And, so, here we are.
Los Angeles, California is poised to become the professional basketball capital of the world. Some might say it already is by virtue of the fact that it’s the only city with two NBA franchises within its environs.
What’s that, Metro New York? (Knicks and Nets) Well, first off, you’d be hard pressed to say that the Knicks are a professional basketball franchise.
OK. How about this?
It’s the only city with two NBA franchises in the playoffs within its environs. (Oops! Sorry, NYC.) Anyway, for at a least a week, and if the roundball gods will it, possibly more, the arena known as Staples Center will be busier than at any time in its existence.
Both our beloved Clippers and our arch-rival Lakers will keep the building humming nearly every day next week. With some good fortune, the Clippers will defeat the Denver Nuggets and the Lakers will trounce the Phoenix Suns and we’ll see something the City of Angels has never ever seen before: a knock-down drag-out battle between the darling of the Southland’s bandwagon fans – the Lakers – and the little team that could, the aforementioned Los Angeles Clippers.
The Nuggets are priming themselves for their first-round series with the Clippers by playing that time-honored, now ubiquitous, “we don’t get no respect” card.
"It's going to motivate us," Carmelo Anthony said. "We're hearing a lot of stuff about them wanting to play us. We take that as motivation."
Added forward Ruben Patterson: "I've heard they've been talking a little trash or whatever. But it's the playoffs. It ain't the regular season. Everything will be totally different. We'll have Earl back. I'm looking forward to it. It feels good for me because I ain't been to the playoffs for a couple of years."
"They had our number during the regular season," Kenyon Martin said. "We played well a couple of times. Well, maybe a game and a half. The other two games and a half they took it to us. It's the playoffs now. It's a different story. Guys' focus is a lot better."
Referring to the blown lead against L.A. on April 4, Martin said, "It's probably the best first half in the history of basketball, (followed by) the worst half."
However, like baseball’s New York Yankees, the Clippers are being disparaged for playing by the rules. I like Coach Mike Dunleavy’s attitude.
"They can try to generate any kind of motivation they need at this point and time, if that's what they're trying to do," Dunleavy said. "I'm offended if they're offended."
Or, as Dallas’ maverick owner, Mark Cuban, said to Mike Tirico and Bill Walton on Wednesday’s ESPN telecast of the Clippers v. Mavericks final game, “[to get the sixth seed and home-court advantage in the first round,] I’d start me at center.”
To me, the Clipper-Nugget series comes down to coaching. Coach Dunleavy has to convince his team to play defense for 48 minutes, game in and game out. He has to convince Corey Maggette that the Lawrence J. O’Brien Trophy is the prize, not having a place in the starting lineup. He has to convince his team to run the offense through All-Star Elton Brand and future All-Star Chris Kaman. He has to convince Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley to play up to the level of their playoffs past. He (and Cassell) has to encourage Shaun Livingston to play under control, showing the promise everyone sees in him, while containing his youthful enthusiasm. He has to convince his team that the Nuggets are gunning for them and that the Nuggets aren’t and won’t be the same team they beat so easily during the regular season.
If he can do this, the Clippers will do something they’ve never done before in the state of California and not as a franchise since 1976: advance beyond the first round.
If the Clippers can do that and the Lakers can beat the Suns, we’ll see one of the most exciting things we’ve ever seen in our lifetime, the Clippers vs. the Lakers in a battle for the Southland in a time when it really counts: the playoffs.
But, that’s a topic for another time.
Ciao for now!
Thanks to the Denver Post and the Los Angeles Times for the players' and Coach Dunleavy's quotes.