While the purple and gold have dominated the headlines this season, the red and blue have done something more important: win basketball games.
The Los Angeles Clippers (49-26) are primed to win their first Pacific Division title and the most games in franchise history this season – the franchise record is 49 wins – but have flown under the radar in comparison to their dramatic Laker counterparts.
Before the Miami Heat rattled off a historic 27-game win streak, the Clippers held the season’s longest streak, winning 17 games in a row from the end of November to the beginning of January.
But after sprinting out to a NBA-best 32-9 start, the Clippers have faltered, going a pedestrian 17-17 since. They once looked like a lock for the three-seed, right behind the mighty San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, yet now may be in jeopardy of losing home-court advantage in the first round.
As the inevitable winners of their division, the Clippers will have a top-four seed. But, as NBA rules dictate, if the Clippers are the four-seed, and the five-seed manages a better record, the Clippers will start the series on the road.
Now two games back in the loss column to both the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies, this may be their sobering reality. Which is perplexing, as there’s no palpable reason for the Clippers’ sudden demise.
Head coach Vinny Del Negro has cited a lack of effort and intensity in recent games as a major deterring factor, but the Clippers have enough talent to get by on most nights.
Whatever is the issue, it needs to be resolved fast. With only seven games remaining in the regular season, the Clippers cannot make any more excuses. They have to win now. A couple more losses, and they all but guarantee themselves three straight road playoff series before a daunting match-up with the Heat, if the Clippers somehow manage to get that far.
The Lakers have been playing better recently, but the truth is if they make the playoffs, they are going to be nothing more than a first-round out. They’re not going to beat the Spurs or Thunder; they would be lucky to win more than a game.
Meanwhile, the Clippers can still right the ship and win a series or two. They’ve been competitive against the Spurs and Thunder this year. Plus, as the Lakers have shown in most of their recent championship seasons, you don’t need the best record in the conference or league to make a deep playoff run.
In the beginning of the season, Los Angeles had high expectations for its two teams. One team has struggled all season, yet dominated the media coverage. The other has played championship-level ball, only to fall back down to earth late in the season. Still, they have a legitimate chance to make noise in the postseason. The first team is the Lakers; the second is the Clippers. My how things have changed.