Tucker will sit out Wednesday night's home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Tucker was ejected after the altercation. The elbowing occurred as the two fell to the floor entangled while going for a rebound with 5½ minutes to go in the game.
At the beginning of the season it was a lined whiteboard with nothing written on it. Last month it began to get updated daily in blue marker. Now there are logo magnets showing the Clippers players and coaches exactly where they stand.
After Monday’s 112-105 win over the Phoenix Suns, the Clippers sit as the fourth seed in the Western Conference, mere percentage points behind the third-seeded Houston Rockets.
If the season were to end today the Clippers would host the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers and be in the dreaded 4-5 matchup in the first round for the third consecutive season.
The most recent team seeded lower than third to win the title was the Houston Rockets in 1995. The most recent team seeded lower than third to even make it to the NBA Finals was the Boston Celtics in 2010, coached by none other than Doc Rivers.
Rivers has made two trips to the NBA Finals, winning it all with Boston as the top seed in 2008 and losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010, when the Celtics were beaten in Games 6 and 7 at Staples Center after holding a 3-2 series lead.
“We’re a lot younger than the team in Boston,” Rivers said. “In the first year , we needed a 1-seed because we hadn’t been through the playoffs yet. The last time , I think we had a chance to get home-court [advantage] in the first round and we chose to rest our guys in the last game of the year. Our guys chose not to play. They’d rather have the rest, but that was a veteran team.
“This is not that group. This is a very young group and we haven’t done anything in the playoffs. It would be nice to have home court.”
Not only would it be nice to have home court as young team, the Clippers are 27-5 at home this season, the best record in the conference. They also are averaging more than 110 points per game at home, the highest in the league.
Since the start of the 2011-12 season, only the Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have a better cumulative home record than the Clippers, who have sold out 126 straight games.
“The one thing I’ve noticed since Day 1 is our fans are different,” Chris Paul said. “They’re into in the game, excited about the games and look forward to the games. We need them and we feed off their energy and excitement. We talk about that before we run out onto the court every night. We want to make this a tough place to play.”
Los Angeles isn’t normally a city where fans arrive early or wear the T-shirts handed to them at the doors or make a lot of noise before tipoff.
It’s a different scene at Staples Center, which turns into a sea of red for Clippers home games in the postseason as fans turn L.A. Live, across the street from the arena, into a party zone hours before the game starts.
No team has leaned more on their home-court advantage this season than the Clippers, who are 18-15 on the road and were below .500 away from home before their current season-high eight-game winning streak. The Dallas Mavericks are the only other team in the top nine in the West to have lost as many road games, and they may not even be in the postseason.
“We want to move up to the 1-seed,” DeAndre Jordan said. “In the end it doesn’t matter what seed you are, but we want to move up as high as we can. Home court has been great for our team, but we just have to win some game on the road against quality teams. We’re working on that and we’re doing a better job of that.
“We’re not going to be able to beat anybody in the playoffs unless we win on the road. As players, we told each other that and we’re getting better at that.”
While Paul, Jordan and Blake Griffin have led the Clippers to unprecedented heights over three seasons, none of them has ever made it past the second round of the playoffs. Before Glen “Big Baby” Davis signed with the team last month, the Clippers didn’t have a player on the active roster who knew what it was like to navigate all the way through the playoffs and win a championship.
It was a big reason the Clippers went all out to bring Rivers and his staff over from Boston, and also a big reason why they wanted to add Davis to the roster before the final playoff push.
“Seeding can play a big role as far as your route,” Davis said. “In 2010, when were the 4-seed, our focus and intensity level was definitely different. It was through the roof.
“The lower seed you are, the less you have room for error. You have to win on the road. The second round, conference finals and [NBA] Finals you’re on the road. It’s a crazy focus level.”
As Davis looks at the playoff seeding posted to the left of his locker, he smiles before shrugging his shoulders.
