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The Clippers are closing strong

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Just as I predicted a month ago, the Clippers are closing the season strong, and have now taken over the third seed in the Western Conference.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

At the risk of incurring a dislocation or some other serious self-induced shoulder injury, I can't resist giving myself a hearty pat on the back for being very, very right about something.

A little over a month ago, on March 10, when the Clippers were sitting in fifth position in the Western Conference at 41-23, five games behind the Memphis Grizzlies in the loss column, I wrote this:

the Clippers will close the regular season as the hottest team in the Western Conference, will enter the post-season as no worse than the third seed.

Well, the season isn't over yet, but the Clippers are indeed red-hot, and as of last night, they are indeed the third seed -- though it should be said that they are essentially tied with the second and fifth seeds as well. I was also wrong about them being the "hottest" team in the conference, only because San Antonio has been equally hot (and it should be noted that Golden State hasn't really cooled off all season, even if they have lost a couple of games that didn't really matter to them).

The season's not over yet, and the Clippers still need to take care of business against the Nuggets and Suns on Monday and Tuesday (two teams with nothing for which to play), but they have controlled their destiny for the three seed for a while now, and they still do -- all they have to do is win two more.

They could conceivably capture the second seed, but because of the unfair disadvantage handed them of being in the same division as the Warriors, they need a lot of things to go right. The Clippers would hold the tie-breaker against every Western Conference team except the Warriors, were it not for an arcane and difficult to justify rule giving the tie-breaker advantage to Division winners. The Clippers, being in the same Division as the Warriors, can't win their division -- so they automatically lose a tie-breaker to whichever team wins the Southwest Division. Oh well.

The team now faces a different problem -- how to win against good opposition. They managed a stirring comeback against Portland on April 1, but aside from that they've been cruising against some bad teams -- and lately just getting by against them. The Memphis win last night looks great on paper, but when you consider that the Grizzlies were missing Mike Conley and Tony Allen, and that Marc Gasol logged only ten minutes before turning an ankle, the game was much closer than it should have been.

So when the playoffs start -- against any one of five opponents -- the Clippers need to remember quickly what it means to play top level basketball against top level competition. The good news is that it won't take long -- they'll get back in the groove quickly -- but a stumble out of the gate in Game 1 could squander a home court advantage the team has worked hard to secure.