With the Clippers set to tip off against the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Monday, Eric Pincus takes a look at how the team has fared this season and whether they have a chance at winning over more Los Angeles-area sports fans.
Why didn’t the 56-26 Clippers go into the 2015 playoffs as a favorite in the Western Conference?
The Clippers have been generally viewed as pretender more than contender, likely because of their track record. After strong annual regular seasons, the Clippers came up flat last postseason in a second-round loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The team previous fell in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies in 2013 and in the second to the Spurs in 2012. Until the Clippers show they can get to the Western Conference Finals and beyond, there’s some natural skepticism that they’re capable of the feat.
After beating the San Antonio Spurs, the NBA’s defending champions, in a thrilling seven-game series, are the Clippers now a legitimate threat to come out of the West?
Four teams remain in the West, with the Golden State Warriors hosting the Memphis Grizzlies and the Clippers starting their second-round series on Monday against the Houston Rockets.
Chris Paul’s inspiring performance against the Spurs gives the Clippers a legitimate, albeit difficult, path to the NBA Finals. The bigger question is Paul’s left hamstring, which was strained in the first quarter on Saturday against San Antonio.
If he’s hampered throughout the rest of the postseason, the Clippers’ chances are greatly diminished. If Paul is able to play effectively, without missing any significant time, the Clippers are a threat.
Will Chris Paul still be booed at Dodgers games?
Death, taxes and Paul getting jeered at a Dodgers game are generally inevitable. Can Paul expect a different reaction the next time he visits Chavez Ravine? Probably not, although maybe the crowd will be less vigorous with their catcalls. Now if the Clippers win the title this year or even advance to the NBA Finals, perhaps more of a seismic shift occurs.
Can the Clippers, and by association, Chris Paul, win over the city of Los Angeles with the Lakers in limbo?
The Lakers have been one of the worst teams in the league over the past two seasons – the Clippers one of the best. Nonetheless, the city is primarily full of Lakers fans, some who will never appreciate any Clippers success.
Paul was briefly traded to the Lakers, before then-Commissioner David Stern stepped in to overrule the deal. Lakers fans hold a grudge against Stern, Paul and the Clippers, who were the primary beneficiary of the fallout.
A large percentage of Lakers fans simply won’t let that go, even if the Clippers win a title.
The Clippers will pull over some of the more casual, former Lakers enthusiasts. Perhaps the biggest inroads the Clippers will make will be among the youngest fans who may not be old enough to remember Kobe Bryant winning a title. Los Angeles is still a Lakers town and that’s not changing quickly.
How much time do the Clippers have to make inroads before the Lakers start winning again?
The Clippers have to decide this summer on the fate of center DeAndre Jordan, who will be an unrestricted free agent. Jordan also has to choose to stay, which seems likely if the Clippers offer him a maximum contract starting at nearly $19 million.
The franchise also needs to add depth to the roster, the team’s biggest flaw entering the postseason. Meanwhile, the Lakers may bring in a top prospect in the 2015 NBA draft, along with the return of forward Julius Randle who missed the season after suffering a broken leg in the first game of the season.
The Lakers also have enough cap room to add a maximum-salaried player this summer, and possibly two additional max players the following year. There’s no guarantee the Lakers successfully land franchise players in free agency, but the team has high hopes of returning to contention over the next two years.
This postseason may be the Clippers’ best chance to truly steal the spotlight from the Lakers but another second-round exit won’t get that done, even after an impressive win over the Spurs.