“We know it’s going to be hard, but we want the easiest route to the championship,” Davis said. “Everything comes into play. But at the end of the day we’re going to have to roll with what we have no matter if it’s the 1, 2, 3 or the 4. We have to find a way.”
LOS ANGELES -- Blake Griffin will not win the NBA MVP award.
This is not a revelation, of course. The odds of him even finishing second probably are not worthy of getting on the boards in Las Vegas.
But if he finishes the season the way he has played up until this point -- and if the Clippers make a push for the top seed in the West -- there’s no reason he shouldn’t finish third in the race behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
On Monday night, Griffin scored 37 points -- 22 in the first quarter -- as the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Phoenix Suns 112-105. It was the 23rd straight game in which Griffin scored at least 20 points, the most in franchise history. Last month he earned his first player of the month honors for being one of only two players in the league to average at least 30 points and 10 rebounds per game in February.
“He’s just doing a lot of stuff; I wish you could see him,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He works out so much. Long before practices start. He works on that bank shot over and over again. He got it going again tonight, which is a great sign. I like that he’s using it.”
That Griffin is part of the MVP conversation this season shows how much he has improved his game, especially in the absence of Chris Paul for 20 games, when the Clippers went 14-6 without their All-Star point guard.
Griffin’s first 35 points Monday came after going 14-of-15 from the field and hitting his first six free throw attempts.
His night ended early, however, as he fouled out in the fourth quarter after he got involved in a tussle with Suns forward P.J. Tucker, who was ejected for punching Griffin.
“Blake gets hit as much as anyone in the league,” Rivers said. “We have all seen it. It’s gets old. It really does. I think he’s doing the right thing. He puts his arms up, because if he reacts the way some people think he should, then he gets thrown out and suspended and it hurts the team. I know it’s very difficult for him, but he’s doing the right thing for the team.”
It’s not the first time Griffin has been involved in a skirmish after getting under the skin of an opponent. It also likely won’t be the last for Griffin, who is averaging a career-high 24.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game and is shooting about 70 percent from the free throw line this season.
“He just works on his game and he’s getting the payment,” Rivers said. “He’s putting in the deposits and now he’s getting some cash back.”
How it happened: The Clippers were in control of this game through three quarters. They led by 11 in the first quarter, 20 in the second quarter and 25 in the third quarter -- before things began to unravel in the fourth quarter. The Suns got to within four points toward the end of the game with Griffin out. However, for the second game in a row, the Clippers were able to hold on for a win that should not have been as dramatic.
What it means: The win gives the Clippers a 4 1/2-game cushion atop the Pacific Division and essentially ties them with the Houston Rockets for the third seed. They are 2 1/2 games back of the top seed in the Western Conference.
Hits: With his 37 points, Griffin now has scored at least 20 points in 23 straight games. Paul had 17 points and 11 assists. Darren Collison added 20 points, while DeAndre Jordan had eight points and 17 rebounds.
Misses: The Clippers got a spark off the bench from Danny Granger, who scored 14 points and connected on two 3-pointers. But that was about it from the second unit. Glen Davis had only two points, and Hedo Turkoglu scored one.
Stat of the game: Griffin scored 22 points in the first quarter. It was one point shy of the team record for points in a quarter by a player. Baron Davis had 23 in 2010, and Randy Smith had 23 in 1973.
Up next: The Clippers will get Tuesday off before playing the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday in L.A. There are a few teams the Clippers don’t particularly care for but none more so than the Warriors, who they might see in the first round of the playoffs. The home team has won every game in the series this season, with the Warriors winning the past two in Oakland.
LOS ANGELES -- Blake Griffin scored 22 of his 37 points in the first quarter and made 14 of 16 shots before fouling out, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Phoenix Suns 112-105 on Monday night for their eighth straight victory.
Darren Collison scored 20 points and Chris Paul added 17 points and 11 assists for the Pacific Division leaders, who were 55.1 percent from the field and improved to 23-1 when shooting at least 50 percent.
