Updated: Apr 13
The Clippers will travel to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves Tuesday in the play-in tournament, while the Lakers will watch from their riverboats after being sent fishing by the Phoenix Suns.
By Edward Segal, Valley Life Editor
With one team making the play-in tournament and the other drastically underperforming, Los Angeles basketball’s roller coaster of a season is set to continue in the Clippers’ play-in tournament game Tuesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Losing their seventh straight game Tuesday, the Lakers’ campaign culminated with their elimination by the Phoenix Suns and the firing of head coach Frank Vogel five days later. Meanwhile, the Clippers claimed the eighth seed and will turn to the play-in tournament as they attempt to make the postseason.
With Paul George back in the lineup, the Clippers have gone 18-13, but without the seven-time all star, they limped to a 24-27 record. Last season, they proved they can handle tough opponents without George’s fellow star, Kawhi Leonard, coming back from down 2-0 in the second round against the Utah Jazz.
According to Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, the two-time champion will likely miss the entire postseason after not advancing to game-preparation workouts.
Guard/forward Norman Powell has also returned from his injury, giving the Clippers another scorer who is capable of averaging 20 points, partially making up for Leonard’s offensive production.
The Clippers are structured such that if a player goes down, they have plenty of options to pick up the slack. The additions of Powell and stretch forward Robert Covington only furthered this philosophy.
Hoping to make another deep run, the Clippers will start their play-in journey against the Timberwolves, a hungry franchise that has made it to the playoffs once since 2004.
Between 2022 All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns having a career year offensively and Anthony Edwards blossoming into a young star with averages of 21.3 points, 1.5 steals and 4.8 rebounds in his sophomore season, the Clippers have their hands full. Defeating their rivals from Minneapolis three times in four games this season, the Clippers have proven themselves prepared for the challenge.
“It’s a tough match-up,” said Lue in a press conference Friday. “They’ve been playing great basketball as of late. They kind of found their rhythm of how they want to play and who they want to play through. The big year [Karl Anthony Towns] is having, and three out of the four games we’ve played, D’Angelo [Russell] didn’t play.”
But the Timberwolves have an X-factor player who is eager for revenge against his former team: Patrick Beverley.
The veteran point guard spent four years with the Clippers, but was traded away before the season began when he deemed their contract extension offer to be disrespectful. He played a big role in the Clippers’ first ever conference finals run in 2021 and in the 31-point comeback in the first round against the Golden State Warriors in 2019.
Thanks to his history with the team and knowledge of their play style, Beverley will be an instrumental asset to the Timberwolves in either team’s first-ever play-in game.
The Lakers, on the other hand, looked to be the eight seed in the West through 48 games, but fell to eleventh in the conference after losing 25 of their last 34.
The absence of unity in the organization — with the team full of players who have proven their talent but struggled to play cohesively — is reminiscent of the Clippers team from two years ago that failed to step up when they needed to most, blowing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round thanks to their lack of chemistry.
The Lakers’ lack of a core group and the absence of specific roles for players gave them similar issues to deal with. Because there was no cohesive unit, LeBron James was constantly forced to carry the team on his 37-year-old back.
Though he did fine statistically, the absence of leadership usually seen from the four-time champion, coupled with the lack of chemistry with his teammates, resulted in one of the Lakers’ worst outings in franchise history. Despite it being an organization-wide collapse, Vogel became the scapegoat of the tumultuous season, getting fired after just his third season with the team.
“[I am] extremely disappointed,” Vogel told Fan Nation after the Suns eliminated the Lakers from contention. “Disappointed for our fan base. Disappointed for the Buss family, who gave us all this opportunity, and we want to play our part in bringing success to Laker basketball, and we fell short."