L.A. Clippers Jamychal Green, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris and Paul George
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Clippers’ franchise-long conference-finals drought reaches 50 years

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Sports Illustrated declared the Buffalo Braves “better than ever” entering the 1974-75 season. But Braves coach Jack Ramsay preached caution.

“I’m reluctant to vault us into the higher echelons,” Ramsay said. “We have to prove we can beat tough teams. It’s an uphill battle.”

Ramsay’s warning proved prophetic. Buffalo failed to reach even the conference finals, losing by 19 to the Washington Bullets in Game 7 of the previous round.

Bigger humiliations would follow.

The franchise moved to San Diego then Los Angeles, renaming itself the Clippers. They usually lost. Expectations were typically low.

But this year was supposed to be different. The Los Angeles Clippers turned themselves into a force by signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George last summer. Or it seemed.

Instead, the Clippers merely shifted their heartache into a new form. The latest torment? Blowing a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets in the second round.

The Clippers, nee Braves, have played 50 seasons in the NBA. They’ve never reached the conference finals or division finals.

That’s the longest drought from the semifinal round in league history.

The Hawks snapped a tie with the Clippers by making 2015 Eastern Conference finals. L.A.’s skid continues.

Here are the longest conference/division-finals droughts in NBA history:

The Clippers franchise is now 0-8 with an opportunity to reach the conference finals.

In addition to Buffalo’s Game 7 loss in 1975, the Clippers also lost a Game 7 in 2006. The loss to Denver wasn’t even the only time the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead in the second round. That also happened against the Rockets in 2015.

“You never want to equate sports with death,” then-Clippers guard J.J. Redick said afterward. “But it does feel like a wake or a funeral.”

Unfortunately for the Clippers, that wasn’t the end.

The misery continues.

Evolving plan for next NBA season has USA Basketball, Tokyo Olympics in limbo

Tokyo Olympics
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Will NBA players be available to represent their countries when the Tokyo Olympics begin next July 23?

Nobody knows. As the NBA pushes back its start date for next season — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently said it likely would be after the first of the year, but sources around the league tell NBC Sports to expect more like February or March — it leaves USA Basketball and the participation of NBA players in the Olympics in limbo. Here’s what USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo told Chris Sherridan of Basketball News.

“I was told the NBA season would start in December, and then it was Christmas, and then after Jan. 1, and that keeps pushing the schedule for me. The NBA season typically takes 170 or 171 days to complete, so that creates a conflict on paper,” said Colangelo, adding that a suspension of the NBA season in order to clear time for the Olympics also has been discussed…

“If the [NBA] season conflicts with the Olympics, I might have 14 non-playoff teams to choose from, but then other players will become available as the NBA playoffs progress,” Colangelo said. “The problem is that the IOC has a rule mandating an early submission of a 12-man roster. But with a pandemic, the hope would be that you’ve got to set aside outdated rules. I assume people will be reasonable and come up with some kind of a program that works.”

Right now, there is no answer for Colangelo and USA Basketball because there is no answer on next season. The only thing owners seem set on is playing a full 82-game schedule — after taking a financial hit this season, owners want to start making money again — with fans in the building for as many of those games as possible.

If the NBA season starts in February and was condensed slightly, the regular season could be done before the Tokyo Olympics. A Team USA made up of guys who missed the playoffs would still be formidable (this past season that would have included Stephen Curry, Karl-Anthony Towns, Trae Young, Bradley Beal, and others). However, other countries don’t have the luxury of that kind of depth.

Also being discussed is an NHL-style break in the NBA season to allow players to compete in the Olympics, then return to finish the season.

Team USA, despite its struggles at the World Cup last year, still qualified for the Olympics. That was a team depleted of NBA star power because of both injuries and guys not wanting to play the World Cup then Olympics in back-to-back years (nobody knew the coronavirus would blow up those plans).  What players USA Basketball will send to Tokyo remains up in the air.

And there’s little Colangelo can do but wait.

PBT Podcast: NBA Finals preview, Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat

NBA Finals Preview
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It’s happening in October, not June. And rather than cross-country flights, everyone will be camped out in a bubble in Orlando.

