Yes, we are two games into the 2020 Western Conference Finals as the (Lakers with 2-0 lead).
Yet a week later, there is still a segment of the population thinking about what the basketball world was deprived of.
Imagine a conference final that doesn’t feature two title favorites who also happen to both hail from Los Angeles.
But wait, 2020 keeps doing its thing — thanks to a historic meltdown and a historic comeback by the Nuggets.
Fans and media craved this matchup ever since last summer
Aside from the fact the Clippers and Lakers will not be facing off in these playoffs, let’s acknowledge the fact that fans and media had been hyping up this matchup for over an entire calendar year.
LeBron versus Kawhi.
AD versus PG-13.
“Who owns LA?”
It had all the marquee names and storylines that would generate huge interest worldwide.
The reigning Finals MVP would face James for a potential shot to be the only player in NBA history to win Finals MVP for three different franchises and settle the back-and-forth debate of who is the best player in the world.
Throw all of that out the window.
The Lakers handled their business in the conference semifinal by eliminating the Rockets in five games. The Clippers had a chance to do the same with a 3-1 lead against the Nuggets.
The Clippers went back to being the Clippers
With a chance to reach its first conference final in franchise history, the Clippers blew it and reverted back to its reputation as the laughingstock franchise, not just of Los Angeles, but the entire NBA.
They blew a 16-point lead in Game 5 and a 19-point lead in Game 6, culminating in a 104-89 loss in Game 7 as the Nuggets outscored them 50-33 in the second half.
As much respect and praise Denver deserves for coming back, the Clippers choked.
Simple as that.
On paper, the Clippers are the superior team. Many pundits even deemed the Clippers as the deepest team from top to bottom. However, the flaws the Clippers failed to address during the regular season came back to bite them.
The Clippers’ chemistry (or lack thereof) and overall team morale were exposed in those final three losses. The second-seeded team in the West still racked up wins because its talent masked those flaws against most of the NBA who were simply inferior in talent.
That won’t work in a seven-game series in the playoffs against a top-tier team.
Load managing came back to bite the Clippers.
Before the NBA restart in Orlando, the Clippers had played 64 regular-season games.
Leonard played in 51 of those games with his longest stretch of playing 11 consecutive games. George played in only 42 and missed the first 12 games of the season as he recovered from shoulder surgery, along with missing most of January with a hamstring injury.
The Clippers often listed these two as inactive with some sort of injury when in reality we knew it was load management.
Sure, the Clippers were able to keep Leonard and George healthy for the playoffs.
But at what cost?
If the coaching staff went out of its way to ease up on the two stars, wouldn’t that trickle down to the rest of the team?
This led to a nonchalant and lack-of-urgency approach to the regular season.
Keep in mind these are the Clippers. How can they be so entitled when they have accomplished nothing yet?
They aren’t the Warriors — who have already built strong chemistry — coming off four straight finals appearances and two titles taking a conservative approach to the regular season.
Given the championship expectation, the Clippers abandoned the importance of the regular season because their focus all year was on the playoffs.
They did this to themselves.
Coach Doc Rivers’ most ideal lineup in the playoffs consisted of Leonard, George, Patrick Beverly, Marcus Morris and Ivica Zubac.
This starting lineup was on the floor only seven times during the regular season.
The inconsistency in roster availability carried on from the regular season to the Orlando bubble. It proved to be too tall of a task to ask this roster to play heavy, meaningful playoff minutes together against a dangerous Denver team.
Beverly missed a handful of playoff games due to a calf injury.
We all knew what happened to Lou “Magic City” Williams… no need to revisit that fiasco again.
These were just a few of many Clippers who were in and out of the lineup.
Perhaps this is a wake-up call for the Clippers to come back stronger next season and be consistently locked in the whole way 一 not just against the Lakers and in the playoffs.