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Clippers prepare to start new season where it ended last

LA looks to erase the pain from its playoff disappointment in Portland

Scott Howard-Cooper

The schedule makers are diabolical and sadistic with a warped sense of humor, NBA.com has learned.

Attention-grabbing matchups are the norm in the early days of this and every season, but LA Clippers vs. Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT) as LA’s first game of 2016-17?

Seriously?

Oh, and Clippers at Trail Blazers?

Cruel.

Twisted.

Mean, mean, mean.

The Clippers are starting this season in the same haunted house where the last one ended, not merely an instant re-match of the first-round series won by Portland but with the Clips being immediately sent back to Moda Center to face both the Trail Blazers and the memories soaked in pain.

“I know, right?” point guard Chris Paul said. “You think that’s just a coincidence?”

Maybe not.

“Not a chance,” Paul came right back. “It’s always like that opening week.”

The NBA might as well have gone full snark and staged the game in an ER. That’s how bad it was April 25 in Oregon. Game 4, L.A. up 2-1 in the series, and Paul fractured his right hand in the third quarter, followed within minutes by Blake Griffin aggravating the torn tendon in his left leg that cost him 41 games during the regular season. Griffin returned in the fourth quarter, though so obviously hurting that coach Doc Rivers pulled him after 98 seconds of a close contest.

The Clippers lost the game 98-84 … and Paul for the rest of the playoffs… and Griffin for the rest of the playoffs. Their 2-0 series lead from Staples Center was gone, at 2-2 after the Trail Blazers won that night, and so, essentially, was the season. Rivers found himself left to patch together starting lineups and Portland was simply playing too well and too resolute.

Indeed, not to be forgotten is that the Trail Blazers were up in Game 4 with Paul and Griffin healthy, making 2-2 a serious possibility even before someone got the voodoo doll and went to work on the Clippers. But injuries to the All-Star point guard and the All-Star power forward in the same quarter all but eliminated the chance to make a stand as the series returned to L.A. The Blazers won there in Game 5 and then again back in Moda Center to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.

“It was the damnedest night,” Rivers said six months later. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that. It happened within a four-minute stretch. The eerie part of the whole thing was right before Chris went down, we had taken Blake out, we were about to put him back in, I asked him how he was doing and he said, ‘Man, I feel great. I’m feeling like I’m back. I’m great.’ And then: bam!”

Added Jamal Crawford, the reigning Kia Sixth Man of the Year Award winner: “It’s unbelievable because that sticks with you the whole summer. It’s going to stick with you. You play the What If? game. You shouldn’t, but you do. It’ll always be in the back of your head. But we have our guys (now) and we’re going to be clicking at the right time and we’ll be ready to go.

“We’ve had some outs in the playoffs and other ones felt more self-inflicted. Being up 3-1 (against the Rockets in 2015). Tied 2-2 and up seven with 40 seconds left on the road at OKC (in 2014). Being up 2-0 against Memphis the year before that. That one (in 2016) was really like, ‘Dang. Man. What happened?’ It wasn’t our fault. That one was a little tough to digest.”

And now they have to start the new climb by walking right into that place, almost six months to the day from the Game 4 still hard to comprehend.

“The NBA’s kind of known for doing stuff like that,” Griffin said. “They want to try to create hype. They try to do stuff like that. Not really surprising, honestly.”

Cruel, though. Sinister. Mean, mean, mean.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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