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    Swanson: Clippers fall flat again in Dallas as season ends
    • May 4, 2024

    DALLAS — As the song goes: Inglewood, always up to no good.

    And now the Clippers live there.

    Their next home game will be their first at the new Intuit Dome. You can put a period on the 2023-24 season: Friday night’s 114-101 Game 6 loss to the fifth-seeded Dallas Mavericks meant the Clippers won’t ever host another game at Arena.

    Their opening-round loss in the Western Conference playoffs eliminated Coach Tyronn Lue’s team on his 47th birthday, the fourth-seeded Clippers bowing out in a first-round series against a Luka Doncic-led Mavs team for the first time in three meetings.

    With Clippers star Kawhi Leonard sidelined with knee inflammation, Doncic (28 points and 13 assists) and Kyrie Irving (28 of his 30 points after halftime) proved a considerably more potent one-two punch than Paul George (18) and James Harden (16).

    It all went in accordance with the NBA’s current trend: A young star – Doncic is 25 – with much to prove leading his team past an aging, content contingent past proving much.

    But who knows? Maybe a young building will spark the Clippers? Maybe the franchise that still, after 54 years, has yet to win a championship will have better aura in its new arena?

    More likely it won’t matter: You can take the team out of downtown L.A., but I doubt even a new arena can take the downtrodden out of these Clippers, certainly not as they’re currently constructed.

    The 213 Era – aka the What-if-Kawhi-Leonard-Was-Healthy? Era – has been a study in what might have been, and might never be, Leonard’s right knee refusing to play ball for a third consecutive postseason.

    Paul George said Kawhi Leonard — sidelined with knee inflammation — “wanted to be out there, wanted to be with us… it was more staff keeping him back.”

    — Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) May 4, 2024

    Since Leonard and George linked up in L.A., the Clippers exited in the second round in 2020, in the conference finals in 2021, in the play-in in 2022 (a season Leonard missed recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament), and in the first round each of the past two seasons.

    The two-time NBA Finals MVP with San Antonio and Toronto, Leonard was sidelined this postseason after right knee inflammation proved too much of a hindrance in his appearances in Games 2 and 3.

    And so, with the Clippers’ best player relegated again to spectator status, Leonard’s high-paid pals’ play lived up to their promise.

    They told us they felt no pressure going into Friday’s game. Stuff your ‘must-win’ in a dust bin, they said. “The pressure’s on them to win the game,” Harden proclaimed at shootaround Friday morning, echoing George’s comments immediately after the Clippers’ historically lopsided 30-point loss in Game 5: “If you fail, you fail.”

    And they weren’t kidding. Urgency? Nonsense. The Clippers had no sense of it. Not not nearly enough.

    All Lue was looking for on his birthday were quick, decisive actions.

    But for much of the game, the Clippers gave him a lot of dribbling nowhere fast and tough-shot-taking. From Lue’s perspective, they ran out of gas.

    And Dallas was spry, Dallas was the aggressor. The Mavericks swarmed defensively, forced shot clock violations, kept George under wraps. The Clippers gave up 18 offensive rebounds; all 21 of the Mavericks’ second-chance points felt important. The Mavs were fast to the floor for loose balls, frustrating the Clippers, holding them at bay until they blew it open after halftime, outscoring their guests 62-49, and summarily excusing them for the season.

    The Mavericks just about blew the lid off their building when Irving danced into the corner and plunged a dagger into the Clippers’ season with his 3-pointer (and the foul) with 5:38 to play, putting Dallas ahead, 106-82.

    Standing on business, as the signage all around the Dallas arena read.

    Lue said team owner Steve Ballmer stopped by the locker room postgame with some “kind words.” The coach said a few times, “I’m proud of our guys” for taking the season seriously. Remember when a 26-5 stretch in the middle of it made believers of many? It’s a long season, though.

    “Especially when you’re in that small group of teams that have a chance and you don’t get to get everything out of everything that you put into it, it’s frustrating,” George said after the game. “But we didn’t do enough to move on. That’s on us.”

    Looking ahead, Lue said he plans to stay put, even if much of L.A. spent the day wishing he would switch teams to take the Lakers’ now-vacant head coaching job.

    “I hope so, I didn’t come here to bounce around and go all over the place,” Lue said about extending his tenure with his current team. “This is where I want to be.”

    George couldn’t be so committal. The Palmdale native can opt out and become a free agent this summer by declining his $48.8 million player option for the 2024-25 season.

    “Yeah,” he wants to be back, he said, “if it works that way, absolutely.”

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    Indications are that the Clippers want to not only to lock up Lue, but to arrange to keep George and Harden around.

    That makes sense, though, if only because it will be hard to imagine the Clippers can unwind themselves from their aging stars within the current constraints of roster building in the NBA, especially being so short on tradable draft picks.

    So run it back? Take the regular season seriously or don’t, but meet you back here for a short, short-handed playoff blip again next year?

    Lue, at least, seems ready for it. Eventually there has to be a breakthrough, right? Maybe in the new place.

    “I like our team,” Lue said. “This was a good year. This year made me a better coach, having a team with four future Hall of Famers … it was good for me. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, outside of the early ending. I’m ready to move onto next season and get better.”

    Thoughts from Coach Lue @LAClippers | #ClipperNation

    — Bally Sports West (@BallySportWest) May 4, 2024


    Kyrie Irving scored 28 of his 30 points in the 2nd half to help advance the @dallasmavs to the West Semis!

    DAL visits OKC for Game 1 on Tuesday at 9:30pm/et on TNT

    — NBA (@NBA) May 4, 2024

    ​ Orange County Register