Down in playoffs nothing new

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Clippers have their backs against the wall.

After losing 96-92 at home Tuesday against the Utah Jazz, the Clippers are just one loss away from their playoff run ending in the first round. But many of the players on the team have been here before.

When J.J. Redick was in his third year playing for the Orlando Magic in 2009, he found himself on the wrong end of a 3-2 hole against the Boston Celtics, who had won the NBA title the previous year. But the Magic rebounded in Game 6, won Game 7 in Boston and went all the way to the NBA Finals that year.

Jamal Crawford has a similar experience. When he played for Atlanta in 2010, the Hawks won the first two games of their first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, but lost the next three. The Hawks won the series by claiming the next two games.

And just two seasons ago, these same Clippers were down 3-2 to the San Antonio Spurs and still managed to pull out the series in the seventh and final game.

“I think the mentality is just you can’t go up to Utah to win two games,” Redick said Thursday at practice regarding the team’s mentality going into Game 6 tonight in Utah. “We only have to win one game (today). That’s all we have to do. … The task of winning one game is a little less daunting than the task of winning two games at once.”

Redick and Crawford were on that 2015 Clippers team, along with Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin. Although, Griffin’s foot injury in Game 3 forced him out of this year’s playoffs.

But history is stacked against the Clippers. A team up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series boasts an all-time record of 244-45, a winning percentage of 84.4.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, however, downplayed the statistic Thursday.

“Guys don’t think about that crap,” Rivers said emphatically. “They really don’t.”

For the Jazz, tonight’s game is like their Game 7. They want to close out the series and not give the Clippers a chance to come home Sunday and take the series.

“For us, we have to treat this one as like a must-win,” Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said after Tuesday’s game. “We want to close it out in Salt Lake (City). We definitely don’t wanna come back here for Game 7.”

Through five games, the Clippers and Jazz have each scored 495 points, an average of 99 points per game. With the series that close, Rivers said the Clippers have to find a way to dictate their pace and minimize their mental errors on defense.

“For us, it’s simple,” Rivers said.

Paul knows the Jazz will come into tonight’s game beaming with energy and that the crowd will be buzzing from the opening tip. But he remembered the San Antonio series in 2015 and said he’ll draw on the composure it took then to win in a hostile environment and use it against Utah.

“We’re gonna have to come out ready,” Paul said.

Game 6 is tonight in Utah at 7:30 p.m.

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Clippers have no answer for Jazz in 4th

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Clippers dropped a pivotal Game 5 with their 96-92 loss to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday at Staples Center.

Chris Paul led the way for the Clippers with a game-high 28 points, while J.J. Redick contributed 26 points.

After a sluggish first three quarters offensively by both teams, things heated up in the fourth.

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Clippers want to stay in control of Game 3

LOS ANGELES – The first-round playoff series between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz is about control.

The best-of-7 series is tied at one game apiece, and there’s a reason: Each club has managed to successfully control aspects of the game that it has needed to win.

The Clippers thirst to play faster and in transition, while the Jazz deliberately play as if their entire team were running offense while slogging through thick molasses.

Game 1 went to the Jazz, who held the Clippers to only 95 points, but needed a buzzer-beater from forward Joe Johnson to declare victory. But while the Clippers again scored under 100 points in Game 2, they played faster – “more downhill” as the team likes to call it – and with more aggression, allowing them to come away with a 99-91 victory.

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Clippers even series

LOS ANGELES – It’s 12 feet wide, 15 feet long, painted red, and the Clippers lived there Tuesday night in Game 2 against the Utah Jazz.

After scoring only 40 total points in the paint in Game 1, the Clippers amassed 60 points, 34 of which came in the first half.

The Jazz only scored 38 points in the paint, and the Clippers evened the first-round series with a 99-91 win at Staples Center.

“They got in there a lot of ways, we just weren’t able to contain the ball,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said of the Clippers’ ability to score inside.

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Clips hope to rebound tonight

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Clippers find themselves in an unenviable position coming into Game 2 tonight against the Utah Jazz.

After Los Angeles won seven consecutive games to end the regular season in order to secure home-court advantage in the first round, the Jazz snatched it away with a Joe Johnson buzzer-beater that gave them a 97-95 win on Saturday.

Now, the Clippers face a must-win situation if they want to avoid going down 0-2 in the best-of-seven series.

Clippers forward Marreese Speights said at Monday’s practice that the team will need to “go out there and play Clippers basketball” in order to come away with a 1-1 split.

“We’re not really worrying about going out there and losing because that’s gonna be hard for us to do,” Speights said. “We’re gonna go out there and play hard and play smarter than we did in Game 1.”

Utah managed to slow down the Clippers’ fourth-ranked offense and keep itself within striking distance throughout the game, giving Johnson the opportunity to sink his all-time-leading eighth career buzzer-beating shot. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said the team simply needs to play better in Game 2.

“We can’t turn the ball over, we have to have more possessions and we have to play at a better pace,” Rivers said.

One adjustment the Clippers want to make is getting J.J. Redick easier looks at the basket. Redick attempted only six shots Saturday and scored seven points in 27 minutes.

Rivers said he doesn’t worry about Redick getting shots because when teams focus attention to him, his teammates usually reap the benefits. But that didn’t happen in Game 1, Rivers said.

“I thought we spent too much time trying to get J.J. going, quite honestly,” Rivers said. “J.J.’s gonna get going. We’re gonna get him shots. But when we’re not getting him shots, we need to be getting layups and other shots, and we didn’t do either one.”

Chris Paul said the team will “definitely” have to do more to get Redick more shots.

