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Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Raul Romero Jr.)
Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Raul Romero Jr.)
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Few would have predicted the Clippers would be among the top teams in the Western Conference shortly after they started the season at 3-7.

Fewer would have marked them as championship contenders after they lost six games in a row.

Yet, after 51 games, the Clippers (35-16) sit in second place, a half-game behind the Minnesota Timberwolves (36-16) and percentage points ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder (36-17) and Denver Nuggets (36-17). A victory Monday at Crypto.com Arena could propel the Clippers into the top spot.

For now.

The four teams are expected to jockey for playoff positions as the season heads into the final 30 or so games. No. 1 will be up for grabs.

“It’s going to go back and forth all year because you’re in the Western Conference and those are really good teams,” Coach Tyronn Lue said. “It can go any way any night.

“So, we just want to make sure at the end of season, we want to try to get that No. 1 seed and be the No. 1 seed coming into the playoffs. It feels good right now, but it’s going to be a lot of jockeying back and forth. We understand that, but we are in a good position.”

Lue has been encouraged by how well the team has responded over the past three months, losing just nine games since the losing streak. With a healthy Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, combined with James Harden’s pass-first mentality and Russell Westbrook’s energy off the bench, the Clippers have become one of the most talked about teams in the NBA.

“It means a lot (to get the recognition),” Lue said. “Just all the hard work these guys have put in and our coaching staff as well.”

Locking down the top seed in the West would generate even more conversation among basketball watchers. The Clippers haven’t been near the top of the conference at this point of the season since 2021, when they reached the conference finals in Lue’s first year as head coach.

“Just having home court throughout (the playoffs) for our fans (would be special),” Lue said. “Our fans have been great, and have been really positive. They stood behind us even when we struggled early on.”

Lue, however, is quick to say that there remains a lot of basketball to be played and improvement to be made. Lue said he will implement additional plays and schemes after the All-Star break.

“I think that we are making a conscious effort of being better at and better with our spacing, as far as when teams blitz us small, pick and rolls,” Lue said.

“I think defensively, just not having a lot of game plan mistakes, understand we’re going to blitz or we fire (and) understand our rotations.”

Lue said that in his first season with the Clippers, it took the team weeks to get good when teams blitzed, when teams played small and in pick and roll situations. By the end of the season, though, “we got really good” he said.

Lue is hoping for a repeat of three seasons ago.

“We got to get better at the end of the season and if we’ve checked those boxes, I will feel really good about that.”

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