Sat, Mar 27, 2021
By Jim Vassallo (Veri.bet Writer)
Philadelphia 76ers head coach, hours before facing the Los Angeles Clippers, proclaimed that the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers are the top teams in the Western Conference.
Tonight’s game between the 76ers and Clippers was the first since Rivers was fired by Los Angeles following the team’s 3-1 series meltdown against the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs last year.
Rivers has the 76ers sitting in first place in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.
"Listen, Utah has been great. But I still think the Clippers and Lakers are still the teams to beat in the West," Rivers said before the game between his 76ers and the Clippers.
He made sure to admit that he was making this statement “from afar,” noting that he isn’t able to watch as many games in the Western Conference now that he coaches in the Eastern Conference.
"I don't see anyone better than those two teams."
The Jazz (34-11) have the NBA’s best record. The Sixers are right on their heels. The Clippers are sitting in third place in the Western Conference behind the Phoenix Suns and the Jazz. The Lakers are in fourth place.
The fifth-place team in the West, the Denver Nuggets, had an impressive trade deadline day this year. They landed JaVale McGee from the Cleveland Cavaliers and Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic.
"I thought Denver had a great trade deadline -- they did great moves," Rivers said. "Utah is playing unbelievable basketball, so they are going to be right there. Portland, I thought improved their team as well.
"But I still think it's the Lakers and the Clippers."
Rivers coached the Clippers from 2013-2020 and helped the organization turn into a perennial playoff contender after being a league-wide disappointment for years.
"They're a different team," Rivers said. "They don't have a lot of the same guys, [but] they run a lot of the same stuff that I run. Going through [their plays at] shootaround today, I thought we were going through our shootaround at times. But I wouldn't have changed much offensively, either. I mean, they were pretty darn good last year."
Rivers admitted that last year was tough on multiple levels. The team didn’t get much time to practice together because of injuries. And then, the NBA instituted the bubble when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
"The difference is they've had a chance to practice together, you know?" Rivers said. "And you can see that. I think they've given the ball to P.G. more, which I think has helped him. So they've made some good changes. The biggest change I see also is defensively. I think they are a better defensive team. It's funny, the numbers don't exactly say that, but when I watch them, I think they're going to be a better defensive team, one of the better defensive teams when the playoffs start."
The Clippers shipped Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks for Rajon Rondo at the deadline last week. Rondo and Rivers won an NBA title together with the Boston Celtics.
"It was difficult at times last year," Rivers said in regards to not having someone like Rondo on the Clippers last year. "Especially without the practice time that we didn't have, to run a play down the stretch where you didn't already have the ball in P.G.'s or Kawhi's hands. Now you don't have to do that. You can actually run a set where Rondo can deliver the ball.”