It was an odd move by Clippers coach Doc Rivers, and Lakers fans took notice. With five minutes to play in Saturday’s game against the Blazers, he removed star Paul George, replacing him with rookie Terance Mann. This came after Rivers had decided to keep his other top star, Kawhi Leonard, out of the game altogether for rest.
The Clippers are in the midst of a back-to-back and it has been common, during the NBA restart in Orlando, to rest players in back-to-back situations. But generally, star players rest on the second part of the back-to-back and they do so against the worse team. Portland is a good team fighting for the West’s final playoff spot. Sunday’s opponent for the Clippers, the Nets, have been hammered by injuries and opt-outs.
Rivers also pulled supersub Lou Williams with a little more than nine minutes to play.
What was Rivers up to? Conspiracy theorists had the answer: He was trying to lose to Portland to help the Blazers’ chances of making the playoffs and facing the Lakers in the first round of the postseason.
Many around the league think the Blazers have a good shot at upsetting the top-seeded Lakers in a playoff matchup. With the Lakers as his team’s top rival to go to The Finals, Rivers appeared to be strategically setting up a Portland win.
Ultimately, Rivers’ bench group carried the day and the Clippers won. But Rivers was asked if he had been helping Portland by resting Leonard and pulling George.
“I don’t get involved in that,” Rivers said, according to the L.A. Times. “I honestly don’t look at it. I heard our guys talking about it, I’m like, ‘Listen, that’s their business. Our business is who we’re playing.’ We need to focus on that.”
Lakers Would Have a Tough Time With Portland
Still, suspicion reigns. Pulling George was an odd move in that situation, especially considering he had played 36 minutes in the team’s two previous games.
“We knew before the game the minutes we were going to play our guys,” Rivers said in his postgame press conference, “and once they got to those minutes, we took them out.”
Rivers was asked in his postgame press conference about the race for the No. 8 seed. He shrugged off any suggestions of a conspiracy to boost Portland, which has gotten key players Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins back from injuries during the NBA’s coronavirus hiatus.
“That’s not our problem,” Rivers said. “We said that before the game. They knew, guys we were going to play a certain amount of minutes. And I made a point, we are going to try to win the game. We’re not just out playing basketball. It’s a competition. It always is, it always will be.”
Lakers’ Vogel on Clippers’ Moves: ‘No Problem With It’
Lakers coach Frank Vogel was asked, before the Lakers played the Pacers on Saturday, about the possibility that Rivers had been trying to see that the Clippers would lose to Portland to set up a tough playoff matchup against purple-and-gold. He did not delve into thoughts of conspiracies, however.
“I was told about the ending of that game, I didn’t see it,” Vogel said. “My game days, I don’t really watch any other games. … So I just heard about that game, I didn’t see it. We’re still a few days away from it being clear in terms of it being narrowed down who are potential opponents could be. So I haven’t spent a lot of thought with that.”
Vogel was asked more specifically about Rivers’ machinations with resting Leonard and sitting George.
“I’ve got no problem with it,” he said. “Everybody’s got to manage their own team their own way. That’s all I have to say about it. I have no problem with it.”
The Lakers, who lost to the Pacers for their first three-game losing streak since December, have the top overall seed in the West but are just 2-4 in the NBA restart. The Clippers are currently the No. 2 seed.