The Los Angeles Clippers ended their season exactly how they wanted to be: healthy. Now the postseason is here. The Clippers wound up as the fourth seed in the Western Conference. Their opponent in the first round of the NBA playoffs is a tough and tested Dallas Mavericks team led by Luka Doncic.
In a rematch of last season’s first round matchup that saw the Clippers dispose of Doncic and the Mavericks in six games, Los Angeles just wants to take care of business, and that’s to win and then move on.
Having finished the season with an overall record of 47-25, including a dominant home record of (26-10), the Clippers must now take on the task of making a deep postseason run to prove that the so-called curse surrounding the franchise and their play in the playoffs is a thing of the past.
For head coach Tyronn Lue, nothing to this point has mattered as much as the moments he and his team are going to face in the playoffs. The noise, the chatter, the Twitter-gram posts, as Lue calls it, all these distractions, and the critics are nothing more than that. As all the white noise continues to surround the team, ignoring the critics and showing up on the court is all the matters.
That chatter just ramped up a notch or two after Dallas beat the Clippers in Game 1 behind a triple-double from Doncic.
There’s been talk (radio and everywhere else) that the Clippers purposedly tanked the final few games of the regular season to avoid having to play LeBron James and their hometown rivals the Los Angeles Lakers until a possible Western Conference Finals matchup. As he focuses on prepping his squad to lock in on defeating Dallas, Lue has completely tuned out the chatter.
“I don’t give a damn about what anyone else thinks on the outside because I don’t listen to that anyway,” Lue said. “At the end of the day I’m the coach of the team, we decided to go for health over anything else. We finally got our team healthy and that’s what we focused on. So whatever people say on the outside I don’t care because I don’t read Twitter or have Twitter, Insta-Twitter, and all that. I don’t care about all that. I’m my own man and I do what I want to do. That’s how I live my life.”
This is a sentiment that was also shared by the team’s superstar, Kawhi Leonard, who now believes the biggest test for the team will come between the ears.
“I feel good, I feel confident like any other year,” Leonard said prior to Game 1. “I feel like we have a good team, we have some depth on us. It’s just about between the ears now, how much are we willing to sacrifice to get a game, how much of our mind and body are we going to put into these playoffs.”
In comparing this season’s Clippers to the team that beat the Mavericks last year in the bubble, there really is no comparison. With the additions of veterans such as Nicolas Batum and Serge Ibaka during the offseason, and the team adding Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins prior to the trade deadline, management has given Lue some great resources for the team to rightly chase the title.
With the emergence of young players like Terrance Mann and Luke Kennard, the Clippers have a lot more depth and talent to avoid another meltdown this time around.
The biggest difference of them all though might be the resurgence of guard Reggie Jackson, also known as Big Government. Coming off the bench during last season’s postseason run, Jackson has now stepped into a crucial role at various times during the season as a starter. After playing in only 17 regular season games last year, Jackson has seen his usage triple this season.
Jackson started in 43 of the team’s 72 games, with various starts coming at times when the team’s best players were injured. While his production on the court has not resulted in an immense increase in personal statistics, the ability to come in clutch during key stretches throughout the season has made Jackson’s role on the team irreplaceable.
As his nickname entails, Big Government comes through when needed most, something most Americans can agree with during this past year. Now that he’s got a handle on his role with the ballclub, Jackson talked a little about what has helped him in his growth and success with the team.
“Honestly, of course taking care of the ball and really being locked in defensively,” Jackson said. “Not trying to make it up on the fly out there and really focusing in throughout all of practice. Trying to have the least amount of mistakes myself and trying to holding others accountable.”
Jackson’s biggest night of the year came against his former team, the Detroit Pistons when he went off for a season-high 29 points, including knocking down the game-winning jumper to give the Clippers a hard-fought 100-98 road victory on April 14. This moment, along with several other big moments throughout the season has proven why Jackson’s role off the bench during the postseason will be vital in the team’s success.
With the team expected to use a tight rotation during the postseason, how Jackson plays on the court will be a factor. He’s a lockdown defender. As a point guard, he knows how to facilitate and direct traffic on the court. And He can shoot the 3-ball if needed. Jackson’s all-around skills are a plus for the Clippers and a headache for everyone else.
For now, Jackson understands he must continue to work hard in practice and be ready to step in at any given moment and provide the team with the same energy and aggression he has all season.
“We have to stick with the game plan and then from Game 1 see how it goes and make adjustments from there,” Jackson said. “But really I’m just trying to make sure I’m completely locked in on the game plan and what we’re trying to do and what our intents are.”