The Lakers beat the Houston Leprechauns last night leaving both Los Angeles based professional men’s basketball teams up 3-1 in their respective Western Conference Semi-Finals series. The Clippers get the first crack at a close-out game tonight against the Denver Nuggets. This means Los Angeles is potentially two games away from an all LA Western Conference Finals, which is… pretty cool.
Although it is an outcome that’s been predicted since the start of these playoffs, it is no less exciting to know that the Lakers and Clippers may soon face off for a chance to play in the NBA Finals. In a very real way this match-up has the potential to create a real rivalry between two teams that have had a faux rivalry for years. Believe me when I say that basketball fans in LA are excited at the prospect.
The interesting thing however is how different this potential Western Conference match-up is viewed by the teams and their fans.
Now, before I dig deeper, I want to acknowledge how crazy it is to write about something that isn’t a reality yet. Some would call it sacrilegious and cry “Don’t jinx it!“, or worse for Clippers fans, “Don’t curse it!“. The Clippers have a somewhat bad history with the C-word. Both teams still have to win one more game and winning a close-out game against any NBA team is rarely easy. I don’t expect the Rockets or Nuggets to simply hand the LA team their fourth victory. However, I also don’t anticipate either LA team not winning their fourth game against their opponent.
It’s just a matter of when.
So, at the risk of creating a glitch in the Matrix or a wrinkle in the space-time continuum, lets take a deeper look at what a Western Conference Finals would mean to both LA teams. Both the franchises and their fans,
The Los Angeles Lakers
Last Time in Playoffs: 2012-13
Last Time in WCF: 2009-10
Record against the Clippers: 1-2
Western Conference Seed: #1
The Lakers and their fans have suffered through several lean years. They have not been to the playoffs since 2012 and before this season, had not won a playoff game since 2011. Lean years indeed! Lakers fans are a committed bunch however and their confidence in their team never wavered.
Sometimes, it would be OK if it wavered a little, but it rarely does!
With the Lakers not only in the playoffs, but as the #1 seed and not just the #1 seed but a favorite to win it all, Lakers fans have been, well, vocal. As they should be! One of the great things about being a fan of any team is being able to proudly call out your team when they are doing well and the Lakers are doing well. They currently hold a 3-1 lead on the Houston Rockets and the Rockets put up very little resistance in game 4 giving the Lakers, and their fans, a boost of confidence.
Should the Lakers reach the Western Conference Finals in 2020 it will mean a lot to both the team and their fans. The franchise went all in adding Anthony Davis this off-season in an effort to end the playoff drought. They gave up a lot, but they got a perennial All-Star to pair with one of the greatest to every play the game in LeBron James. A berth in the WCF means that gamble paid off.
Or does it?
You see, that’s the think about being a Lakers fan. The playoffs are nice, the #1 seed is nice, heck, even the Western Conference Finals is nice. But, it’s not enough. The Lakers franchise is programmed to think bigger, to want more. Some find that irritating, but I don’t know how you can do anything but respect it. The Lakers and their fans want a Championship.
While reaching the WCF will no doubt be celebrated in the Lakers locker room and in LA in general, it will be a muted celebration. The Lakers, and their fans, expect more.
Los Angeles Clippers
Last Time in Playoffs: 2018-19
Last Time in WCF: Never!
Record against the Lakers: 2-1
Western Conference Seed: #2
One note: When I started writing this the Clippers had not yet tipped for Game 5. As I finish this, the game is over which will make a lot of this a bit more…real.
The Clippers have been the better professional men’s basketball team in LA for years. It’s odd to think that for several young fans they grew up thinking of the Clippers as winners and the Lakers as, well, not winners. Clippers fans in fact fall into a few different categories. There are the aforementioned young fans that love the team and sees them as winners. Then, there are the OG fans who endured the time, really – the decades – when the franchise was awful.
Regardless of which type of Clippers fan you are, both are aware of the teams history.
This off-season the Clippers were able to add Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Like the Lakers, they gave up a lot to add stars. Also like the Lakers, the gamble seems to have paid off. Whats intriguing about this Clippers team, again – much like the Lakers – is their history. While the Lakers have the second most NBA Championships in the history of the NBA and live under an expectation to earn more, the Clippers have no Championships.
In fact, as a franchise, which has been around since 1970, they have never been to the Western Conference Finals.
I mentioned how bad the team was decades ago, and they were. But even the good, recent Clippers teams have had a bit of a string a of bad luck. Which is important when you consider that the Clippers, as I write this, have a 3-1 lead on the Denver Nuggets. Even young Clippers fans know that the Lob City Clippers of 2014-15 had a 3-1 lead on the Houston Rockets. That team fell apart, not at the hands of James Harden, but at the hands of players that would have to be categorized as role-players.
The team in 2015 took a 3-1 lead to Houston, this was back when teams actually used to travel to other cities and play in front of thousands of people! They lost that game. It wasn’t even close, the Rockets blew them out. But, the next game was in LA, in front of their home fans, so there was no panic. The Clippers had a chance to reach their first WCF at home and they were not going to mess that up.
They messed it up.
This is the game that brings a lot of pain to Clippers fans. The Rockets had pulled Harden and all but conceded the game to the Clippers. Then, those role players I mentioned earlier, Josh Smith and Corey Brewer, got hot. The Clippers couldn’t recover and lost game 6. Game 7 was never in doubt, the Rockets would win and advance.
Being up 3-1 means elation to the Lakers. It brings cautious optimism to the Clippers. Lakers fans see their teams lead and expect to advance to the WCF. Clippers fans see their teams lead and hope they advance.
Yin – Yang.
An all Los Angeles Western Conference Finals is very likely. Getting there will mean going through different processes for the LA teams. For their fans, it will be either joy and a expectation as they look ahead, or, joy followed by a sigh of relief that will be heard in neighboring states.
Guess which is which.
Jose has written for Bleacher Report, Clipperholics, OC Weekly and wrote a series of articles covering the 2010 NBA Finals for the LA Times. He lives in Southern California and is excited to watch thePeachBasket grow!