But the NBA Finals are finally here: The Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Miami Heat. Which means it’s time for an NBA Finals Preview.

The Lakers are the heavy favorites but Miami posses some matchup challenges, starting with Bam Adebayo on Anthony Davis. Add in Jimmy Butler checking LeBron James for stretches, and the Heat shooters such as Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, and this is not going to be a cakewalk for Los Angeles.

Mark Medina of the USA today joins Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports for this NBA Finals Preview. They break down the matchups, talk about what it would take for Miami to pull off the upset, and discuss how this matchup could influence how other teams build out their rosters in the future.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

With Doc Rivers out, three names to watch as next Clippers coach

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Point to the blown 3-1 series lead against Denver, pick apart his tactical decisions in the playoffs this season if you want, but know this: Doc Rivers is a natural leader of men. Players respect him and want to play for him, and they win for him (he has a ring from Boston and is the winningest coach in Clippers history). He was a key reason Kawhi Leonard came to the Clippers.

Which is why it caught everyone off-guard that Rivers is out as the Clippers coach. Even after the blown opportunity.

If Rivers is out, then who is next? Whoever takes the job gets a team that should contend on paper — two elite stars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, plenty of depth and quality role players, and an owner willing to spend what it takes to win — but also a lot of pressure. The Clippers gave up a lot to get Leonard and George, and each can be a free agent after next season — the Clippers are the ultimate win-now team.

Here are three names to watch.

1. Tyronn Lue

His is the name you hear most around the league, and is the most reported. He has been the right-hand man for Rivers this season, the Clippers’ lead assistant who has won a ring as a head coach in Cleveland, and he’s used to working with big-name stars. He is respected and liked by the Clippers players and the transition of power would be easy. Lue can have the job, but he also has options — Houston, Philadephia, and New Orleans also are in line to speak with him.

2. Jeff Van Gundy

It feels like an obligation to bring his name up for every coaching opening in the NBA (and probably high school and college), but in this case there is a legitimate reason: Clippers’ president Lawrence Frank is a huge fan. The former Rockets and Knicks coach has the gravitas to get players to listen, even though he has been in the ABC broadcast booth for years. Both the Rockets and now the Clippers want to talk to him. For the next couple of weeks, Van Gundy will be talking about that other Los Angeles team as he broadcasts the NBA Finals.

3. Sam Cassell

After the top two names on this list, things get speculative. Would the Clippers have interest in Mike D’Antoni (who is the favorite for the Philadelphia job)? If not Van Gundy, how about his broadcast partner Mark Jackson? If the Clippers are looking at a former player who is a lead assistant, how about Jason Kidd (still in the bubble with the Lakers)?

We’ll throw current Clippers’ assistant Sam Cassell in there, too. He’s a longtime NBA assistant who has interviewed for some top jobs and deserves a shot somewhere. Again the transition would be easy, and he would bring some swagger to the locker room.

Another question worth asking:

What is next for Doc Rivers?

Whatever Rivers wants. If he wants to jump back into coaching, the Pelicans and 76ers reportedly are interested.

If Rivers wants to take a year off and golf more, he could quickly get a job working in studio or on the broadcasts with ABC or Turner/NBATV — he is phenomenal on camera.

Report: Timberwolves expected to draft LaMelo Ball if not trading No. 1 pick

LaMelo Ball Timberwolves
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The Timberwolves traded for ball-dominant, defense-deficient point guard D'Angelo Russell then landed the No. 1 pick… in a year the top prospect is ball-dominant, defense-deficient point guard LaMelo Ball. Even the other prospect often atop draft boards, Georgia shooting guard Anthony Edwards, wouldn’t be a simple fit with Russell and Malik Beasley already in the backcourt.

That’s why Minnesota is open to trading the top pick.

Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report:

If the Wolves stick at No. 1, multiple sources say they’d bet on LaMelo Ball having the edge over Anthony Edwards.

Do these sources have actually insight into Minnesota’s thinking? The possibility makes this interesting.

However, they could just be supposing. Though the pre-draft process is far from complete, I tend to think Ball is the top prospect. I definitely think the Timberwolves should draft the top prospect available. But Minnesota’s view might not match my own – or Wasserman’s sources’.