-- LOS ANGELES -- It really is hard to find a narrative that LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers isn't willing to indulge in. The other night he even asked a group of journalism students from USC, who were observing his postgame news conference, for extra questions at the end of what had already been a lengthy session after a blowout 127-95 win against the Brooklyn Nets.
But there is one subject he isn't touching right now.
And it's a topic the rest of the league most definitely is talking about with the Clippers off to a franchise-best 10-1 start.
So you know there's all this talk of the Clippers being the best team in the NBA now ...
"Noooo. Mmm, mmm. Nooo. Nooo," Rivers said before the question was even asked.
Part of Rivers' caution is the youngness of the season. Eleven games is hardly a large enough sample size to start making judgments, let alone boast about anything.
But mostly it's because Rivers and his team have been stung by all manner of playoff scorpions in recent years.
"You get tired of losing," Rivers said. "The whole second-round [playoff ceiling the franchise has yet to break through] ... I don't think our guys care about that, they just want to win. At some point guys just get tired of losing. I think our guys are at that point."
There are all sorts of metrics that would make a compelling case for the Clippers as the best team in the NBA right now.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Clippers have outscored their opponents by 183 points this season, the fourth-best margin through 11 games of a season in NBA history behind only the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls (plus-212), 1964-65 Boston Celtics (plus-194) and 1971-72 Milwaukee Bucks (plus-193).
They're leading the NBA in defensive efficiency and have the most dominant five-man lineup in the league. (According to ESPN Stats & Information, starters Blake Griffin- Chris Paul- J.J. Redick- DeAndre Jordan- Luc Mbah a Moute are 98 points better together than any other five-man lineup in the league.) They also feature a vastly improved bench with the additions of Raymond Felton, Brandon Bass and Marreese Speights.
Still, Rivers isn't going there.
"I don't care really," Rivers said, dismissing the best-team-in-the-league talk. "We like us. As good as we're playing, we can play a lot better."
Griffin actually started his postgame interview on Monday by saying his team had a couple of defensive "lapses" and could've played better during a first quarter in which it led the Nets 35-7 at one point.
Challenged to explain where any lapses could've been in a 35-7 game, Griffin laughed and sheepishly said, "Yeah, a couple."
In other words, this team really doesn't want to take any bows yet.
Rivers said it reminds him a bit of the 2007-08 championship team he coached in Boston. That was the NBA's first "super team," if you're into those sorts of labels, where Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined forces to win each of their first titles.
"Oh yeah," Rivers said. "It was the exact same thing with Paul and KG and Ray. They were tired of losing and they were like, 'Well, we gotta do it together.'"
But that team was all about Ubuntu, a philosophy and rallying cry used by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu as they fought against apartheid in South Africa that roughly translates as, "I am because we are."
This year's Clippers team has no such higher calling. Pierce was in Boston when Rivers explained it and ingrained Ubuntu into the DNA of that team. He's in Los Angeles now -- although he has yet to play this season -- and says it's vastly different.
"It's a lot different," Pierce told ESPN.com. "This team has a lot of built-up frustration. They have first-round losses, second-round losses.
"Ubuntu -- we don't have that. It's a totally different team. Different style, different team. This looks like built-up frustration over here."
The biggest difference really is that the 2007-08 Celtics were about three future Hall of Famers coming together after a decade-plus of failing apart, with other teams. These Clippers have mostly been together for six years, sharing all these painful playoff losses.
It all looked so promising in the first year of Lob City when the Clippers rallied to win a Game 7 on the road in Memphis in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. They were swept by San Antonio in the next round, but the season went down as a success for such a young team.
They went backward in Year 2, losing to the Grizzlies in a bruising six-game first-round series. The Clippers won the first two games, lost the next three, then lost Griffin to a high-ankle sprain during walk-through practice. According to one insider, they were practicing traps to get the ball out of Zach Randolph's and Marc Gasol's hands. Griffin spun, leaped, got bumped, landed on Lamar Odom's foot and let out the kind of scream that makes everyone in the gym cringe.
The Clippers lost Game 6, fired coach Vinny Del Negro and turned to Rivers to get them over the hump. Instead, the Donald Sterling scandal landed like a stink bomb in the middle of a first-round series against the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers somehow pulled out the series in seven games, marking the last time they've been ahead of the Warriors. But they basically collapsed out of emotional exhaustion in the next round against Oklahoma City. Which seemed like the worst thing that would ever happen in their careers, until they blew a 3-1 series lead against the Houston Rockets the next season.
Last season was just stupid. Griffin and Paul went down with season-ending injuries in the same game of a first-round playoff series against Portland, and Damian Lillard put them out with four straight wins.
You sort of have to bunch all those memories together to deal with the emotional trauma they evoke. Put it all in a run-on, stream-of-consciousness sentence and swallow it whole. Down it like a snake trying to eat a huge rat.
"The Houston series," Griffin said. "That's something that we still think about."
Of all the Clippers' playoff losses, that's still the worst because it was entirely in their hands. There wasn't a freak injury or twist of cruel fate. They just melted down.
"It happens," Griffin said. "You saw it happen to Oklahoma City, you saw it happen to the Warriors in the Finals, the Indians if you want to go baseball. That's part of it. As a team when you go through something like that, it can do one of two things: It can make you grow apart and resent each other, start pointing the finger. Or it can make you closer together. I think that's what that's done.
"Even last year, going through that season and that ending, I think it's brought us closer together."
Closer together, maybe. But still galaxies away from vindication. As good as they've played this season, they still have many of the same weaknesses as before. They could use an upgrade at small forward to match up with the Kevin Durants and Kawhi Leonards of the world. Teams will still foul Jordan late in games to try to force Rivers to use a smaller lineup. And someone other than Paul needs to be able to make a clutch shot.
But that's how thresholds always work. They are guarded until you finally overcome them.