Heading into their regular-season finale Sunday night on the road against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Los Angeles Clippers still have a chance to move up the Western Conference playoff ladder.
A win Sunday coupled with a Denver loss to Portland would give the Clippers (47-24) the No. 3 seed in the West, while a loss or a Nuggets win would put the Clippers at No. 4.
Denver holds the tiebreaker over the Clippers.
But how hard the Clippers attack the spot remains to be seen, especially after Friday’s 122-115 loss at Houston, the team with the worst record in the NBA.
The Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley, Reggie Jackson, Amir Coffey and Terance Mann.
Leonard and George were listed out for rest while Beverley sat the second night of a back-to-back after returning recently following a long absence with a hand fracture.
Two more Clippers regulars, Marcus Morris and Ivica Zubac, played sparingly, with Zubac playing just three minutes.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said his team was still fighting for playoff positioning.
“That’s what we’re fighting for,” Lue said of the No. 3 spot. “But most of our guys that we have (were) on back-to-back (and need) to be cautious going down the stretch.
“We gotta make sure the safety of our players is most important and for us to be healthy going down the stretch. It was the right decision.”
The Clippers will have plenty of downtime between Sunday’s finale and the playoff opener against either Dallas, Portland or the Los Angeles Lakers, where they will be playing with a fully healthy roster.
Serge Ibaka, who missed two months with a back issue before Friday’s return, will back up Zubac, Lue said.
“Right now, I am not thinking who is going to start, it’s about the team,” Ibaka said. “One thing about me, when the playoff time comes, I am really locked in.”
The Clippers have won their two meetings with the Thunder this season, both in a three-day span in late January in Los Angeles.
While the Clippers are still playing for playoff positioning, Oklahoma City is playing for lottery positioning.
The Thunder have lost nine in a row and 26 of their past 28 to enter the final day of the regular season tied for the third-worst record in the league.
Oklahoma City (21-50) could wind up with two high draft picks, as the Thunder will get the Rockets pick if it falls outside the top four.
But despite its recent struggles, Oklahoma City still wants to finish the season on a strong note, especially as it relates to development.
That’s particularly true of recent addition Gabriel Deck, who is coming off an 18-point performance in Friday’s loss to Utah. It was Deck’s best scoring game in the nine games since he joined the Thunder after playing in Spain.
“He’s just a sound player,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “He’s plugged into the offense. It’s been impressive to see how he’s integrated with the team.”