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