What next for Clippers after season of promise ends?

Thu May 28, 2015 4:55pm EDT
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By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors prepare to battle for the NBA championship, the Los Angeles Clippers can only reflect on what might have been after a season of rich promise ended abruptly.

A year after their playoff hopes were rocked by a racism scandal that left previous owner Donald Sterling with a life ban from the NBA, the Clippers seemed set to make a run at a title as they made a stirring start to the postseason.

They came back from a 3-2 series deficit to beat the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in a pulsating opening round, then closed in on a first ever conference final by taking a 3-1 series lead over the Houston Rockets in the second round.

At that point, the Clippers were widely acclaimed as the best team remaining in the playoffs and former Lakers great Magic Johnson predicted they would go on to win the coveted Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy.

"I've watched all the teams in playoffs and right now the Clippers are playing better than any team left!" five-time NBA champion Johnson tweeted.

"They have a little bit of everything...the Clippers have outside shooting, Blake is dominating, the best leader and coach in Chris Paul & Doc Rivers and great team defense!"

Die-hard Clippers fans savored the prospect of a maiden Western Conference final when only a year ago their team's playoff run ended weeks after racist comments made by Sterling surfaced, sparking public outrage and causing sponsors to quit.

Following protracted legal wrangling, a California appeals court rejected Sterling's last-ditch attempt to block the sale of the Clippers to Steve Ballmer for a record $2 billion, and the tech billionaire took over as the new owner in August.   Continued...

Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13), guard J.R. Smith (5), forward LeBron James (23) and guard Iman Shumpert (4) react from the bench during the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Hawks in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. May 26, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA;  David Richard-USA TODAY Sports