“J.J. is our best shooter on our team,” Paul said. “That’s our job as a team and even my job as a point guard to try to find him more open looks. We’ll try to do that.”

Jazz guard Joe Ingles drew the main assignment of guarding Redick on Saturday. He said Sunday that when guarding Redick, he tries to make his shots tough and play as physically as possible.

“Just keep chasing. Chasing, chasing, chasing,” Ingles said of the key to defending Redick. “He’s tough to guard. He doesn’t stop.”

Johnson said he expects the Clippers to come out tonight with a sense of “desperation (and) urgency.”

“I feel like we’re gonna get a great Clippers team in Game 2,” Johnson said.

To combat that hungry Clippers team, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said Utah will have to take care of the ball.

“We can’t help their pace by turning the ball over,” Snyder said. “We can’t help transition by having lapses.”

Paul echoed Rivers’ sentiment that the Clippers need to improve all aspects of their game if they want to go into Utah tied 1-1.

“Our defense has to be better, our pace, our tempo – everything has to be better,” Paul said. “Had we won that game, we still would’ve needed to do things better.”

Game 2 is at 7:30 p.m. at Staples Center.

Keys to success for Clippers in playoffs

LOS ANGELES – With Wednesday night’s 115-95 win over the Sacramento Kings, the Los Angeles Clippers earned home-court advantage for Round 1 of the NBA Western Conference playoffs.

The Clippers and Jazz finished the season with identical 51-31 records, but because Los Angeles won its season series against Utah 3-1, the Clippers own the tiebreaker.

The fourth-seeded Clippers are riding a seven-game winning streak into the playoffs, while the fifth-seeded Jazz are coming off back-to-back wins over the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs.

This is the fourth consecutive season the Clippers will have home-court advantage in the first round. The team has won two of the previous three series, most recently in a 4-3 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in 2014-15.

The Jazz have missed the playoffs each of the last four years. The last time Utah made the postseason was the 2011-12 season, when they were swept by the Spurs in the first round.

These two teams don’t have much history playing each other in the playoffs. The last time they met was 20 years ago, in 1997, when Utah swept Los Angeles 3-0 back when teams played only five games in the first round.

“I think we’ve played them six times, maybe, including the preseason, so we’d better be comfortable with them,” Blake Griffin said after Wednesday’s game of the team’s comfort level in playing the Jazz. “We’re about to get real comfortable with them.”

The series starts Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Staples Center.

THE MATCHUP

In four regular-season games against the Jazz, the Clippers won three and allowed Utah only 89 points per game. The Jazz scored under 80 twice.

The Clippers, however, averaged 98 points over the four games, but scored under 90 in two of them. For context, the Clippers averaged 108.7 points in the regular season.

The dip in offense possibly points to Utah’s turtle-versus-hare approach to basketball. The Jazz rank last in the NBA in pace, averaging 93.6 possessions per 48 minutes, according to ESPN.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said Utah can either score quickly or take 23 seconds to shoot the ball. So his team will have to be ready to play at different speeds throughout the course of a game.

“We have to be ready to grind it out,” Rivers said. “We want to play at our pace, and I would say in a couple games, that’s gonna happen. But in a couple games, it may not happen and we still have to try to win that way, too. So we just have to be ready for whatever is presented.”

MIDDLE MEN

The matchup to watch in this series is likely between the two centers, DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers and Rudy Gobert of the Jazz. The big men are the focal points on defense for both teams, and provide plenty of offensive punch as well with them getting open on rolls to the rim or receiving drop-off passes off dribble penetration.

Jordan averaged 13.8 rebounds and 1.65 blocks per game in the regular season, while Gobert averaged 12.8 rebounds and led the league in blocks with 2.64 per game. Practically all of their scoring opportunities come in the restricted area.

Rivers suggested that the two players were almost like mirror images of each other.

“He’s DJ in a lot of ways,” Rivers said of Gobert. “They’re very similar. They’re both dominant defensively and they both cause havoc offensively that you don’t see with the roles to the basket. (Gobert) is gonna be a key figure in this playoff series. We’re gonna have to do a good job on him.”

DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE

Griffin said the key to the series against the Jazz is defense. And if the games between the two teams during the regular season are any indication, the Clippers have fared well on that end of the floor against the Jazz.

But Utah is no slouch on that side of the ball. The Jazz rank third in the NBA in defense efficiency, allowing just 102.7 points per 100 possessions, according to ESPN. The Clippers rank 13th in that metric at 105.8.

The two teams essentially swap spots when looking at offensive efficiency. The Clippers are fourth in the league at 110.3, while the Jazz are 12th at 107.4.

Paul Pierce isn’t worried about how the Clippers will play on offense against the Jazz.

“The biggest thing for us is gonna be our consistency with the defense and rebounding,” Pierce said. “We know we could score with pretty much anybody in the league. But it’s gonna be how well we consistently defend, keep teams out of transition, keep our turnovers down and rebound the ball.”

PREDICTION

The Clippers and Jazz are evenly matched statistically speaking, and both teams will enter their first-round series with all of their key players available. Austin Rivers expects to return from his hamstring injury in either Game 3 or 4.

The Jazz should win at least one game at home, where they boasted a 29-12 record during the regular season. But the playoff experience on the Clippers’ roster, plus their bevy of offensive weapons, should be the deciding factor.

Clippers in 5.

Clippers close when it counts

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Clippers moved a half-game behind the Utah Jazz for the fourth seed in the Western Conference with their 112-101 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday at the Staples Center.

The Clippers (48-31) have just three games remaining in their season to try for home-court advantage in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Jazz (48-30) play the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.

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