Sam Cassell, former NBA star and three-time NBA champion, who is currently an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Clippers, talks NBA playoffs and all things basketball with Michael Rapaport on the newest episode of I AM RAPAPORT.
The Clippers are currently tied 1-1 in their series with the Utah Jazz and will tip off Game 3 tonight. The winner of that series will go on to face the Golden State Warriors or Portland Trail Blazers in Round 2.
Cassell sees big things ahead for the Clippers, even though the Jazz, who aren’t an easy out, would be followed by the Golden State Warriors, who are favored to win the West.
“Right now my [playoff] approach is very positive with our ball club,” said Cassell. “We’re in a good space right now, our team is great, we’re healthy.”
Cassell believes the team’s “health is the most important thing right now” because “every NBA team has injuries, and injuries are a part of the game.” Cassell wants the team healthy so that they can be in it for the long haul.
“From day one our team wanted to go from November to April… [so] now we’re where we want to be — it’s playoff time now,” said Cassell. “This team is built for the playoffs.”
The team “is in a great mindset right now, and when this team is in a good mindset, the sky is the limit.”
Cassell is no stranger to NBA titles, having won two with the Houston Rockets and a third with the Boston Celtics.
“This team reminds me of my second championship I won in Houston. We were the sixth seed, and no one even talked about us during the playoff run,” said Cassell. “We just kept winning and winning and winning, until we got to the finals to play the hot Orlando Magic ball club, when no one gave us the credibility.”
Cassell believes that the Clippers could be the underdogs that steal the playoffs with solid play and a low profile, like that Rockets team from two decades ago.
“We beat three 60-win teams that year in the playoffs to get to the NBA Finals,” said Cassell. “And no one thought that we had a chance to beat the Orlando Magic, but we just played the game and gave ourselves the best opportunities to win. And we swept those guys in four.”
Having Hakeem Olajuwon, who picked up his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP in that series, definitely helped.
Cassell envisions a similar path this year for the Clippers, who persevered all season despite critical injuries or setbacks.
“Our mindset is great, we’re healthy, the guys understand what we’ve been through in the course of 82 games,” said Cassell. “Where we are right now is boggling. Take any team around this league, they lose their top two players, how would their season be?”
Cassell believes the Clippers are in it for the long haul this season and can knock off the big boys, like the ’94-’95 Rockets did in his second season. He sees the potential and can envision them going all the way.
“I’ve been around this game a really long time, and I have that same feeling about our team,” said Cassell.
The first step for the Clippers is getting past the Jazz. The second step would probably be to take down the Warriors, who haven’t had much difficulty with the Trail Blazers so far. Neither would be easy, but Cassell thinks the Clippers have what it takes.