Battered and bloodied Clippers exit playoffs early again – USA TODAY

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The battered and bloodied Los Angeles Clippers fought to the end only to exit the playoffs early once again.

Together for five years now, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have yet to make it past the second round and this time, they weren’t even around when the Clippers lost in six games to the Portland Trail Blazers after owning a 2-0 lead. Paul went out with a broken right hand in Game 4, when Griffin re-aggravated the left quadriceps injury that cost him 41 games this season.

Their teammates were hobbled, too.

J.J. Redick was bothered by a heel injury over the final weeks of the season; DeAndre Jordan turned his ankle in the closing minutes Friday night; and Austin Rivers ended up with 11 stitches over and under his left eye after taking an inadvertent elbow from Al-Farouq Aminu in the first quarter of what became the Clippers’ fourth straight loss to end the season.

“What I’ve loved about this group, they never looked for an excuse,” coach Doc Rivers said. “That team had more heart than any team I’ve ever seen. It was amazing to coach them.”

The Clippers finished with a 55-33 record, including a second-place finish in the Pacific Division, in Rivers’ third season. Last year, they lost to Houston in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals after blowing a 3-1 lead. In 2014, they bowed out in six games to Oklahoma City in the second round.

“You have to be willing to get your heart broken to be a champion,” Rivers said. “You have to do it over and over again. We had a bunch of guys in our locker room with their hearts broken, but it was worth it, worth the journey.”

Jamal Crawford, the league’s Sixth Man of the year, said the latest playoff failure felt different from the others.

“I feel like the ones in the past, some of our fears, were kind of self-inflicted, something we kind of brought on ourselves,” he said, “but you lose your two best players in the same game, you get what you can and you live with the results. We gave everything we had.”

It’s possible that Rivers, who is also president of basketball operations, could revamp the roster by trading away one of the Clippers’ Big Three after five years together without a title. Paul and Griffin each have one year left on their contracts, including player options for 2017-18. Jordan has two years remaining, with a player option for 2018-19.

The team got a long look at life without Griffin while he was out injured this season, in addition to his four-game suspension after breaking his hand while punching the team’s assistant equipment manager in January.

“I never stop thinking about improving the team,” Rivers said. “I think about it every game, every day, so that doesn’t change for me. Literally every game when I’m coaching I’m watching, too. I watch and read, and we’ll be ready.”

Here’s some things to know about the Clippers heading into the offseason:

BIGGEST NEED: They could stand to add more shooting and Jordan should practice his free throws this summer to minimize the biggest flaw in his game.

GOOD NEWS: They have better draft picks — 25th in the first round and 33rd in the second — than in recent years. Griffin is expected to resume working out and playing this summer after undergoing a bone marrow injection in his partially torn left quadriceps tendon. Paul is already recovering from hand surgery. Paul Pierce said he’s 50-50 about retiring after the 38-year-old forward had career lows of 6.1 points on 36 percent shooting this season.

BAD NEWS: They have decisions to make on unrestricted free agents Crawford, Luc Mbah a Moute, Jeff Green, Jeff Ayres and Pablo Prigioni (who turns 39 next month). Mbah a Moute was one of the team’s best defenders and a starter for much of the season. Green and Prigioni played their first seasons with the team. Ayres converted a pair of 10-day contracts into a roster spot over the final three months of the season.

OPTIONS: Cole Aldrich, Wesley Johnson and Austin Rivers can exercise their player options for next season in search of bigger paydays elsewhere. Aldrich and Johnson were part of an upgraded bench in their first season with the team.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Battered and bloodied Clippers exit playoffs early again – USA TODAY

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