The chants reverberated through Staples Center on Saturday.
“We want Bron! We want Bron!”
But LeBron James was not going to play on this night, and that produced some glum looks on the faces of fans who had paid premium prices to see one of the NBA’s top stars in his only game in Los Angeles against the Clippers this season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ decision to rest James and fellow stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for a nationally televised game and in front of devoted NBA fans was the latest iteration of an issue that concerns Clippers Coach Doc Rivers.
“There are families that probably bought tickets tonight to see LeBron James and us play for the first time and they didn’t get a chance to see that,” Rivers said Saturday evening after the Clippers’ 108-78 blowout of the diminished Cavaliers. “And that’s not cool.”
It has become a common practice for teams to rest top players.
Rivers last week rested two of his best, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, who didn’t even accompany the team to Denver for Thursday’s game against the Nuggets.
When asked to suggest a long-term solution for this issue, Rivers said he was sure only about the need for the league to “protect our product.”
“I don’t know yet,” Rivers said. “I do know one thing, and I said it the other day, is that we really have to protect the national games.”
In a recent nationally televised marquee Saturday night matchup between Golden State and San Antonio, the league’s two best teams, the Warriors rested stars Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala, and Kevin Durant didn’t play because of a knee injury. The Spurs played without Kawhi Leonard, who was in concussion protocol; LaMarcus Aldridge, who experienced a minor heart arrhythmia; and Tony Parker because of a stiff back.
“I think we can protect the national games,” Rivers said. “Like, ABC’s games used to be in the afternoon and so they were protected because you’d play in the afternoon and you don’t play the night before.
“Now these games on Saturday night allow the scheduling guys to [have teams] play the night before. So I think we have to treat those games like they’re afternoon games and you don’t play the night before and then you don’t play the next night after. It sounds so easy but it’s not, because it’s hard scheduling around that way.
“We have to protect our product. I don’t have the solution. It’s hard.”
Clippers in West playoff race
The race for the fourth seed in the Western Conference and home-court advantage in the first-round of the playoffs is in full bloom.
And the Clippers are in the thick of it, along with the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies.
The Clippers are fifth in the West, two games behind the fourth-place Jazz. The sixth-seeded Thunder are 2½ games behind the Jazz and just a half-game behind the Clippers, with Memphis a half-game behind OKC.
That’s how close things are for the four teams.
The Clippers and Jazz have 12 regular-season games left, including a key encounter at Staples Center this Saturday. The Grizzlies also have 12 games remaining; the Thunder have 13.
VS. NEW YORK KNICKS
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Where: Staples Center.
On the air: TV: TNT; Radio: 570, 1330.
Records: Clippers 41-29, Knicks 27-42.
Record vs. Knicks: Clippers 1-0.
Update: The Clippers have defeated the Knicks nine consecutive times, their longest active winning streak against a single opponent and longest against New York in franchise history. The Knicks are one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA, allowing 108.6 points per game, ranking them 25.