March 13, 2018, 3:15 pm
CHICAGO -- If the Los Angeles Clippers hope to hold onto the Western Conference's final playoff spot, they will have to play well enough down the stretch to stave off the teams that remain hot on their tail.
The Clippers enter Tuesday's game against the Chicago Bulls having won two straight games and eight of their past 11 as the regular season winds down. Although the Bulls have long been out of postseason contention as they focus on evaluating and developing young players for the future, Chicago isn't conceding anything as it plays out the string.
For the Clippers (36-29), that means continuing to play as well on the road beginning Tuesday at the United Center -- as they did when they won four of six on their recent homestand.
"Tough games, every game," Clippers coach Doc Rivers told the Los Angeles Times after a victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday. "We've just got to keep our focus. We've got the one game at a time mantra, which we've kept all year."
As much as the Bulls have struggled this season as they begin a multiyear rebuilding effort, the Clippers -- who will also face the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder on back-to-back nights later this week -- can't afford to overlook its first stop of its three-game road swing in Chicago.
With 17 regular-season games left and with virtually no room for serious error to remain in playoff contention, the Clippers understand the importance of building off the momentum they have established in their past 10 games.
"We've got a tough stretch coming up," Clippers guard Lou Williams told the Times. "So to go on the road with a couple of wins under our belt, it feels good."
Chicago (23-43) has dropped seven of its past 10 games but is coming off a come-from-behind victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday. Establishing consistency and cohesiveness has not been easy for the Bulls since the All-Star break when team executives committed to spending the remainder of the regular season experimenting with a variety of combinations to go along with Chicago's young core of Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and rookie Lauri Markkanen.
The youth movement hasn't produced much success and hasn't allowed players like Dunn to establish a rhythm as the talent around him is constantly changing.
"It's tough -- you can't get by it," Dunn told reporters recently, according to the Chicago Tribune. "But we're all men -- just play basketball. That's our job. (You) don't try to get too involved with the other stuff that's going on. I just try to have positive energy and try to bring it every day. That's the only thing I can do."
That has been the mindset the Bulls have been forced to take on as their struggles have continued throughout the season. And while there's not much Dunn and his teammates can do about their circumstances, coach Fred Hoiberg still expects his players to remain as competitive as possible.
"It doesn't matter who's on the floor. You have to play with great effort and hopefully unselfishness," Hoiberg told the Tribune. "It is good for those (core) guys to have to figure it out. Those three guys are young players still trying to find their way. ... A big part of this is who is going to emerge as leaders."