Goran Dragic had 23 points and five assists during a foul-plagued 33 minutes for the Suns, who slipped a half-game behind idle Memphis for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot and are 1½ behind Dallas. Phoenix hasn't made the postseason since 2010 under coach Alvin Gentry, now a Clippers associate head coach.
LOS ANGELES -- Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, who missed Monday's 112-105 win over the Phoenix Suns after suffering another injury setback, could be out another five days, though the time frame for his return remains uncertain.
"I don't know when he's coming back," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "I didn't think he looked good the other night just running. He wasn't running natural so at halftime we said, that's good. Let's wait until he's back to playing 100 percent."
Crawford returned Saturday after missing three games but played only 10 minutes in the first half of a 109-108 win over the Atlanta Hawks, sitting on the bench the entire second half as his left calf was heavily taped. He missed both of his shot attempts and finished with three points and one assist.
Clippers officials said Crawford did not re-injure the left calf he strained Feb. 28 against the Houston Rockets but Crawford said he would likely be out a week with the injury and hopes to be back for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers or Monday's game against the Denver Nuggets.
"I think it's really close, I really do," Crawford told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "It's not like if I ran straight up and down right now it would hurt it but I know it's not there yet. I was still unsure when I was out there and I couldn't do certain things. It just needs to get stronger. I would say within the next five to seven days."
CLEVELAND -- Anthony Bennett's rough rookie season hit a new bump.
The Cavaliers' first-year forward will miss at least three weeks with a strained left knee, the latest setback for the No. 1 overall pick who has been a major disappointment for Cleveland.
Bennett underwent an MRI on Sunday that showed a strain to his left patellar tendon. He played eight minutes in Saturday's home loss to the New York Knicks.
The injury is another obstacle for Bennett, who has shown some improvement lately and signs of developing into a rotational player.
"He's been coming along," Cavs coach Mike Brown said following practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. "He's had some pretty good games for us on both ends of the floor. So it's tough with the amount of time left in the season, but it's part of this."
The Cavs expected to endure some growing pains with Bennett, who played just one season at UNLV. The Canadian came into training camp overweight after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder and then it was learned he suffers from asthma, seasonal allergies and sleep apnea.
Bennett has appeared lost at times on the floor, and it hasn't helped that he's put added pressure on himself trying to live up to being the top pick.
When the Clippers beat the Lakers by 48 points last week the accomplishment was lost amid nationwide scuba diving to determine just how low the Lakers had sunk. Maybe now the Clippers’ accomplishments in that landmark victory and their seven-game winning streak can bob to the surface. People can realize that the Lakers didn’t simply roll over, the Clippers did plenty of kicking. The Clippers turned a 15-point lead against the Lakers into a 52-point lead. The Thunder turned an 18-point lead into an 18-point deficit, and then an L. “You can’t play the score, you have to play the game,” Oklahoma City’s Derek Fisher said, in one of those veteran-y quotes.
Oh, and the Clippers are now within 2½ games of Oklahoma City’s second spot in the Western Conference standings. So, yeah, Sunday was a good day for the Clippers.
The one thing you haven’t heard the Clippers do lately is lament. As in: “We did not come with the defensive intensity that we needed in the third quarter,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks lamented.
That’s a verb used only when you don’t get what you want. The Clippers have gotten the W in their past seven games, making them the hottest team in the league at the moment. They’re beginning to grasp the defensive concepts Doc Rivers is preaching, and held four of seven opponents to less than 100 points during the streak, a standard they failed to meet in nine of their previous 10 games.
While they’re reaching a crescendo, the Thunder have fallen into what Coach Brooks called “a defensive valley,” allowing opponents to score 110 points per game and shoot 47 percent while losing five of their past eight games. They dropped into second place in the Western Conference, a half game behind the San Antonio Spurs, who’ve won six straight and have to be feeling good about themselves as well.
