Clippers, not Lakers are Kings of L.A.
March 08, 2019 9:00 AM
by Tony Mejia
It’s probably safe to assume Steve Ballmer puts a fair amount of thought into things before they come out of his mouth.
The former Microsoft CEO turned Los Angeles Clippers owner knows that his team making the playoffs this season means they have to send their first-round pick to the Boston Celtics. Since they traded leading scorer Tobias Harris to the 76ers on Jan. 29, it looked like they were punting on this season to go into this summer with a pair of max-salary slots and a lottery pick.
Instead, the pursuit of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler will have the enticement of a young supporting cast that has acquired some playoff experience. Who knows? It might prove far more valuable than a rookie to mentor.
Ballmer surprisingly let it be known throughout the organization that he wanted to make the playoffs despite the Harris deal, which also shipped center Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott to Philadelphia in exchange for future first-round picks, rookie guard Landry Shamet and forwards Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala, who were valuable due to their expiring contracts.
The Clips moved Avery Bradley for the expiring deals of forward JaMychal Green and guard Garrett Temple for the same reason, clearing cap space, but didn’t cripple themselves since the players who came back were also capable rotation options.
Watching Shamet drain seven first-half 3-pointers in a Sunday afternoon blowout of New York, it’s clear that L.A. got itself a special weapon in exchange for Harris, who was a borderline All-Star. It’s been a tremendous few weeks for a front office headlined by Jerry West, Lawrence Frank and GM Michael Winger.
Head coach Doc Rivers has praised the resiliency of a group that took an emotional hit when these moves were made but quickly picked itself back up in order to continue a run at the playoffs.
There may not be a sweeter win for the Clippers than Monday’s 113-105 victory over the Lakers, which came in front of the Lake Show fan base since they were the designated home team. The comfortable upset not only wrapped up a 2-0 week for us in this spot, but also essentially ended LeBron James’ hopes of reaching the playoffs in his first season wearing purple and gold.
The Westgate SuperBook took its prop asking whether the Lakers would reach the postseason off the board altogether after a day with the odds on ‘no’ at -900. If you got in on the 6-to-1 payout available prior to the loss to Clips, your ticket is probably in the trash.
Big man Montrezl Harrell and pesky guard Patrick Beverley egged on Lakers fans as the final seconds trickled down on another disappointing night for their fan base. After decades of playing the role of overlooked little brother, the Clippers have had some of their best moments this decade and want to completely overwhelm the Lakers over the next 10 years. That’s Ballmer’s vision, complete with a new arena to come and franchise players who can help a team that has never reached the conference finals compete for championships.
Sixth Man of the Year favorite Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari, Harrell, Beverley and kids like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Shamet and center Ivica Zubac, who the Clips poached from the Lakers for Muscala, will likely make up next season’s supporting cast and should continue to be the driving forces between this unlikely playoff push.
It’s looking like the Clippers, Spurs and Sacramento Kings will be vying for the final two spots in the Western Conference over the next month, and you have to like Ballmer’s chances of watching his team become the only Staples Center resident playing meaningful games in downtown L.A. next month.
Entering Friday night’s home date with the Thunder, the Clippers have won six of eight outright, failing to cover only once in that span. They’ll play 11 of their final 16 contests at home and will leave the state for a single trip, from March 22-28. All six of L.A.’s final games will be played in California. Considering they play the Cavs twice and will face the Bulls and Knicks again, there are enough gimme games to trust they won’t drop out of the top eight, especially since they hold a tie-breaker on Sacramento after sweeping all four regular-season meetings.
Celtics at Clippers (Monday): We’ll ride their efforts against the slumping Celtics since they should be extremely well-rested, playing for just the third time in eight days. Boston, which will be wrapping up a four-game road trip, may be a slight underdog if it’s not a pick ’em, but we’d still be willing to lay a few points with L.A. CLIPPERS
Kings at Wizards (Monday): Sacramento and Washington figure to be in the highest-scoring game of the day. Both teams prefer to go as fast as possible in terms of pace and should give the scoreboard a workout in D.C. Expect the total to surpass 240, but don’t be scared away and enjoy the shootout. OVER
Last week: 2-0
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