LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Clippers overcame low expectations and a roster without any current or former All-Stars to win 48 games, make the playoffs and push the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors to six games.
Now they’re ready to go shopping. A blockbuster list of free agents comes on the market this summer.
The Clippers have depth and a cohesive bunch of players who fight to the finish – comeback wins of 31 points in Game 2 against Golden State, 28 points at Boston, 25 points at Detroit and 20 points at Charlotte – and that should help catch the eye of big-name talent.
They went 48-34, extending a franchise record with their eighth consecutive winning season. Their 13-2 mark was the NBA’s best in March.
“We did more than most thought we could,” coach Doc Rivers said. “This is the start of something great here.”
After missing out last year, they returned to the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. As an eighth seed, they lost in 4-2 in the first round to Golden State, but not before their Game 2 comeback – the biggest in NBA playoff history.
“That’s a beautiful basketball team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They’ve got a bright future.”
Some things to watch:
IMPACT ROOKIES: Two of the team’s three rookie guards made a big impact. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander started 73 of 82 games at the point, averaging 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists during the regular season. He scored a Clippers rookie playoff record 25 points against the Warriors. Landry Shamet joined the team in February in a trade from Philadelphia, where he played his first 54 games. He finished fourth all-time in 3-pointers made (167) by a rookie during the season, when he shot 42 percent. Jerome Robinson showed promise while struggling to find minutes in a crowded backcourt, dealing with a nagging foot injury and going back and forth to the G League. The trio’s presence could help make the Clippers an attractive free-agent destination, knowing their youngsters can make plays in big games and have huge upside. “They were complete pros,” Lou Williams said. “They took every challenge that we had for them, on the road, in practice.”
GETTING A STEAL: C Ivica Zubac came over from the Lakers in a steal of a deal at the trade deadline in February. The 7-foot-1 center started 12 of 33 games for his new team, averaging 8.5 points and 4.9 rebounds. He had a playoff career-high of 18 points and 15 rebounds against Golden State. Zubac and Montrezl Harrell formed one of the best center combinations in the league. Zubac, a third-year pro, can become a restricted free agent after the season.
OFF THE BENCH: Harrell and Williams, a candidate for his third Sixth Man of the Year award, proved a lethal combo off the bench. They notched the highest combined scoring average of any reserve duo in NBA history at 36.9 points. Williams led the league in bench scoring at 20.1 points (also tops on the team) while becoming the No. 1 bench scorer in league history. Harrell was fourth at 16.8.
FRONT OFFICE: The Clippers have a solid front-office to pursue free agents. President of basketball operations Lawrence Frank presides over general manager Michael Winger, assistant GMs Mark Hughes and Trent Redden, and consultant Jerry West. Winger is so committed to seeing the franchise build a long-term contender that he took himself out of contention for Minnesota’s basketball ops job. Under Frank, the team traded its highest-scoring players each of the last two seasons (Blake Griffin and Tobias Harris) for multiple draft picks and other players while freeing up room under the salary cap to offer maximum deals to free agents this summer. Coach Doc Rivers is locked in for what’s to come, having said in March he’s working out a long-term contract extension.