By Don Wanlass
The Clippers have no real experience at winning anything so you can forgive their performance April 12 in an NBA play-in game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Rarely in their mostly miserable history have the Clippers had such an important game. Win and enter the NBA’s Western Conference playoffs as the seventh-seeded team or lose and face an absolutely must-win game April 15 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Paul George and Norman Powell, two-thirds of the team’s stars, were healthy. The Clippers led 84-78 heading into the fourth quarter and Timberwolves’ center Karl-Anthony Towns fouled out less than five minutes into the final quarter.
It didn’t matter. The Timberwolves went on a 14-2 run shortly after Towns departed and went on to beat the Clippers, 109-104. The Wolves will face the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs.
If the Clippers win April 15, they will face the Phoenix Suns — the best team in the NBA all season — in the first round. That could be a short series.
The Clippers don’t do anything easy and they have been coming back all season, so they could surprise me and give the Suns a run for the money. But Memphis would have been an easier road.
The Clippers are as healthy as they have been all season. George and Powell have healed at the right time and stretch coach Tyronn Lue’s rotation that was already one of the deepest rotations in the league.
Lue cut back the minutes of his bench players considerably against the Wolves with only Powell (26 minutes) Robert Covington (18) and Terrance Mann (15) playing more than 10 minutes off the bench.
Three-point sharpshooter Luke Kennard missed the game, but the Clippers still hit 16 of 35 from beyond the three-point line. But 17 turnovers — the Wolves made 11 — and the inability to stop Anthony Edwards and former Laker D’Angelo Russell did in the Clippers.
Edwards scored 30 points and Russell added 29 as the Wolves overcame an off night from Towns, who scored only 11 points in 24 minutes due to foul trouble.
The Clippers will host the final play-in game April 15 at Crypto.com Arena. They should be favored.
In Lue, they have a coach who won a title with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 so he knows what it takes to win a playoff series. Of course, that team had LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
This Clippers team has George, Powell and a bunch of guys who know their roles and hustle most of the time (unlike that other team that plays at Crypto.com Arena). They have been hurdling obstacles all season, be it 25-point deficits or injuries to Kawhi Leonard and George.
Their next hurdle comes April 15. They should clear that one. Getting over Phoenix in the opening round of the playoffs will be a different matter.
WHAT’S GOING ON: It wasn’t that long ago that the Lakers were the Los Angeles basketball team that knew how to get things done and the Clippers didn’t.
That role has officially changed. The Lakers can’t even fire a coach the right way.
As many expected, head coach Frank Vogel was fired almost as soon as the Lakers season ended April 10. The Lakers didn’t make it official until the next day but someone in the front office leaked the news to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. who tweeted it out as the Lakers were ending their season with a 146-141 overtime win over the Denver Nuggets.
The Lakers finished their season with a 33-49 record, but went out winning two games in a row for the first time since January.
Vogel used his 41st starting lineup in 82 games, but someone had to pay the price for the Lakers falling way short of their championship aspirations and Vogel became the fall guy.
Russell Westbrook, the biggest reason the Lakers failed to meet expectations this year, then kicked dirt on Vogel when he was down, blaming Vogel for his poor season this year and insinuating he never got a real shot from Vogel.
This was the guy who led the Lakers in games and minutes played this season (he also led in turnovers) saying he didn’t get used enough.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka has a rough off season ahead of him, if he survives. Team owner Jeanie Buss would be wise to clean house and bring a new head of basketball operations in to run things (her ex, Phil Jackson, would be a good start, if he’s interested).
Besides needing a new coach, the Lakers need to figure out how to get rid of Westbrook’s $47 million drag on their salary cap for next year and who will play along side James next year.
Most of their players this year were playing on one-year contracts so there will be plenty of room to remake the roster. The bad part is that the contracts of James, Anthony Davis and Westbrook (if they can’t get rid of him) will tie up most of the salary cap for the Lakers next year.
And veterans who signed one-year contracts last year to play for a championship with the Lakers (Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard, Wayne Ellington to name four) may look for greener pastures next year, both financially and for title aspirations.
Because of the recent trades for Davis and Westbrook, the Lakers have no draft picks of note until 2027, so there is no help coming from the draft.
That might make it hard for the Lakers to attract a coach with the ability to handle the egos of multiple super stars and coach an aging team to a winning record.
There aren’t many of those on the market and not many of those will want to take on the risk of coaching a team with so many obvious holes.
Once upon a time, the Clippers had trouble attracting quality coaching candidates because no one wanted to work for Donald Sterling. Hard to believe the Lakers have reached the point where they might have trouble finding a new coach as well.
HALFWAY THERE: Tiger Woods isn’t all the way back, but he’s closer than anyone had the right to expect 14 months after a car accident almost cost him a leg.
Woods had a very good opening round at the Masters April 7, a good second round and then fell apart April 9 and 10, shooting matching 78s while noticeably favoring his right leg as he walked the hilly fairways and greens of Augusta.
His putting skills deserted him on the weekend, leading to his first-ever four-putt hole at the Masters and several three-putt holes. In the final round, he had one birdie, five bogeys and a double bogey and still got a huge standing ovation as he walked to the green on the 18th hole with by far the biggest gallery of any golfer in the tournament behind him.
Woods continues to be good for golf and he appears to be ready to return, although he probably will never play a full schedule on the tour again. He has already announced he will play in the British Open July 14-17 on the hallowed St. Andrews Course and has not ruled out playing in the PGA Championship May 19-22 in Illinois.
At the Masters, Woods demonstrated he can still strike a golf ball. Few can match the approach shots he hits when he leaves himself in a good situation.
The Augusta wind and the lack of stamina coming from not playing a four-day golf tournament since November 2020 (not to mention the debilitating leg injury) took their toll on Woods as the weekend progressed.
He has five weeks to work on that stamina leading up the PGA Championship and another two months before the British Open.
We will see Tiger Woods on the golf course again. Will he be capable of winning another major tournament? Ask me after the British Open.
ODDS AND EDDS: There is nothing like a referee’s decision late in a close game to make a crosstown rivalry more intense.
The Galaxy defeated the Los Angeles Football Club 2-1 April 9 in the first meeting this season between the local rivals.
LAFC had three goals waved off due to offsides calls during the game, including one at the end of stoppage time that would have tied the game.
It was LAFC’s first loss of the year after four wins. The Galaxy are 4-2 and trail LAFC by one point at the top of the Western Conference standings early in the season. …
Don’t worry about the Dodgers, who were 1-2 in their first series and failed to hit the ball hard in two out of three games — in Colorado of all places to have a hitting slump. Baseball is a long season, a marathon, not a sprint. …
It’s almost five months away, but Southern California college football fans might want to pay attention to the game Sept. 1 game between Pitt and West Virginia.
These two rivals will open the season against each other at Pittsburgh. The starting quarterbacks could be two transfers familiar to USC fans.
Kedon Slovis has transferred to Pitt and is battling for the starting quarterback job there. JT Daniels, who was the USC starter before losing the job to Slovis following a knee injury in 2019, has announced he is transferring to West Virginia. I hope Clay Helton has the time to watch, too.