Clippers, Thunder plan starless night in regular-season finale


Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers is looking at the big picture approaching the postseason.

“We want to win it all,” Rivers said. “We’ve got to improve as a team, we know that, we have work to do. But we’re going to the playoffs with that mindset. And that’s the only thing that matters right now for us.”

First, the Clippers will need to complete the regular season Friday when they face the Oklahoma City Thunder near Orlando.

Both teams are planning to sit key performers to preserve them for the playoffs next week, when the Clippers play the Dallas Mavericks and the Thunder meet the Houston Rockets.

On Wednesday, the Clippers (48-23) clinched the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference with a 124-111 victory over the third-seeded Denver Nuggets. Paul George scored 27 points and Kawhi Leonard had 26 in the win as Los Angeles took control in the fourth quarter and pulled away.

Lou Williams delivered 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting off the bench, while Ivica Zubac finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Zubac converted 7 of 9 shots.

The Clippers might get an additional boost against the Thunder. Center Montrezl Harrell might make his bubble debut, Rivers said. Harrell has yet to play after leaving the facility July 17 for a family emergency. His grandmother died a short time after Harrell left Florida.

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley (calf), who has missed the past four games, will not play against the Thunder, according to ESPN.

The Thunder came back from a 22-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Miami Heat 116-115 on Wednesday. Mike Muscala’s 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining was the difference for Oklahoma City (44-27). Muscala, who was traded last season by the Clippers to the Lakers for Zubac, hit two 3-pointers in the final 35 seconds for his only points of the game.

“I’ve got a great deal of respect for Mike Muscala just because he’s a total pro and keeps himself ready,” said Thunder coach Billy Donovan, according to the club’s website. “Whenever he’s called upon you know you’re going to get a very, very reliable guy. A lot of those second unit guys did a nice job and I think they all learned something from the first half that I think carried over into the second half.”

Darius Bazley had 21 points and former Clipper Shai Gilgeous-Alexander contributed 18 for the Thunder, who outscored the Heat 34-15 in the fourth. Danilo Gallinari chipped in 14 points despite a 2-of-10 shooting effort but made all 10 of his free throws.

Thunder point guard Chris Paul, who will not play Friday due to a sprained wrist, said his teammates’ forcefulness in the final quarter played a large role in the comeback.

“They just turned up the intensity a little bit,” said Paul, according to the team’s website. Paul finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. “I went out on the court and just tried to tell them to make guys feel us. You gotta compete. You can’t just let guys go wherever they want to go. I think guys did that. They shared the ball and it was fun to see. It was exciting.”

–Field Level Media

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