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Vision for Postseason Looks Letter-Perfect

In the spirit of the Clippers’ successful slide to the sixth spot in the West, the NBA playoffs could use some more Ls.

Ls as in Los Angeles and Lakers and LeBron.

The league needs some fresh faces and new story lines, because if we get another Detroit-San Antonio Finals, ABC would be better off serving up reruns of “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives.” From the first season.

But first, the most simple of requests. Please, let the Clippers and Lakers and LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers make it past the first round.

If the Clippers and Lakers faced off, L.A. would be jumping. Laker fans would take the car flags out of their trunks and start driving around town with the Laker logo flapping in the breeze again. Clipper fans would start popping up everywhere, and the bandwagon would expand just like Donald Sterling’s entourage, which has included everyone from Lee Iacocca to David Hasselhoff this season.

If the Clippers made it to the Western Conference finals maybe they’d even get some local love. The Clippers have had the best record in town for two years running, but on any given day, people would rather talk about what’s wrong with the Lakers instead of what’s right with the Clippers.

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The NBA could do a lot worse than to have the nation’s No. 2 television market buzzing about basketball. We know No. 1 New York is a lost cause. The Knicks have been out of the playoffs since December, and even though the New Jersey Nets are just across the Hudson River, they might as well be buried next to Jimmy Hoffa as far as New Yorkers are concerned.

Viewers also think Detroit’s D equals Zs. Yawn. Bring on James. Let’s see if the Royal Highness of Hype can do it when it matters most -- the playoffs. It took him three seasons to get here, but he has finally arrived -- and with home-court advantage in the first round.

The league is still looking for another individual or team to capture the nation’s imagination. People watched Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal -- and then Bryant versus O’Neal -- but find little else enthralling.

We’ve seen over the last few years that NBA Finals -- Lakers = single-digit ratings. That’s a problem now that the Lakers are underdogs. The NBA doesn’t spin fairy tales. In this world, Cinderella and her glass slipper gets shoved aside by the groupie in six-inch heels.

An eighth-seeded team has upset a top-seeded team only twice since the NBA’s 16-team playoff format began in 1984, and seventh-seeded teams have knocked off second-seeded teams four times. Or, viewed from the other side, the top two teams win more than 90% of the opening-round series.

It’s worth noting that none of the big upsets occurred in this decade, a trend that was practically guaranteed to continue after the league made a midseason choice to switch the first round from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven series in 2003.

The 82-game season defines the best teams, and the best-of-seven series makes it too hard to undo. Even what many consider the most shocking Finals upset in NBA history -- the Detroit Pistons over the Lakers in 2004 -- doesn’t look so surprising if you check the stats. You know what they say about defense, and since Detroit’s Bad Boys won the championship in 1989, 12 of the 17 NBA champions finished in the league’s top five in points given up during the regular season. In 2004, the Pistons were second, the Lakers 16th. (The Spurs and Pistons are second and third this season. The Cavaliers are 10th, Clippers 12th and Lakers 15th.)

The biggest deterrent to the Lakers, Clippers or Cavaliers making it to late June is themselves. Teams in the NBA don’t go from broke to riches. As mentioned Wednesday on About.com, no team in the last 28 seasons has won a championship the season after not reaching the playoffs, and only one (the 2002 Nets) has made it to the Finals the season after sitting at home.

James hasn’t done this before, has no idea the new level of intensity that awaits. Neither do the Lakers’ Smush Parker or Sasha Vujacic. Kwame Brown experienced only three playoff games before he was kicked off the Washington Wizards last season. And it’s the maiden voyage for Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, Corey Maggette and Shaun Livingston of the Clippers.

That’s where Sam Cassell comes in. Cassell came into the league packing swagger. As a rookie he made a game-winning shot in Madison Square Garden that swung the 1994 Finals in favor of the Houston Rockets, and he has been making money jumpers ever since in the course of 103 playoff games.

If he got the Clippers to the second round it would be the third time a team enjoyed its best postseason result with Cassell on its roster. You might have noticed that Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Garnett and Brand all had their best seasons when Cassell was around -- with Olajuwon and Garnett winning most-valuable-player awards. This can’t be a mere coincidence. There has to be some special category for guys such as Cassell and Robert Horry.

Ah, Big Shot Rob. If the playoffs are here, it must be time to talk about Horry.

If the Spurs repeat, Horry would win his seventh championship ring. That would make him the eighth player in NBA history with seven rings -- and six of his seven predecessors are in the Hall of Fame. One of those Hall of Famers, K.C. Jones, has career scoring averages of 7.4 points in the regular season and 6.4 in the playoffs. Horry’s numbers are 7.4 regular season and 9.0 playoffs.

Horry wasn’t the star of any of his teams, but none of them could have won it without him. All of those game-deciding and series-swinging three-pointers have to count for something.

Look for the interest where you can, while you can, in these playoffs, because all of the history and the nature of the playoff game points to another Piston-Spur matchup in the Finals.

J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read more by Adande go to latimes.com/Adandeblog.


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