National Basketball Association

LA Clippers catching heat for seemingly dodging Lakers in NBA playoffs

May 17

With the NBA's new play-in tournament in place for 2021, the drama for seeding ahead of the playoffs went until the very last day of the regular season.

But improving seeding might not have been the extent of the jockeying done in the home stretch of the season.

Of the six teams to secure an outright playoff berth in the NBA's Western Conference, the LA Clippers were the only team that finished below .500 in its final 10 games of the season.

That led to speculation that the Clippers effectively tanked down the stretch in hopes of avoiding an early playoff matchup with their crosstown rivals: LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

On April 25, the Clippers had a record of 43-19, fractionally behind the 42-18 Phoenix Suns for the No. 2 seed in the West and with a solid cushion on the 39-21 Denver Nuggets at No. 4.

A 4-6 finish to the season for LA ⁠— coupled with Denver's winning eight of its final 12 games ⁠— pushed the Clippers down to the 4-seed.

The seeding exchange all came to a head this past weekend.

The Clippers entered play Friday as the No. 3 but fell to the lowly Houston Rockets 122-115 by resting the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley and Reggie Jackson.

The loss to Houston, which had lost 22 of 25 games coming into the contest, raised some eyebrows.

Meanwhile, Denver beat the Detroit Pistons that same night to leapfrog LA in the standings.

Then the Clippers did very little to wrest the higher seed back from the Nuggets on the final day of the regular season. They rested Leonard, George and a host of other key players in a 117-112 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

After all the dust settled, the Clippers finished with the 4-seed and booked a first-round matchup against the fifth-seeded Dallas Mavericks.

Now, the Clippers will likely never admit to ducking the Lakers, even if it is arguably in their best interest to push that matchup as far down the road as possible. Plus, it's not like getting rest for stars ahead of the postseason grind is a bad thing.

Antoine Walker, who won the 2006 NBA championship with the Miami Heat, endorsed the idea of the Clippers dodging the Lakers on Monday's episode of "First Things First."

Walker even revealed that his Heat teams, led by Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal, intentionally tried to avoid the Chicago Bulls in the East.

But was the Clippers' purported strategy flawed? Nick Wright sure thought so.

"The fact that they are trying to game the system to avoid the team they're going to have to play anyway is, to me, it's not good strategy. And it's embarrassing for a team that is supposed to have ‘the king of L.A.’ on it and be the best team in the West," Wright said.

"Everyone should be trying to avoid you. You should not be trying to avoid other teams. But the Clippers revealed that they think of themselves this year what I thought of them last year, which is paper champions. Paper tigers. Not real contenders."

Colin Cowherd of "The Herd" compared the two Los Angeles teams to a pair of UFC fighters.

For Cowherd, the injured Lakers are aggressive and ready to take on any and all comers, while the Clippers, well … 

"The Clippers are so terrified of facing the Lakers, being on their side of the bracket, that they tanked to Houston and Oklahoma City. … If they met in an octagon, the Lakers would be moving forward and Clippers would be backpedaling."

Colin Cowherd believes the Clippers are terrified to face the Lakers, but the Lakers will take on anybody.

Whatever the case might be, now that the playoff seeds are set, a heavyweight clash between the Clippers and Lakers can't take place until the conference finals.

That is, assuming both teams make it that far.

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