For the Clippers, it was said to be a big disadvantage. As the 2019-20 season plowed on, it was more and more evident that the two best teams were the teams who shared a building in Los Angeles, the Lakers and Clippers. The two seemed destined to meet for what would be an epic Western Conference finals, held entirely within the confines of the Staples Center.
The Clippers knew what this would mean. Over the years, whenever the Clippers play the Lakers, even when it is technically a Clippers home game, the crowd is overwhelmingly supportive of the Lakers. In the playoffs, that dynamic would only worsen.
“I think that was something in the back of our minds,” said one member of the Clippers organization. “You get into a series and there are some expectations. If you’re on the road for the first two games, you know you have your two home games coming up. It takes some pressure off—win one of those first two games and all the pressure is on the other guys. But playing in Staples Center, you know, the color of the court changes when we’re at home but the crowds are still rooting for the Lakers.”
Everything has changed, though. With the league ready to reboot after it was suspended on March 11 because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the NBA is heading to Disney World to finish off the year.
Going to Orlando and playing out eight games of a regular season, followed by the playoffs, away from L.A. will help the Clippers’ cause. It will all happen at a neutral site. There will be no games at Staples Center, no seven-game series in which everything is pro-Laker. In a conference final, that will be a big help.
Lakers Are Favored Over Clippers By L.A. Sport Fans
There is no question where the Lakers rank in the hearts and minds of L.A. sports fans. This spring, a survey taken by Loyola Marymount University showed that 35% of all sports fans in Los Angeles favor the Lakers. No. 2 on the list is the Dodgers, at 31%.
Even with the addition of All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, transactions which vaulted the Clippers into title contention, the Clippers (at 6.4% percent) could not break out of a double-digit approval rating. They finished behind the Rams—who played 21 seasons in St. Louis before moving back to Los Angeles four years ago—in the rankings. The Rams were favored by 7.5% of fans.
Despite massive outreach efforts in the years since Steve Ballmer took over the team from Donald Sterling (in 2015), the Clippers are well aware of their second-tier L.A. status.
“We have to beat them on the floor,” Clippers guard Patrick Beverley told Heavy.com. “We have done that. But we have to do it when it matters, in the playoffs. We love our fans so, really, we don’t care about Lakers fans. But if we beat them, I think you will see more and more people start looking at the Clippers differently.”
Clippers’ WCF Path Tougher Than Lakers’
Of course, it would help if the Clippers beat the Lakers in Los Angeles, in the Staples Center. Even if the Clippers knock off the Lakers this year, it will be at a neutral site and the entire postseason figures to be attended by an asterisk in the history books.
The Clippers, too, figure to have a much harder path to the conference finals than the Lakers.
The Lakers are likely to finish with the first overall seed in the West, setting them up to play the Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, Kings, Suns, Pelicans or Spurs, teams that will enter the season restart below .500 in the standings.
The Clippers, meanwhile, are slated to open with the Mavericks and star guard Luka Doncic. Other teams may slide—the Jazz, Thunder and Rockets are all within 2.5 games of the Mavs in the seventh spot—but all of them are at least 13 games over .500.
The second round could be difficult for both teams, though it appears that the star-laden Rockets are the matchups to avoid. As things stand, the Clippers would play the winner of a first-round Houston vs. Denver series. That probably will change, and it is possible that the Lakers will wind up with Houston in Round 2, but for now, the Clippers have a much tougher road ahead.
They need to beat the Lakers to make up ground among Los Angeles sports fans. But even if it happens, it won’t be in L.A.