Anis Vijay Modi
It is a head spinning time for basketball fans across the globe as the NBA playoff picture takes a clearer shape. This year’s tournament is making sure to satisfy basketball junkies, and especially the Californians among them. In short, the Lakers and Clippers are out of the race, the Warriors are still going strong, and the Kings are not even close—probably the only thing that is per usual in the case of the state’s basketball affairs.
This situation would have sounded bizarre five years ago, or even at the beginning of this season. Starting this season in a blaze, the Los Angeles Lakers have arrived at the starting round of the playoffs wounded and beaten, only to be swept by nemesis, San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs seemed to cover every base the Lakers had forgotten to check in their rush to sign big name all stars. Throughout the series, they showcased a mix of aging star power and, over all, a balanced rotation—something the Lakers did not have.
In addition, the Lakers were also severely handicapped, with injuries to star Kobe Bryant and backcourt teammates Steve Nash, Metta World Peace, and Steve Blake. This long list of absences left the ball in the hands of Andrew Goudelock, who won this season’s NBDL Most Valuable Player award. Of course, he should be congratulated for winning it, but the fact that he logged enough minutes in the NBA’s minor league to win the award comes to show just how shorthanded the Lakers became by the end of this series. Dwight Howard’s hardships in the city of angels have not escaped the eyes of the public, and his future with the Lakers is unsure at the moment.
In a post-game conference, Howard said that he is “going to step away for a couple of weeks and clear my head before I talk about next season. I think I deserve that.”
Bob Williams, the Head Coach of the University of California, Santa Barbara men’s basketball team thinks that this failure could turn out to be a good thing for the Lakers.
“This is an opportunity for them to start rebuilding. Looking at next season, they have to think what the situation is going to be like with Gasol, Nash, and Kobe out with an injury,” Williams said. “They should keep Dwight Howard. They are not going to find a better center then him, and he will get better once he is healthier.”
In the red side of Los Angeles, the situation seemed brighter for the Clippers, who were looking for an edge against the Memphis Grizzlies in a series that was one of the tougher matches of the first round of the playoffs. Despite their aspirations, the Clippers were derailed from their quest for a deep playoff run by the physical Memphis team, which managed to control the rebound and stop the infamous “lob city” offense. An injury to star Blake Griffin did not improve their chances of winning game six, and, after losing four games in a row, the future of the franchise seems a bit unclear.
Basketball fanatics and critics alike all agree that this year’s biggest surprise in the playoffs has been the Golden State Warriors, Northern California’s representative in the tourney. The team’s energy has swept the Denver Nuggets off their feet, as only a swirling lay up from guard Andre Miller saved George Karl’s team from a quick four-game sweep out of the playoffs. After finishing their season with a 23-3 run and setting a franchise best 53 win season, the Nuggets were planning on a deep playoff run, only to be ousted by the Warriors. Despite losing their all-star forward David Lee to a hip injury during the first match of the series, the team managed to break away and get through the second round for only the second time over twenty years.
According to the NBA’s statistics calculator, this success comes with much help from Stephen Curry. His 3.8 three-point shots and 9.3 assists per game lead all active players in the playoffs.
When asked for a comment about the surprising Warriors, Coach Williams admitted that he is somewhat biased.
“I was born and raised in Northern California, so I have always been a Warriors fan,” Williams said. “I love the rejuvenated franchise and the work Mark Jackson has been doing as head coach.”
With the Clippers and the Lakers out of the race, the Warriors might not just be this year’s black sheep, but also California’s favorite team—at least for the time being.