Brooks was as critical as he gets about his team, saying, “It comes down to taking pride in guarding your man and we had trouble staying in front of the basketball tonight” as well as “In the third quarter we did not come out with the defensive toughness it takes to win in this league.”
The Thunder aren’t making excuses about the absence of the injured Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, but it’s clearly an issue.
“Thabo is a defensive player,” Brooks said. “Perk is one of our best defensive players. He’s not only good on the post, he’s good on the pick-and-roll coverage and he’s good at communicating.”
Perkins communicates not only on the court but in the locker room and through the media, quick to call out insufficient efforts from his team. He wasn’t around Sunday, so that left it to Fisher.
Yes, Kevin Durant, a 40 percent 3-point shooter on the season, has shot 33 percent on 3-pointers in February and is 9-for-32 (28 percent) in four games in March. And just when it seemed Russell Westbrook had regained his shooting touch by making 58 percent of his shots in the previous five games, he cratered to a 7-for-23 (30 percent) shooting performance Sunday afternoon.
Those aren’t the type of things that have Fisher concerned.
“It’s a larger perspective in terms of just where we are as a team, our mentality, our mindset, our ability to bring the right type of focus to the game,” Fisher said.
“As a team we have to decide what’s most important to us. And if it’s the team’s success, then you’ll start to see offensively and defensively things tighten up the way they need to tighten up. Just in terms of respecting the game, respecting each other, bringing the right sense of urgency to our jobs.
“I don’t question guys’ commitment to the team, I’m just saying we’re not right now putting it out there on the court."
The Thunder left the arena muttering to themselves, the Lakers were granted a temporary reprieve from their miserable season, and Jodie Meeks had a career-high 42 points to savor. Nobody had it better than the Clippers, though. They had a day off to enjoy a beautiful afternoon in L.A., and their status improved at the same time.
There were no congratulatory messages from the coach as he addressed the team after the game. The usual music blaring from an iPad and players' children running around the locker room was replaced by the booming sound of Rivers' voice.
"I wasn't real happy with our execution down the stretch of the game," Rivers said. "We won the game, but we wouldn't win a lot of games with the way we turned the ball over and how careless we were with the basketball. Every night you're not going to play well, it's just human, but you can execute well or at least be in the right spots. The turnovers the last three or four games were just too casual."
The Clippers have won those games, but that doesn't always matter to Rivers. He said he's more concerned about the way his team is playing during the final stretch of the season than celebrating a win that would have easily been a loss against most teams in the NBA.
"I don't like turnovers period," Rivers said. "You are going to have some, but a lot of them were not forced. They were way too casual. And I think you have to be a great execution team. That does not mean the plays work defensively or offensively, but it certainly helps when everybody's in the right spot. It gives you a fighting chance. That is the only thing I didn't like."
Rivers didn't want his team celebrating the win because squeaking out a one-point win over the 26-35 Hawks, losers of six straight, isn't going to help them beat teams like Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Houston in the playoffs.
"You're not going to win deep lucky," Rivers said. "You're not going to luck into it. You're going to have to go get it and do it right."
As they got dressed in the locker room, Clippers players began making plans for meeting at the team's training facility to shoot and workout despite no scheduled practice Sunday.
LOS ANGELES -- Blake Griffin had 27 points and eight rebounds, Chris Paul added 19 points, including a go-ahead layup in the final minute, and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Atlanta Hawks 109-108 on Saturday night for their season-high seventh straight victory.
The Pacific Division-leading Clippers got 13 points and 12 rebounds from DeAndre Jordan, and 17 points from Matt Barnes on the eve of his 34th birthday. Los Angeles shot 53.2 percent from the field, improving to 22-1 when shooting 50 percent or better.
Griffin made 11 of 19 shots while extending his career-best streak of games with 20 or more points to 22. Jamal Crawford had three points in 10 minutes off the bench after missing three games with a left calf strain.
