LA Clippers Tanked Too Hard to Get Dallas Mavericks Just to Lose in the First Round of the NBA Playoffs

So much for the fresh start. The LA Clippers opened the NBA Playoffs on Saturday with an audible thud in a 113–103 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. The Clippers were outscored 13–3 over the final 3:12 and, in the process, coughed up home-court advantage in the series. For a franchise with the weight of its history hanging on its back like three grand pianos, it was almost the worst start imaginable.

The Clippers have a long history of futility and not even a recent parade of superstars through Staples Center has been able to reverse that.

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In the playoff bubble last season in Orlando, the LA Clippers became the 13th team in NBA history — and just the third to do it more than once — to lose a playoff series after leading 3–1, falling in the Western Conference Semifinals to the Denver Nuggets. Saturday night’s loss to the Mavericks now makes it four consecutive playoff losses for the Clippers dating back to their burst bubble.

The Clippers are one of just three NBA franchises never to advance as far as the conference finals. But the Clips just finished their 51st NBA campaign. That’s more than the other two members of the dubious club combined. The Charlotte Hornets have played 31 years, and the New Orleans Pelicans just 19.

Even the woeful Minnesota Timberwolves, winners of two playoff series in their history, managed to put those two victories back-to-back to reach the Western Conference Finals in 2004. Both times the Clippers have blown 3–1 leads in the playoffs; they were one win from the conference finals. Is there some lingering karma helping LA snatch defeat from the jaws of playoff victory?

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It doesn’t help perceptions of karma when many observers suspect the LA Clippers of being less than enthusiastic about winning games down the stretch. The Clippers lost their final two regular-season games to the hard-tanking Houston Rockets (owners of the NBA’s worst record) and the even-harder-tanking Oklahoma City Thunder.

Oklahoma City had lost 23 of its last 24 games entering the regular-season finale. The Clippers led 110–108 with 1:58 to go but, playing without Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris, Rajon Rondo, and Nicolas Batum, were outscored 9–2 the rest of the way.

Besides those not playing at all, the Clippers used center Ivica Zubac for an exhausting six seconds; guards Reggie Jackson (6:52) and Patrick Beverley (18:52) similarly had lighter-than-normal workloads, per NBA.com. Instead, Daniel Oturu played 37 minutes (running his season total to 161), and the unfortunately named Jay Scrubb logged 36 of his 84 minutes against the Thunder. Patrick Patterson, who averaged 15.3 minutes a game for the season, got 42 minutes of run.

The losses to the Rockets and Thunder allowed LA to lose a tiebreaker to the Denver Nuggets and settle into the No. 4 seed in the West. Stephen A. Smith led the media in charging the Clippers were ducking the Los Angeles Lakers (who earned the No. 7 seed in the play-in tournament). Not even coach Tyronn Lue’s denial changed that tune.

Recent history better for LA Clippers, but overall, it’s still brutal

The LA Clippers lost Game 1 of their first-round series
Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks was too much for Paul George (13) and Kawhi Leonard (2) of the LA Clippers on May 22, 2021. | Harry How/Getty Images

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The LA Clippers have posted winning records each of the last 10 seasons. In the previous 41 years of the franchise’s existence, it had six winning seasons. Yes, you read that correctly. Six. With nine playoff berths in the last 10 years, the team has run its all-time total to 16. The Clippers do at least have some company in their futility. The Sacramento Kings this season matched the Clips’ record for missing the postseason in 15 consecutive years. So there’s that.

The Clippers have won six playoff series since the franchise’s debut as the Buffalo Braves in 1970–71. Four of those six have come in the last nine seasons. None of those series victories has ever been outside of the first round.

LA has the star power with a two-time Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard and a five-time All-NBA selection in Paul George. But losing Game 1 at home to the Mavericks makes Tuesday’s Game 2 a virtual must-win. Seriously, with the history of playoff doom the LA Clippers possess, do they want to go to Dallas in an 0–2 hole? Probably not.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.