The Los Angeles Lakers have been NBA Champions for 36 hours now and the main thing people are focusing on is LeBron James' legacy and the tired Michael Jordan GOAT debate. One thing that isn't getting enough coverage right now is that two months ago the Los Angeles Clippers actively tried to lose a game to improve the chances of the Portland Trail Blazers making the playoffs because they thought the Lakers would lose to Portland.
The number of people picking the then 9th-seeded Blazers to upset the team with the best record in the Western Conference is hilarious on its own, but when you add in the part about the Clippers? Oh, man, it is so delicious. It all stems from an article by Joe Vardon in The Athletic:
The No. 2 seed Clippers want the No. 1 Lakers to have to play Portland in the playoffs because they think there is a chance the Blazers could win that series. “I don’t get involved in that,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said when I asked him if that’s what he thinks. “I honestly don’t look at it. I heard our guys talking about it. I’m like, listen, that’s their business. Our business is who we’re playing. We need to focus on that.”
Way back on August 8, during the seeding games, Kawhi Leonard sat out the Clippers' game against the Blazers. Paul George only played 28 minutes. He played just over two minutes in the fourth quarter and came out with the Clippers down three with 5:09 remaining in the game and did not return. Operating under the assumption that George is one of your best players and your goal is to win the game, you should not do this.
Of course, the Clippers still ended up winning and the Blazers still managed to make the playoffs, so it's a wash. Now, back to the article.
The Blazers, if they do get into the playoffs, are not a traditional No. 8 seed. They were missing their two best defenders all season to surgeries in Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, and because of the pandemic they had time to heal and are both playing. They dramatically change the Blazers, giving them the length and foot speed to match up with the Lakers’ size, and they unlock Portland’s dynamic guards in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum — two players the Lakers, as constructed, might not have answers for in the playoffs.
Zach Collins would not play in the Lakers series. Damian Lillard got hurt during the series, but not until Game 4 while the Lakers were well on their way to a 3-1 lead. LA did, in fact, have an answer for CJ McCollum.
And then there are the Clippers. The team that blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets. The team that ended up firing its coach. This is the team that thought the best team in the West was vulnerable to an upset.
So the Lakers beat the Blazers. Then they beat the Rockets who were also built to give them trouble. And then they beat the Nuggets, the team that beat the Clippers. And finally, they beat the Heat while Kawhi Leonard watched from his home inside LeBron James' head.