LOS ANGELES -- Clippers head coach Doc Rivers had been asked the question, “What’s the difference between the worst record and the worst team?”
Rivers doesn’t pay attention to his opponents’ wins and losses. His criteria is more of what he sees on the court.
“I can tell you what Philly is not,” Rivers recounted before the game. “And that’s the worst team.”
The Sixers entered Saturday’s matchup with the fourth-fewest wins in the NBA, ahead of only the Nets, Lakers and Suns. One of those victories came against a Chris Paul-less Clippers. This time around, though, the Sixers were shorthanded against the fully-loaded Clippers squad.
The Clippers won, 112-100, but not before fending off a Sixers battle (see Instant Replay). The Sixers were within one, 93-92, with five minutes to play before the Clippers went on a 7-0 spurt. The game included 21 lead changes and 12 ties.
“You have to find a way to match that energy,” Blake Griffin said. “That team is incredibly well-coached and have so much young talent and they play so hard. If you show up and expect to just beat them, you’re going to get beat. That’s what is awesome about that team. They are a lot of fun to watch.”
That fight has become a requirement for the Sixers. Their bench was stacked with talent and potential as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons looked on from the sidelines.
“If we don’t play hard and play with energy, we don’t really stand a chance,” T.J. McConnell said. “We’re so beat up. We have eight guys. We have to play with energy or it’s going to be a long night for us.”
The Sixers took that mentality with them on this road trip. They pushed the Trail Blazers to overtime Thursday, bouncing back from recent blowout losses.
Richaun Holmes scored a career-high 24 points with nine rebounds off the bench. McConnell led all players with 10 dimes. Starters Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Jahlil Okafor all scored in double digits. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot held his own getting the start in place of Gerald Henderson (hip) against JJ Redick.
Ultimately the All-Star talent of Paul (30 points, seven assists), DeAndre Jordan (19 points, 20 rebounds) and Griffin (15 points, 10 rebounds) were too much overcome.
“Philadelphia plays extremely hard,” Jordan said. “They’re a well-coached team. They execute their stuff and they’ve got a lot of talent, so it’s something where we have got to have the right mindset coming out from the start of the game throughout the whole game.”
What also stands out to Rivers about the Sixers is the way Brett Brown has kept them together and moving forward in spite of their record. Rivers knows the tribulations of coaching a losing team. Before he won the 2008 championship and became head coach of a playoff contender, Rivers was fired by the Magic following a 1-10 start in 2003. Years later, he experienced an 18-game losing streak with the Celtics.
“People who have never coached have no idea how hard it is to get a team that’s not winning to buy into roles,” Rivers said. “That is a near impossibility, and yet Brett somehow pulls that off. That is hard to do because the guys who aren’t playing are thinking, 'I’m coming in, getting my shots.' There’s a race to be a star on teams like that, through injuries, it’s been impressive to watch.”
The Sixers will face a more evenly-matched opponent in the 20-45 Lakers on Sunday. Still, they can't let up on that fighting mentality they have had in games against playoff teams.