By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A year after their playoff hopes were rocked by a racism scandal that left previous owner Donald Sterling with a life ban, the Los Angeles Clippers are flourishing in this postseason with a 'Be Relentless' approach.
With former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer a vocal and inspiring presence as the new owner and shrewd head coach Doc Rivers back at the helm, the franchise is one win away from reaching a maiden conference final.
Spearheaded by All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers have developed strong team unity and a growing belief that they have what it takes to win a coveted NBA championship.
Having fought back from 2-3 down to beat the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in a pulsating opening round, the Clippers lead the Rockets 3-1 in their best-of-seven second-round series with Game Five in Houston on Tuesday.
"We've got to go there, be hungry," point guard Paul told reporters. "In this situation, you can't give teams confidence, you can't give them life. We know they're going to come out ready in Game Five. We've got to stay the hungrier team."
So far, the Clippers have been almost ravenous in dominating the Rockets in this series and many now view them as the best team remaining in the postseason.
"I've watched all the teams in playoffs and right now the Clippers are playing better than any team left!" former Lakers great and five-time NBA champion Magic Johnson tweeted
"I think the Clippers can win the NBA Championship. They have a little bit of everything...the Clippers have outside shooting, Blake is dominating, the best leader and coach in Chris Paul & Doc Rivers and great team defense!
"If the Clippers end up winning they would have to thank the Spurs, for pushing them to play at a higher level."
Griffin agreed that the 4-3 series win over the Spurs gave the Clippers a massive boost.
"When you play a team like the Spurs in the first round and come out like that, it gives you a feeling of accomplishment," said Griffin.
"Winning two games at their place, it just gives you confidence as a team, but the whole season has led to this point."
The Clippers season began in October with a 93-90 home win against the Thunder at Staples Center where their new mantra 'Be Relentless' repeatedly flashed up on a giant video board. So far, they have lived up to that.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)