DeMarre Carroll scored 19 points in Atlanta's 14th loss in 15 games and sixth in a row.
LOS ANGELES -- The faces in the Los Angeles Clippers' locker room have changed a lot since the last time the team played and lost to the Atlanta Hawks back in December.
Back then, the Clippers didn't have Danny Granger, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Hedo Turkoglu -- three players L.A. is counting on to breathe new life into its second unit not only at the end of the regular season, but in the playoffs as well.
On Saturday, the Clippers didn't necessarily need their second unit to have a big night as every starter scored at least 12 points and the Clippers defeated the Hawks, 109-108, to win their seventh straight game and inch closer to home-court advantage in the first round.
But that trio and the second unit did help the Clippers take a 11-point lead in the fourth quarter that should have helped made the victory far less dramatic at the end.
"That stretch in the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter with Danny, Willie Green and Hedo," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "That group, they stretched the lead and they got it to 11 and that was big for us."
How it happened: The Clippers had a hard time breaking away from the Hawks on Saturday. Atlanta led for most of the first half and at the break. The Hawks grabbed a four-point lead in the third quarter before the Clippers took control and didn't look back until the end of the game, when Atlanta nearly tied it at the end of regulation before Jeff Teague missed a free throw that essentially gave the Clippers the one-point win.
What it means: The Clippers have now won seven straight games and are virtually tied with the Houston Rockets for the third seed in the Western Conference. With the Clippers holding a 26-5 record at home, the best in the West, home court in as many rounds as possible come playoff time will be crucial.
Hits: Blake Griffin had 27 points, eight rebounds and five assists and now has scored at least 20 points in 22 straight games. Chris Paul had 19 points and 10 assists, his 32nd double-double of the season, and DeAndre Jordan had 13 points and 12 rebounds, his 33rd double-double of the season. Matt Barnes scored 17 points and Darren Collison had 12.
Misses: Jamal Crawford was expected back from a strained left calf, but he played less than 10 minutes in the first half and didn't play in the second. He missed both of his shots and finished with three points. Crawford is listed as day-to-day.
Stat of the game: The Clippers scored 60 points in the paint compared to 40 for the Hawks in a physical game during which the officials let the bigs go at it for most of the game.
Up next: The Clippers will take Sunday off before playing the Phoenix Suns on Monday. The Clippers and Suns have split their first two games this season with both teams winning on the other's home court. The Clippers came from behind to beat the Suns, 104-96, on Tuesday. The last time the Suns played the Clippers in L.A. they beat them 107-88.
LOS ANGELES -- Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, who returned Saturday after a three-game absence, said he may have returned too soon and will miss at least Monday's game against the Phoenix Suns as he recovers from a strained left calf.
Crawford played only 10 minutes in the first half of Saturday's 109-108 win over the Atlanta Hawks but sat on the bench the entire second half as his left calf was heavily taped. He missed both of his shot attempts and finished with three points and one assist.
"I just have to get it stronger because I don't want the same pain to continue to bother me going into the playoffs," Crawford said. "I didn't re-injure it but I could tell it has to be stronger for sure to feel confident pushing off and doing certain things."
Clippers officials confirmed Crawford did not re-injure the left calf he strained Feb. 28 against the Houston Rockets.
The original diagnosis on the injury was for him to miss two to three games and this setback will likely cost him another two to three games as the Clippers proceed cautiously, especially with guard J.J. Redick sidelined indefinitely with a bulging disk in his lower back.
"We don't have enough guards to take any risks right now," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after the game.
It was shades of the old “Big Baby,” of when he was a role player and a glue guy for a Boston Celtics team that went to two NBA Finals in three seasons and beat the Lakers to win it all in 2008.
Davis wasn’t able to be that kind of player with the Orlando Magic, but when he got a call from Doc Rivers after negotiating a buyout from the team, he jumped at the chance to not only play for his former coach again, but to also once again be a role player on a contender.
