Friday, May 05, 2006

Who do the Clippers REALLY Want in Round 2?

OK... there are some obvious reasons that the Clippers would want the Lakers.

1) The Clippers get Home Court Advantage.
2) They get to sleep in the own beds for two weeks while Dallas and San Antonio are traipsing around Texas. (OK, Dallas to San Antonio isn't such a haul, but those guys are still sleeping in hotels, which is just not the same thing. How big a deal is this? I don't know, since it's never happened.)
3) They match up against the Lakers better, since teams that spread the floor and make threes have hurt the Clippers rotating defense this year.
4) It would be THE biggest series of the 2006 playoffs, putting the Clippers front and center on the national stage for the first time ever. The Clippers on ABC? Never thought I'd see the day.

BUT, having said all that, if you really think it through, the Clippers want the Suns. Here's why:

1) The Clippers NEVER REALLY have HCA in a game against the Lakers. When the Lakers are the home team, the crowd is about 95% Lakers fans. When the Clippers are the home team, it's about 55% Clippers fans, 45% Lakers fans. How did I arrive at these numbers? Well, believe it or not, they're just estimates. I know, shocking. BUT, I was at the Clippers home game against the Lakers on Jan. 7 when Kobe went for 50, 40 in the second half. In the first half, when Kobe touched the ball, he was booed. In the second half, as he started heating up, the chant of 'KOBE, KOBE, KOBE' was all you could hear. (It was actually pretty freaky; 19,000 people with a multiple personality disorder.) Remember, the Clippers don't have NEARLY as many season ticket holders as the Lakers, so Laker fans buy up all the extra tickets when the Lakers are playing. More importantly, admit it or not, many Clipper 'fans' are actually basketball fans who choose to pay half as much for Clippers tickets - and a lot of them are closet Laker fans. So, I actually think the Clippers would have LESS HCA against the Lakers than they would against the Suns. At least against the Suns, they'd have the crowd completely behind them for 3 games. (As I've pointed out in prior posts, there's certainly a financial incentive to have that extra home game, but I'll focus on the basketball issues here.)
2) OK, it would be nice to not have to travel for 2 weeks (making it a total of over 3 weeks when you figure in the early end to the Denver series.)
3) The way George, Vujacic and Cook are shooting the 3 right now, I'm not sure the match ups are that much better against the Lakers. Better... but not that much better.
4) Keep winning and we'll get plenty of national attention. I'm not sure we want that much more this soon. Kobe's used to it... Elton isn't.

I mean, you get HCA advantage because you have a better regular season record. And the team with the better record is the better team, right? And Phoenix had 9 more wins during the regular season than the Lakers. So you want the Lakers, right? Well, this Lakers team is NOT the team that was 26-26 at the All Star break and 34-34 on March 20. In fact, the Lakers and Suns have basically identical records since the All Star break. And just look at their series. It's not about wanting the 'weaker' team. It's a pick 'em.

Here's the real reason the Clippers want the Suns. All of the stuff above is well and good, and if you're just looking at those factors, you want the Lakers. The Battle of LA! What could be more fun?

This is the greatest season in Clippers history (sad but true). Best regular season in Clippers history; second best in Franchise history; first playoff series win in 30 years; first 7 game series win EVER; etc. There is one thing that can spoil this season... Exactly one:

A playoff loss to the Lakers is the only thing that can spoil the Clippers' season!

Think about it. What more do you want from this season? An NBA championship? That would be great, but I'm not holding my breath. Even if the Clippers get swept by the Suns in the second round, who cares? All of the accomplishments remain, and the team is young, talented, deep and (mostly) signed. You take everything that happened this year, you improve on it for next year, and go deeper into the playoffs. It's still a dream season, even with a Suns sweep. As for the rivalry, if the Lakers are sitting at home watching games on TV while the Clippers are still playing, that's PLENTY for me.

BUT... if the Clippers lose to the Lakers in the playoffs, it has the potential to spoil the whole season. The in-roads into the local sports scene, two consecutive years of being 'the best NBA team in LA', the swagger (to use the most over-used word in sports today)... all gone if the dreaded Lakers win when it REALLY counts.

Of course, the BEST scenario would be to face the Lakers and dominate them, which I certainly think is possible. And while we're on the subject, the really, really best scenario would be to win the NBA title and then win a couple more after that. But let's not get greedy. The risks are way too high with a Clippers-Lakers series, and there's just no downside to a Clippers-Suns series.

So here's hoping the Suns complete the comeback and win game 7 in Phoenix Saturday.