This is a painful pill to swallow. I have been pinning my hopes for a record finals appearance by the Los Angeles Clippers this National Basketball Association (NBA) season. Head coach Doc Rivers’ crew even led the Denver Nuggets 3-1 in their best of seven semi final series in the west. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic would not have any of it though as they led the Nuggets to sweep the next 3 games and lead their team to a western finals match up with the Los Angeles Lakers.
So what happened to the Clips? Is there any truth at all to the Clippers jinx? I personally find it surprising to see Kawhi Leonard struggle through the stretch. He typically shines in moments like these and is a very reliable closer. I expected him and Paul George to make the most of their series lead and close Denver out. Instead, Jokic muscled his way at will against Ivica Zubac and the Clippers never adjusted defensive stance. They alternate Zubac and Montezl Harrell in matching up against Jokic.
The dynamic Nuggets center has just too many moves for Zubac and simply too big for Harrell to handle. I assumed Rivers would bring in former defensive player of the year Joachim Noah in game 6 in an attempt to neutralize Jokic. It doesn’t matter if he eats up some minutes from Zubac and Harrell. Noah has the height, the heft and is definitely not going to back down on Jocik. He would have given 12-14 minutes of quality defensive back up to help contain the big man. It is okay to let Murray score throughout the game. He is that good. The Clippers should have tried more effort to contain at least one of the duo and I see there was an opportunity to contain the Denver slot man. But the Clippers stuck to their 9 man rotation and did not adjust at all even in game 7.
Months of impressive performance and promise led to a game 7 exit. Now it is back to the drawing board for the Clippers. They should renew Montrezl Harrell’s contract to keep the solid core. Add another shooter and a big post presence to back up Zubac. The off-season will be used to build more chemistry as they aim to reach the promised land next season.
Lakers vs Nuggets
Are we expecting the Los Angeles Lakers to advance to the NBA finals against an inspired Nuggets crew? I think the Lakers have the advantage in that they had enough rest as against the Nuggets who are coming off 2 playoff series that went all the way to game 7s. Are the Nuggets exhausted? They showed some signs of that in the first 3 games of the Clippers series and Jokic and Murray have played volume minutes all throughout. I wish they can hold their ground against the Lakers in this match up.
It’s going to be a Lebron James/ Anthony Davis pair against the Jokic/ Murray tandem. Obviously, the Lakers have advantage having 2 generational players in their line up. Bron’s playoff and championship experience will definitely be an advantage here as well. The Lakers, unlike the Clips, have the skilled bigs who can match up against Jokic. Javale McGee and Dwight Howard can split the center minutes to mark Jokic who may find the Lakers match up tougher than what he had with the Clips.
Denver would have a problem trying to match up against Lebron who plays point forward. Paul Millsap may be called upon to guard Bron as he simply is too strong for other Nuggets players to contain.
A lot of fans are hoping Denver can take it all the way but against a grizzled team like the Lakers, I think the Nuggets would need to be very efficient to effectively pull the rug against Hollywood’s basketball team.
The PBA Bubble
A lot can be told about the NBA bubble and the success it continues to reap as the 2019-2020 season winds down. The discipline, the execution, the stadium like feel as you see virtual fans in LED monitors enjoying the games and of course, zero covid 19 cases to date. The NBA and commissioner Adam Silver has set the blue print for a professional sports league to thrive in a world with pandemic.
And now our very own Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) is on the verge of doing the same as it sets its sights on a bubble environment in Clark Field Pampanga. Our league is set to open in October for a 2 month All Filipino season with a champion crowned before Christmas. Teams will be based in a hotel inside the Clark Zone with the game venue set at the Angeles University Foundation gym. Practice facilities are yet to be determined as of this writing.
I am quite excited to start seeing the nation’s very best ballers in action again. I do hope that the IATF finally grants the PBA to start operating again. I feel like it’s perfect timing considering that the NBA would be on off season mode the time the PBA reaches the critical stages of their season. That means undivided attention from the local hoops fans eager to see their hard court heroes after more than 7 months in hiatus. This is a good step to our new normal … local sports back in the limelight.
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)