“My role with Boston and not being there and not being in that role, you kind of miss it when you go to another team and you have to do other things other than what you do,” Davis said when he joined the Clippers. “Here I can just do what I do and it will be magnified and glorified as something important because we’re trying to win something bigger than self. It means a lot for me to be here right now.”
“It’s a special thing,” Davis said. “It’s one of those things you can’t really describe. You can’t really put your finger on it, but you feel it and it feels good, and I feel it it in the locker room. It’s a belief. It’s almost to the point of supernatural belief. We’re not only starting to believe but putting in the work. Now when you combine the two, you have a deadly combination of guys who can play the game the right way and are so athletic. You can mix athleticism and the right way of playing every time with a great coach like Doc -- the sky is the limit.”
Rivers stopped short of saying he had the same feeling about this Clippers team as he did about his 2008 Celtics, but said he does sense them turning the corner with fewer than 20 games left in the regular season, defensively in particular.
“You can feel us starting to believe in our defense and being in the rights spots,” said Rivers, in his first season as Clippers coach after nine in Boston. “What I like now is every time one of them is not there, they point at themselves right away, they know it. I would prefer them not to do that and to be there, but they’re getting there and they’re taking ownership when they don’t. If we defend, we can run. It’s tough to run when you’re taking the ball out of bounds.”
As good as the Clippers have been on offense -- they lead the league in scoring, with an average of 107.7 points per game -- everyone in the locker room continues to point to their defense as the big reason for their current win streak and for why they are within reach of a top-two seed in the West.
“It was our defense,” Paul said after Thursday’s victory. “That second unit, when they came in in the second quarter, it’s funny, we had a 15-point lead and they called a timeout, and Blake [Griffin] and I were at the scorer’s table and Blake and I actually asked Doc, ‘Could they stay in?’ because they were doing so well. We fed off that. We fed off that energy, and to start the second half we just kept the defensive pressure on them.”
The biggest improvement for the Clippers defensively has come from behind the arc. They have jumped from 26th in the NBA last season to first in 2013-14 in 3-point defense -- allowing opponents to shoot 32.6 percent, down more than 4 percentage points from a year ago.
“I think it’s three or four or five games in a row now, at some point our defense has kind of clicked on,” Rivers said. “That’s the difference really.”
If the Clippers can continue scoring the way they have and start to play the kind of defense Rivers has been preaching about since the start of the season, they might finally be rounding into the kind of contenders many predicted they would be. There are just less than six weeks left in the season, but perhaps for the first time, glimpses of a championship team are starting to come into sight.
“We’re going in the right direction,” Paul said. “Early in the season you say you don’t want to peak too early, but now we’re just building. We don’t want to get too high or too low -- we want to just keep getting better.”
After a series of discussions following a stretch of historically bad losses this week, the Los Angeles Lakers do not believe an in-season coaching change will help the team and remain inclined to support Mike D'Antoni over the final 19 games of the season, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com.
The Lakers have endured one of the most tumultuous seasons in franchise history, with injuries to future Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, constant tension between D'Antoni and forward Pau Gasol, the in-season trade of veteran point guard Steve Blake and numerous other injuries to key players.
While there is disappointment and frustration at the Lakers' abysmal 21-42 record, general manager Mitch Kupchak has maintained a strong relationship with D'Antoni and has appreciated the job he's done in keeping the team together and competitive on most nights.
Shortly after Thursday night's 48-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Kupchak met separately with D'Antoni and vice president of player personnel Jim Buss to discuss the state of the team, sources told ESPN on Friday.
D'Antoni confirmed the meeting with Kupchak, characterizing it as "normal" before the Lakers played the Denver Nuggets on Friday.
"We just went over stuff and said, 'Well, we didn't play very well,'" D'Antoni said.
D'Antoni did not provide much additional information when asked about specifics of their conversation.
