Heisler: If this is LeBron’s town, it’s the Clippers’ moment

first_img Clippers vs. Mavericks Game 5 playoff updates from NBA beat reporters Of course, if you’ve seen the memorable video of Ballmer skipping and screaming across the stage as Microsoft CEO, you know how little it takes to get him excited. That was just about computer software.Last season, his team finished No. 10 in the West at 42-40, five games out of the playoffs, and wasn’t expected to get that close again. The Las Vegas over/under put them at 35.5 wins … 13 behind the Lakers.The Lakers, supposedly on their way back to their days of yore, had bagged LeBron.The Clippers, supposedly returning to the ashes next to the fireplace, had lost Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.The Lakers have 19 All-Star selections among them (14 by James, four by Rajon Rondo, one by Tyson Chandler). The Warriors have 26.The Clippers have none. Instead, their guys have mostly changed teams.Their five starters played for 15 teams (Tobias Harris and Marcin Gortat four each, Danilo Gallinari and Avery Bradley three each; rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander one).Their stellar bench has been on even more. Their top six reserves have played for 21 teams (Lou Williams six; Luc Mbah a Moute five; Boban Marjanovic three; Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley and Mike Scott, two).If an ensemble cast without a star is a bad bet, there’s a strata just under the elite players who have never been All-Stars and might never be but quietly develop into some of the NBA’s best players.A current list would include Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic, Memphis’ Mike Conley, Portland’s C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams … and half the Clippers rotation:• Harris, a 20-point scorer since finally becoming someone’s No. 1 option.• Gallinari, averaging 19.1 points.• Williams, two-time Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 18 points despite a slow start (shooting 39 percent compared to his career 42 percent).• Harrell, a comer in the era when someone his size – at 6-7-1/2 in stocking feet – can play center, with a ferocity that makes him the Patrick Beverly of the bigs.Junkyard dogs that they are, the Clippers no longer have players they can just turn loose in crunch time like Paul or Griffin.“You have to know as a coach if there are real expectations of a championship,” Rivers said. “I’ve had some of those years when it’s, absolutely, we have a shot.“And then you have some years when people said, ‘They’re going to win,’ but you know it’s going to be awful hard to do that.”And then you have some years when no one says anything, observing a polite silence around you.This was one of those.“This group, you come in with a different mindset where you think about each and every game,” Rivers said. “You’re not looking out. You’re not building towards. You’re building to the next game. …“The question every night is how we close the game because we don’t have the natural guy to go to. We’ve done well there, we work on it every day, but there’s still no guarantee there.”Instead, the Clippers excel wherever and however they can.They have the NBA’s highest-scoring bench at 54 points per game, 5.1 ahead of the No. 2 team.They’re No. 1 in free throws, led by Gallinari at 5.4 and Williams at 5.2, spiking the efficiency of their fifth-ranked offense.Williams, their closest thing to a closer, is tied for No. 7 in fourth-quarter scoring with franchise players Giannis Antetokounmpo and Devin Booker, behind others like James, Griffin and Kemba Walker.Related Articles At long last, a local NBA feel-good story!Unfortunately for the Lakers, it’s not them. Their fans’ mood is more one of unease as their young players try to fit with LeBron James, amid expectations putting faves like Luke Walton and Lonzo Ball under the gun.Then there are the Clippers, the little team from down the hall, across the tracks or under a rock, whose expectations had dropped almost to those of the Sports Arena days, but went into the weekend … drum roll … No. 1 in the Western Conference.Not that they figure to finish there. Just making the playoffs will still be a challenge. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Kristaps Porzingis ruled out as Clippers, Mavericks set for Game 5; Follow for game updates For Lakers’ LeBron James, Jacob Blake’s shooting is bigger issue than a big Game 4 victory center_img What the Clippers are saying the day after Luka Doncic’s game-winner tied series, 2-2 Happily for the Clippers, they’re not a fluke making a lot of 3-pointers. They’re No. 4 at 38 percent from the arc but No. 26 in made 3-point baskets.(The Lakers are No. 21 in 3-point shooting, No. 19 in made baskets … so, yeah, it would help to get LeBron more shooters, after all.)Feel-good story that it is, there’s a question of whether the Clippers have a fan base big enough to feel anything.(The website fivethirtyeight.com just did a study of the NBA’s bumper Reddit usage. The Lakers are No. 1 in self-identified subscribers, the Clippers No. 23.)This is LeBron’s town now … but the Clippers are still its best team, as they have been for five seasons.Whether or not it’s just for the moment, it’s their moment. Clippers hope they can play to their capabilities, quell Mavericks’ momentum On the other hand, who saw this coming?Not Coach Doc Rivers, for all his upbeat we’ll-be-good forecasts.Rivers has since updated his morale-lifting messaging, issuing a challenge to his players: This is nice but meaningless.“We ask our guys that all the time, ‘Is this as good as you’re going to get?’ ” Rivers said last week before laughing. “Hopefully, the answer is ‘No.’ If it’s ‘Yes,’ you’ve got a problem.”Sign up for Home Turf and get exclusive stories every SoCal sports fan must read, sent daily. Subscribe here.OK, owner Steve Ballmer expected them to do something big.last_img read more