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Clippers are in thick of playoff conversation, even if some still ignore it

LOS ANGELES — Don’t look now – or do? – but the Clippers are in the thick of the action in the Western Conference playoff race as it hits the homestretch.
Entering Monday’s game against the Boston Celtics, the Clippers were tied with San Antonio for the conference’s seventh-best record at 38-29. And they started the day just a game behind Utah (37-28), which hosted Oklahoma City on Monday, in the loss column for sixth place. Behind them, ninth-place Sacramento lost to Washington 121-115 on Monday, slipping to 33-33.
Lou Williams admitted that he’s started allowing himself to peek at his team’s position: “I started looking like last week, so I know now.”
“Were in a good position,” he acknowledged. “Solid position.”
The Clippers won’t again face San Antonio, against which they went 2-2 this season. And they have one more meeting with Utah, the April 10 regular-season finale at Staples Center.
“You want to get to the playoffs, you wanna get the best position you can and then go from there,” Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari said last week. “But it’s still a long season, still a lot of games to be played and a lot of teams fighting.”
Gallinari said it’s too early to think about postseason matchups: “(That’s) maybe something we can think about when we get closer to the end of the season and you’re trying to see which matchup you want. But right now, I don’t know.”
Coach Doc Rivers has said all season that he doesn’t spend time pondering the standings, not really, not on purpose.
“I look at them at times, but, yeah, pretty much ignore them,” he said before tip-off Monday. “You can’t help but see ’em because everyone throws them in your face or talks about them.
“I always ask, ‘What does that matter?’ ” Rivers said on another occasion recently. “If you keep winning, what does that matter? And if you keep losing it doesn’t matter? I’ve never been one (to look), but that doesn’t mean if one is sitting in front of me I don’t look at it.
“But I’m not going to study it. I don’t live in ‘ifs.’ We have to win.”
It turns out their multiple trade-deadline machinations made the Clippers more efficient.
In their 11 games since Feb. 9, the Clippers are 8-3 and rank seventh in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing only 106.9 points per 100 possessions. Previously, their defensive rating was 110.2 through 56 games, which ranked 20th in the league.
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Offensively, the Clippers also have improved lately: They’re 10th in offensive efficiency with a 111.4 rating, compared with their previous offensive rating of 110.5, which was 11th best in the league.
All that adds up to a current 4.5 net efficiency, compared with a much slimmer pre-trades net rating of 0.3.
“It feels very good,” said Gallinari, who is part of the Clippers’ new-look starting lineup that also features Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet and Ivica Zubac, and which ranks fifth in the NBA with a 15.7 net rating.
“Honestly, I knew that we were going to be good and that we had a lot of good pieces. So I had no doubts about this team and we are right where we want to be,” he added. “And we still have a lot of room to get better and we … have that goal in mind.”

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