The nixed deal might be enough to make Lakers fans envious of Clippers fans (even though their team leads the Clips 16-0 in the championship department), but it's doubtful that it makes the players care any more or less.
While talk of a crosstown rivalry makes for a convenient story line, that's just not the reality of today's NBA.
Take the starting point guard match-up between the Lakers and Clippers, for instance.
Kendall Marshall, who went to University of North Carolina, has known fellow ACC product Chris Paul (Wake Forest) since playing in Paul's summer camp as a high schooler.
“He’s kind of been like a big brother to me, honestly,” Marshall said after Thursday's shootaround. "He’s a guy that I really look up to."
Hardly sounds like the stuff of two competitive rivals.
This isn't meant to pick on Marshall. His relationship with Paul is more the norm in the league than the exception. Just this week, Paul George, who lost to LeBron James in Game 7 of last season's Eastern Conference Finals and could very well meet James again in the playoffs this spring, said in an interview with BasketballInsiders.com that he would like to pick James' brain, even though the two must compete against one another.
"It would be great to be able to pick his brain, pick his mind and just talk about the game because I think he's a player that can help me get to the next level and continue to keep going to the next level," George said. "I wish some day we have that relationship where he is someone I can talk to -- not during the season because I'm too competitive during the season -- but maybe in the summertime."
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said things have drastically changed from the time he retired in 1995-96 and the time when his son, Austin, became an NBA rookie in 2012-13.
"It’s a new league," Rivers said. "But I think it’s a new league because of the way they grow up now. We honestly didn’t know the opponent. We didn’t know guys on the other teams to the point where, when you went west, you literally hadn’t seen the team at all. Like, visually, at all if they hadn’t been on TV.
"And especially early in my career, there was no TNT so when you played [the] Sacramentos, that was literally the first time you’d ever seen them play and the first time you’ve ever been on the court with some of the guys. So, it’s a different league. AAU has changed that. I know from Austin, he knows everybody and it drives me crazy. But that’s just the way the league is. I don’t know what the team lines are any more in that regard. I don’t know. Don’t get me started. I just don’t know."
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni has seen some of the league's best players come together to share their tricks of the trade and bond towards a common goal with this time as an assistant coach for USA Basketball, so he sees the bright side of the interaction.
"I think it’s always been kind of a fraternity and when you’re in the offseason, I think everybody helps everybody," D'Antoni said. "Especially if they’re working out together in Vegas or wherever they’re working out -- back in Carolina. I think during the season they probably respect the lines, but in the offseason [that changes]. And it’s good. It’s good that the older players can show the younger players the ropes."
Rivers was not as keen on the apprenticeship aspect of young players learning from their opponents, but did say he liked the way that familiarity can breed contempt.
"The one thing you do know, the closer you are to somebody, the more you want to beat them," said Rivers. "It’s not the other way. So, I don’t think that will ever go away -- the competitiveness -- just because they fraternize. Being at Duke during the summer, I saw the Duke and Carolina guys playing in pick-up games all summer. And I always thought, well, that will make that [regular season in-conference] game even better now because they know each other a little bit more. They still don’t like each other and I think that’s all good."
Player movement can further complicate things. The Lakers have two former Clippers in Nick Young and Chris Kaman. The Clippers have one former Laker in Matt Barnes (two if you count Paul before the trade was revoked).
There's one aspect of the league-wide camaraderie that Rivers supports, actually. With L.A. such a popular offseason destination for so many NBA players, the Clippers smartly open the doors to their Playa Vista practice facility to any league guy who want to get a run in.
"I actually liked that because in the summers, I like to see guys playing," Rivers said. "Doesn’t have to be all my guys. I had everybody in the gym and I got to sit and watch. That’s not all bad."
The fact that the Clippers beat the Lakers by an average of 42 points in their last two meetings this season is bound to come up in one of those pick-up games this summer.