No stars, no problem as Clippers aim for the sky

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins driving to the basket against the Los Angeles Clippers' Shai Gilgeous-Alexander during the Clippers' 122-111 win on Tuesday. The Clippers became the fifth team in the Western Conference to clinch a play-o
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins driving to the basket against the Los Angeles Clippers' Shai Gilgeous-Alexander during the Clippers' 122-111 win on Tuesday. The Clippers became the fifth team in the Western Conference to clinch a play-off spot.PHOTO: REUTERS

MINNEAPOLIS • The Los Angeles Clippers have no All-Star players.

They have nine players who were not even on the team roster a year ago. And Tobias Harris, who is technically still their leading scorer this term with 20.9 points per game, now plays in the East after being traded last month to the Philadelphia 76ers.

But, while the other far more popular Los Angeles team, the Lakers, stumble to their sixth successive trip to the National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft lottery, the unheralded Clippers are through to the play-offs after clinching their berth on Tuesday.

Danilo Gallinari scored 25 points in a 122-111 victory at the Minnesota Timberwolves as Doc Rivers' players become the fifth team in the West to punch their post-season ticket.

And the Clippers want more, declaring they will only have "fun in the summertime".

Guard Patrick Beverley, who had 11 points, said: "We treat every game as a business trip. We're going for the highest seed we can get.

"It's so hard to make the play-offs in the West. To be in the category with some of the teams that we're in the category with, it's truly a blessing."

There is certainly no reason why the Clippers (45-30) cannot aim higher with no team playing better than them at the moment.

They have won 11 of 12 games this month and the win over the Timberwolves was their sixth straight while they are also a league-best 15-4 since Feb 9.

With seven games left and five of those at the Staples Centre, the fifth-placed Clippers, who missed out on the post-season last year, have every reason to feel confident.

Despite the lack of marquee names, the Clippers have managed to thrive through their bench, which leads the NBA with 53 points per game.

Backup centre Montrezl Harrell averages 16.6 points and 6.7 rebounds and would probably win the Sixth Man Award if not for teammate Lou Williams, who averages 20.3 points and 5.3 assists.

Both played their part in Minnesota, scoring 18 and 20 respectively, leaving Rivers delighted.

He said after the game: "I'm just really happy for our guys. Before the year, we went through all the articles about us and how bad we were going to be... I just told them, they don't know us."

And opposing teams are increasingly finding it difficult to figure out the Clippers as the post-season approaches, with Minnesota interim coach Ryan Saunders claiming "they might be playing the best basketball out of anybody in the league right now".

In Boston, the Celtics' 116-106 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, coupled with the Detroit Pistons' 95-92 loss to the Denver Nuggets, meant Boston booked their play-off place for the fifth consecutive year.

DPA, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2019, with the headline 'No stars, no problem as Clippers aim for the sky'. Print Edition | Subscribe