Typically, when one thinks of professional basketball in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Lakers come to mind. Whether you’re a diehard Lakers fan or a casual observer, to know Los Angeles basketball is to know the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers have the history, the Hall of Fame players, the championship pedigree, the glitz, the glamour, well, you get the picture.
The Los Angeles Clippers, not so much, unless you factor in that they play in the same city/arena, and they can count actor/comedian Billy Crystal as a true ride or die fan. Other than sharing said arena and city, the Lakers have been the talk of the town for the past couple of decades. The Clippers found a bit of relevancy at the turn of this decade with the acquisition of point guard Chris Paul, in addition to the drafting of forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan.
These three would go on to form the core of what would become known as “Lob City.” Unfortunately for the Clippers, they didn’t enjoy postseason success, as they never advanced beyond the second round. In spite of not having been able to capitalize on their postseason appearances, the Clippers “rise” to prominence did coincide with the Lakers slide into basketball purgatory, i.e., missing the playoffs, with this season being the Lakers sixth consecutive year on the outside looking in.
The summer of 2018 brought what many believed would be a reversal of fortunes. The Lakers signed free agent superstar LeBron James to a four-year contract. This came on the heels of the Clippers trading Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets prior to the start of the 2017-2018 season, in addition to trading Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons during the season. These moves were followed by DeAndre Jordan leaving in the summer of 2018 to sign a free agent deal with the Dallas Mavericks, thus dismantling the heart and soul of the “Lob City” connection, while sending/allowing all of their star power to go elsewhere.
The Lakers would go back to being amongst the NBA’s elite, while the Clippers would slide back into obscurity. Alas, as Chris Berman of ESPN fame would say, “That’s why they play the games.”
Someone forgot to tell the Clippers that they were supposed to be bad. Additionally, someone forgot to tell the Lakers that in spite of adding a player the caliber of LeBron James, basketball is a team sport and he would need some help, as, after all, they do play in the loaded Western Conference.
A LeBron James led team had made the postseason every year since the 2005-2006 season. Even better than merely making the postseason, a LeBron James led team had advanced all the way to the NBA Finals for eight consecutive seasons, with his time being split evenly during this eight-year run as a member of the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers respectively, while winning three championships.
The 2018-2019 season saw the Los Angeles Lakers endure a plethora of injuries to different players, LeBron James included. James suffered the first significant injury of his career (a groin tear) during the Christmas Day game against the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, after which he would go on to miss the following 17 games. The James injury was preceded by point guard Rajon Rondo experiencing lengthy absences, to be followed by point guard Lonzo Ball and forward Brandon Ingram suffering injuries that caused them to miss multiple games and ultimately being shut down for the season to allow for their recovery. Suffice it to say, things didn’t go quite as the Lakers would have planned and/or hoped.
Meanwhile, Head Coach Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers regrouped with the team at hand and got to work. They would ignore the “experts” who predicted that they would win no more than 36 games. If this were to occur, they would have finished with a record 10 games below .500 at 36-46. The Clippers disagreed, as, they presently have a record of 48 wins and 34 losses, and hold the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff standings.
The Los Angeles Lakers, on the other hand, have a record of 37 wins and 45 losses, barely besting the fate that was predicted for the Clippers, and not finish 10 games below .500 themselves. Not quite the outcome the Lakers expected when the season began.
Both Los Angeles teams have different approaches as the season comes to a close. The Los Angeles Lakers would like for the season to end as soon as possible. Barring something totally out of left field, Lakers head coach Luke Walton will be dismissed. Additionally, several players have one-year contracts that will expire. Accordingly, they will either need to be re-signed or replaced. Needless to say, the Lakers front office brass has their work cut out for them.
The Los Angeles Clippers have a far different outlook. They would like to end the season having avoided any type of injury, so they can enter the playoffs at full strength. Also, the Clippers would like to dispel the notion that a superstar(s) is required for a team to win a championship. If they fall short in their quest, it won’t be for lack of effort. Doc Rivers has proven to be able to get as much out of his team as possible, even after the exodus of talent they experienced. Ready or not, there will be playoff basketball in the Staples Center this year, however, the home team won’t be who you might have expected. NBA playoff basketball in Los Angeles. Clippers playoff basketball that is.