesday night in their 112-108 victory over the Phoenix Suns. Two division titles in a row should mean something for a team as traditionally beaten-down as the Clippers.
Except it turns out that they weren't even aware of it. As reported by Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com, the Clippers weren't exactly focused on winning the division:
"Oh, great," coach Doc Rivers deadpanned. "I mean it's good. It's nice."
Last season when the Clippers won 17 straight games, won 50 games, clinched a playoff berth and won the division, the scoreboard at Staples Center would blast the announcement after games and Clippers owner Donald Sterling would congratulate the players in the locker room as if they had won a title. Division championship shirts and hats greeted the players when they walked into the locker room after clinching last season. [...]
"I didn't bring it up because I didn't even know," Rivers said. "I didn't know about it. It's always nice to win whatever you win, but it's clearly not what we're playing for so I don't see why we should bring out the party hats. You only get one shot at that and I think we'll wait for that." [...]
Paul, like every player in the Clippers' locker room, said he didn't know about the division title until asked. There was a time when Paul would want to know these milestones. He would tell the Clippers' longtime broadcaster, Ralph Lawler, to tell him every time the Clippers played in a city where they hadn't won in a while. He wanted to break those losing streaks one by one. Now that he and the team have, their goals are much bigger. [...]
DeAndre Jordan acted surprised when told the Clippers had clinched the division. Jamal Crawford said he found out about it on Twitter after the game. Griffin, simply shrugged his shoulders and smiled when he learned the news.
Markazi presents this lack of interest as a sign of the Clippers' commitment to greater goals, and it's certainly partly about that. As he notes, the franchise was perfectly happy to celebrate these more minor accomplishments last season, when they were a little more remarkable.
Yet, in a way, the desire not to make a big deal out of a division title really just puts the Clippers on the same level as the rest of the NBA. Few teams that make the playoffs on a regular basis make a big deal out of winning a division. Plus, fans and analysts consider divisions largely irrelevant and often argue that they should be done away with altogether. Even commissioner Adam Silver has said he's considering getting rid of divisions, and the more interesting question is now if the league needs separate conferences, as our Kelly Dwyer wrote in December.
In fact, the Clippers' division-clinching win was such a non-story that the NBA.com highlight recap of the game doesn't even mention it, instead focusing on the Suns' pursuit of one of the West's final playoff berths:
If we should congratulate the Clippers for not thinking much of the accomplishment, then it's because they're acting like the rest of the NBA's top-level teams, not for some substantively different approach to the season. The franchise appears to be growing up.
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