When former Los Angeles Laker Robert Horry starts talking NBA playoffs, it’s probably worth listening.
Although Horry never made an All-Star team, never won any individual awards, and was never considered the top player on any team he played with over 16 seasons, he has what many players, with far greater individual glory, would likely trade for in a heartbeat: seven NBA championships.
Which is to say, Horry — aka “Big Shot Bob” for his numerous clutch playoff shots — knows what a title contender looks like. And this year, despite the Utah Jazz owning the best record in basketball and the Lakers being defending champions, he thinks the Los Angeles Clippers have a better-than-good chance at representing the West in the Finals.
(Cue the sound of Lakers fans Googling: “Are there two teams in Los Angeles?”)
George, Leonard and New Additions Tip the Scales
Speaking recently to LakersNation.com about his latest promotion (the Lakers and Pepsi are creating a new team anthem), Horry, who won three rings over seven seasons with the Lakers, was asked about their chances for repeating this season and which team in the West could pose the toughest challenge.
“It’s going to be the Clippers,” said Horry. “Because you got someone like Paul George, who’s playing extremely well right now, and Kawhi (Leonard) is a playoff-type of guy. And they got some great additions.”
Horry did not specifically name those “great additions,” but it’s reasonable to assume he was referring to a few first-year Clippers — from Serge Ibaka, the veteran rim protector with three-point range, to sharpshooting Pistons castaway Luke Kennard, to Nicolas Batum, the 6-foot-8 stretch 5 who has become something of a leader within the Clippers strong second unit.
But Horry may have also been referring to two Clippers who were with the team last season but have come into their own this year, Ivica Zubac and Terance Mann. Zubac, in particular, has made significant strides while filling in for Ibaka, who has been sidelined since mid-March with back spasms. And Mann, in his second season out of Florida State, has brought a slasher’s scrappiness and energy to a squad that last year and early this season fell victim to bouts of stagnation and listlessness.
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Of course, Horry would certainly see the benefit of the Clippers trade-deadline addition of 15-year veteran point guard Rajon Rondo. Like Horry, Rondo has cultivated a reputation for playoff excellence, most recently helping the Lakers win their title last season, and is revered for his basketball IQ.
Time Is of the Essence for Lakers
But don’t get it twisted, Horry still believes “the championship runs through the Lakers,” assuming they can get healthy in time to regain their chemistry and get a feel for veteran center Andre Drummond, who joined the team in April after his contract was bought out by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Lakers were 21-7 to start the season, but have gone 15-18 following injuries to two of the league’s biggest stars. Four-time All-NBA center Anthony Davis went down with a calf injury in mid-February, and the situation was compounded, to say the least, when four-time MVP LeBron James was sidelined with a high ankle sprain on March 20. Davis returned to action last week, but James is still out.
“I think it’s going to be instrumental for the Lakers to get healthy and start trending in the right direction,” said Horry. “Getting together and playing and practicing and knowing new additions in Andre Drummond and learning how to play well together.”
And if that doesn’t happen?
“The Clippers are going to be right there to dethrone them,” Horry said.