We are just two days into the NBA postseason and already the question is cropping up, as it should: Do the Clippers regret angling, in the final few days of the season, to get the Mavericks in the first round of the NBA playoffs, as the No. 4 and 5 seeds, rather than pushing to work out a 3 vs. 6 matchup against the Lakers.
In the end, of course, the Lakers wound up with the seventh seed and are facing the No. 2 Suns—and the Clippers had no chance of moving up to No. 2. But the Clippers did go to extensive lengths to ensure that they would land at No. 4, including season-closing losses to Houston and Oklahoma City, two of the three worst teams in the NBA.
Maybe tanking to face Luka and the Mavs in the first round wasn’t the best idea?
— Lakers Nation (@LakersNation) May 22, 2021
Predictably, the Mavs opened the series with an offensive assault, leading by 17-6 out of the gate and going on to score 113 points on 50.0% shooting. The Lakers team in the opener of their series, and the Lakers lost to the Suns, looking disconcerted offensively in scoring only 90 points.
It’s likely that the Lakers will fight back and have a lengthy series against Phoenix, and it is even likely, still, that they’ll win the series. It also entirely possible that the Clippers will compose themselves on the defensive side of the floor and do a much better job limiting Dallas’ 3-point shooting, with a good chance still to win the series.
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But at least after the first go-round, on the question of taking on the Lakers or the Mavericks, the Clippers made a poor choice. Hindsight appears to be the big winner.
Tyronn Lue Claimed His Clippers Were Not Tanking
Of course, coach Tyronn Lue said all along that the notion of the Clippers tanking games late in the year to arrange what they perceived to be a better matchup was nonsense. Lue said he was simply resting players to prepare for the postseason grind.
“I don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks on the outside because I don’t listen to that anyway,” Lue said. “We decided to go health over anything else. We finally got our team healthy, and that’s what we focused on. … Whatever people say on the outside, I don’t care because I don’t read Twitter or have Twitter or Insta-twit and all that. I don’t care about all that. I’m my own man, and I do what I want to do.”
Maybe so, but the perception persisted. Lakers forward Jared Dudley addressed the topic ahead of last week’s NBA play-in games:
I do think it was funny you see a lot of teams as you would say managing their last couple games to try to avoid us and stuff like that. It’s funny to see that. … Every person has their own opinion. I personally. I’m obviously a T-Lue guy. You would’ve hated to play their guys going for the three seed and either Kawhi [Leonard] or Paul George or one of the main guys have an injury and just because you’re trying to move up to the three where let’s be honest it’s not really a big home-court advantage or a huge home-court advantage right now.
Lakers vs. Clippers to Come in Western Conference Final — If at All
Certainly, we can all be a bit disgruntled over the prospect of not getting a Lakers-Clippers battle again, for the second straight year. Most expected it in the Western Conference finals last year, until the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to Denver. Now, it would not again happen until the conference finals, but the way the Lakers and Clippers looked in their respective Game 1s, the West finals are far out of mind.
The Lakers must find a way to ignite star forward Anthony Davis, who had just 13 points on 5-for-14 shooting. Davis should be able to pummel the Suns defense.
For the Clippers, turning things around in the Mavericks series must start with limiting the 3-pointers by the Mavs. Perimeter defense was a strength for the Clippers during the season. In Game 1, The Clippers D allowed 47.4% shooting from the arc to Dallas, giving up 17 3s. That would be tied for fourth-most this season.
“I thought we got some decent looks on their side of the basketball, just understand our coverages and what we’re trying to do,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “But when you take the ball out of Luka’s hands, they got three-point shooting, so we got to make sure that we get out to those guys and make those guys put the ball on the floor.”