Cal­i­for­nia dreamin’ this might be year its four NBA teams all reach play­offs

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Sports - BY MATT STEVENS New York Times

Christ­mas is per­haps the most cel­e­brated day of the NBA reg­u­lar sea­son, and a sig­nal that we are al­most half­way through it.

So it called for ask­ing one of the New York Times’ NBA ex­perts, Marc Stein, to pro­vide an up­date on Cal­i­for­nia’s four teams. He of­fered some­thing sur­pris­ing and raised an in­trigu­ing ques­tion: This is the 34th sea­son in which Cal­i­for­nia has housed four NBA fran­chises – but the state is 0 for 33 when it comes to send­ing all four teams to the play­offs in the same sea­son.

Could this be the year that Golden State, the Lak­ers and Clip­pers, and Sacra­mento fi­nally con­spire to end that drought?

As Stein pointed out, all four teams have win­ning records. Here was his quick take on where each stands:

War­riors (23-13): The champs are 15-5 when their four best play­ers (Stephen Curry, Kevin Du­rant, Dray­mond Green and Klay Thomp­son) have been healthy enough to play to­gether – so no one is deeply wor­ried just yet. But Green and Thomp­son are mired in shoot­ing slumps, depth and ad­vanc­ing age also are con­cerns and the mar­quee off­sea­son ac­qui­si­tion, De­Mar­cus Cousins, has yet to play.

It’s a good thing for the War­riors that the rest of the West, while ridicu­lously deep with com­pe­tent teams, doesn’t ap­pear to house a con­sen­sus threat to the over­whelm­ing pre­sea­son fa­vorites. Clip­pers (20-14): LA’s “other” team is thriv­ing amid all the at­ten­tion (and pres­sure) heaped upon LeBron’s Lak­ers.

Lit­tle was ex­pected of the Clip­pers be­fore the com­ing off­sea­son – when they plan to make their own ag­gres­sive free-agent pitches to the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Du­rant – but flashes of Al­lS­tar po­ten­tial from To­bias Har­ris com­bined with the gritty group of vet­er­ans on the ros­ter around him have put the Clip­pers on a sur­pris­ing 48-win pace. Lak­ers (20-15): The strug­gles of Hous­ton and Utah have helped the Lak­ers make an un­ex­pected bid for a top-four slot in the West in James’ maiden sea­son in Hol­ly­wood. And LA’s Christ­mas per­for­mance against the War­riors, es­pe­cially af­ter los­ing James to in­jury, of­fered the lat­est ev­i­dence that his in­con­sis­tent sup­port­ing cast might be bet­ter than skep­tics think.

The big sec­ond-half ques­tion: How will the young stars (Kyle Kuzma, Bran­don In­gram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart) cope with the ris­ing vol­ume (and scru­tiny) sur­round­ing man­age­ment’s plans to pur­sue New Or­leans’ An­thony Davis and other elite play­ers?

Kings (19-16): Sacra­mento ranks up there with Westlead­ing Den­ver as the league’s fore­most Cin­derella story as it bids to bring a halt to the league’s long­est ac­tive run with­out a play­off berth (12 sea­sons).

Main­tain­ing this level of suc­cess will be dif­fi­cult in a West­ern Con­fer­ence in which 14 of the 15 teams har­bor le­git­i­mate post­sea­son as­pi­ra­tions, but the fast-paced Kings – led by speedy point guard De’Aaron Fox – al­ready have de­fied doubters for nearly three months af­ter be­ing picked to post one of the league’s worst records.

TONY AVE­LAR AP

Lak­ers for­ward LeBron James and the War­riors’ Kevin Du­rant squared off on Christ­mas Day in Oak­land, with Los An­ge­les walk­ing away with a con­fi­dence-build­ing 127-101 vic­tory.

STEVE YEATER AP

Kings guard De’Aaron Fox is one rea­son there’s hope again in Sacra­mento. If the play­offs started Fri­day, they would have made it a four-pack of Cal­i­for­nia teams headed to the post­sea­son.

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