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The Roar



Hoodoo gurus: Why Kawhi has the perfect offsider to finally end curse of the Clippers - and it's not Harden

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17th February, 2024

There is no logical reason to believe in curses. Unless you are an LA Clippers fan. 

Coming up to 10 years since the end of the infamous Donald Sterling era when their former owner was removed due to his racial bigotry, the Clippers are still searching for their first NBA championship. 

They still haven’t even made it to the big dance with their Western Conference finals appearance in 2021 their high watermark. 

But with star forward Kawhi Leonard shrugging off his injury management rigmarole, the James Harden gamble paying dividends and Paul George staying on the court to be a two-way threat, the Clippers have been the hottest team in the NBA for much of the season. 

After a slow start while they adjusted to Harden running the point following his trade from Philadelphia on the eve of the season, the Clippers have gone 27-8 to be just two games back of Minnesota (39-16) in the West with a 36-17 record. 

Russel Westbrook has accepted and thrived in his role as a bench energy booster and with depth at every position, there’s every reason to believe this squad is capable of making a deep run in the playoffs. 

Unless of course you think the weight of history and the stigma that hovers over this franchise will be insurmountable for even this talented roster which is clicking into top gear. 

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 21: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers reacts to his dunk in front of Cam Thomas #24 of the Brooklyn Nets during a 125-114 Clippers win at Arena on January 21, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Kawhi Leonard dunks. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)


The Clippers’ destiny rests in the hands of Leonard and coach Tyronn Lue. 

Whether Harden continues his trend of post-season disappearing acts is not the be-all and end-all for this team. 

Clearly they need him at their best if they’re going to negotiate their way through the Western gauntlet of Denver, the improved Timberwolves, rapidly rising OKC and star-studded Phoenix. 

But it’s on Leonard’s shoulders that their hopes rest. 

When he’s playing regularly, the talented forward can do anything on the floor at both ends. 

Scoring inside and out, setting up teammates and defending the opposition’s best player, whether that’s a speedy guard on the perimeter or a big body in the paint. 


Apart from a slight groin injury which has sidelined him for the past few games, Leonard has been uncharacteristically durable this season. Rarely resting, playing back to back fixtures and stepping up when his team needs impact on either side of the ball. 

Lue is an under-rated coach. For someone who has a championship ring, he is sometimes overlooked when the conversation turns to listing the truly elite coaches who are difference makers. 

He was parachuted into the Cleveland coach’s hot seat during LeBron James’s prime midway through the 2015-16 season and achieved the improbable by guiding the Cavaliers to their historic championship over Golden State. 

Lue was chosen in large part because he had the persona of someone who would stand up to LeBron and tell him what he needed to hear, not what he wanted. 

Still only 46, he was underestimated as a player due to his small stature and unfairly remembered for an incident when Allen Iverson stepped over him after sending him to the floor with fancy footwork. 

But he has defied the odds again as a coach to take the Cavs to two more NBA Finals and then navigating his way through four years of the Clippers’ annual dramas which have mainly revolved around Leonard and George getting injured at inopportune times. 

His lack of size doesn’t mean he’s a pushover. Lue was fined $35,000 on Saturday for abusing referee James Williams after a controversial loss to Golden State. 


“Where the refs at now? Cheating. That’s all they be doing. Where James at? The referee. I want to kick him in the mouth.”

Teams reflect the personality of their coaches and the Clippers have plenty of mongrel about them. 

With the Timberwolves and Thunder getting their first real taste of title contention, as it stands, the Clippers appear to be the main threats to champions Denver in the West. 

A lack of sizeable options to throw at dual MVP Nikola Jokic could prove the Clippers’ Achilles heel. 

They have big boppers in Ivica Zubac, Mason Plumlee and Daniel Theis but none of them would be causing The Joker any lost sleep. 


Their best hope in that scenario may be putting Leonard on the Nuggets centre and banking on his defensive prowess making up for the height disadvantage. 

There’s a long way to go before the Clippers even have to start worrying about such a match-up but with experienced rivals like the Lakers and Warriors dropping off, this season is shaping as their best chance to go deep in the playoffs and possibly ending their 53-year title drought which has followed them from Buffalo to San Diego and LA. 

If Lue can pull that off it would be an even bigger achievement than breaking Cleveland’s 46-year wait for a title. 

And for Leonard it would be more remarkable than his effort to step up for San Antonio in their 2014 Finals success or his charmed hit-and-run mission five years later with Toronto.