The three-seed Los Angeles Clippers will face a familiar foe in the first round of this year's NBA playoffs, going up against the six-seed Dallas Mavericks. These two squads faced off in the first round of last year's bubble playoffs and gave us some very exciting games, including an all-time buzzer-beater by Luka Doncic.
It wasn't a sure thing we'd get that rematch, though. Pretty much all of the seeding placements were not set in stone leading into last Sunday, the last day of the season. There is a universe in which the Clippers would have faced their cross-town rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, in the first round. The Clippers and the Denver Nuggets appeared to be playing rival games of tanking in which they both wanted to avoid the second overall seed in the West because the Lakers are likely to enter the postseason as a seven-seed, depending on what happens in the play-in game on Wednesday night. The Clips lost their last two games and sat both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, while the Nuggets rested everyone important on Sunday, all but guaranteeing a loss and a first-round matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers.
This kind of strategic maneuvering is nothing new in the NBA. It happens every year when playoff seeding is still murky heading into the final few games of the season. Nobody on the court is actively trying to lose, and resting key players to make sure they have fresh legs for postseason play is both understandable and justifiable. If that just so happens to result in a more favorable first-round matchup, then why not?
Monday contained a lot of talk about the Clippers' decision to rest their stars for those final two games and further push the theory that they're intentionally ducking the Lakers in the first round. Brian Windhorst even said that the scouts and executives he talked to "couldn't believe" what the Clippers were running on the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder and implied it was a shockingly blatant attempt to lose a basketball game.
Skip Bayless is shocked and affronted about that whole idea. He spent some time on Undisputed this morning explaining why the Clippers did not intentionally lose to avoid the Lakers and called it a bunch of "phoney-baloney."
I don't really understand why anyone is up in arms about this. Like, yeah, sure, if the Clippers looked like they were intentionally missing shots or obviously blew a chance to win the game, that would be one thing. But all they did was rest the players they desperately need to be healthy to make a deep playoff run. Nobody can tell them they shouldn't have done that, especially given Leonard and George's lengthy list of injuries that have hindered them in the postseason recently. Every other team in the league would have done the exact same thing in that position. And the Lakers are not exactly your average seven-seed. Avoiding them as a first-round opponent is simply being smart, not disingenuous to The Game or whatever vague concept opponents want to point to as why this was bad.
So, dare I say it... I agree with Skip Bayless? A revelatory moment for this writer. At least as far as why what the Clippers did wasn't just to avoid the Lakers. This is, indeed, a bunch of baloney. It's just smart planning with George and Leonard. Avoiding LeBron and Anthony Davis is an added bonus that probably wasn't the motivation for the actions.
Besides, the league itself certainly isn't going to get up in arms about this. Avoiding the Lakers in the first round means the only possibility for a matchup will come in the Western Conference Finals. Do you think Adam Silver would prefer the two LA teams beat the hell out of each other next week or face off with a trip to the Finals on the line? That's ratings heaven right there.