Clash of Californians in NBA

Russell Westbrook had his No. 4 jersey retired at his high school. Photo:

Many think it’ll be the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers playing each other in this year’s NBA Western Conference finals. But for a real clash of Californians, the Clippers meeting the Houston Rockets is more correct.

Both of the leading two players for the Clippers and Rockets are from Southern California high schools and they are all among the best players in the league.

Leading the Clippers is two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who of course led the Toronto Raptors to the 2019 NBA title and then signed as a free agent with the Clippers during the summer. Leonard previously was MVP for the NBA Finals for the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. Kawhi is from M.L. King High in Riverside where as a senior in 2009 he was the Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year. He also led the Wolves to a CIF Division II state championship. After high school, Leonard played for two years at San Diego State.

The Clippers also added six-time NBA all-star Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder to this year’s starting lineup. George, who also was an NBA all-star three times with the Indiana Pacers, went to high school at Knight High of Lancaster. He played for the Pacers for seven seasons, then three for the Thunder. As of early January, he was averaging 23.5 ppg and 6.0 rebounds per game for the Clippers. Leonard was averaging 25.3 ppg and 5.1 assists.

Speaking of scoring average, the Rockets have the NBA leader this season by a wide margin in future Hall of Famer James Harden with an amazing mark of 38.4 per game as of early January. Harden also was handing out 7.6 assists per game. The graduate of Artesia High in Lakewood has been a perennial all-star for the Rockets since he came to them from Oklahoma City in a trade prior to the 2012-13 NBA season. Harden also is a former State Junior of the Year and two-time all-state pick from his years at Artesia where it might be surprising to many that he wasn’t that much of a prolific scorer.

Harden was paired with point guard Chris Paul for the past three seasons in Houston, but in one of the biggest moves since the end of the 2019 season the Rockets obtained point guard Russell Westbrook, Harden’s former teammate at Oklahoma City. Westbrook has become the NBA’s triple-double king with a record of 42 of them in one season and he even averaged a triple-double for his past three seasons in Oklahoma City, including 22.9 ppg, 11.1 rebounds and 10.7 assists last year. And like Leonard, George and Harden, Westbrook is from Southern California as well since he’s from Leuzinger High of Lawndale. He wasn’t as much of a late bloomer as George (went to UCLA out of high school compared to Fresno State), but like Leonard and Harden he also has exploded in the NBA after his college career.

It is not surprising that when Russell Westbrook became an NBA sensation, fans started actively betting on him, making the young and successful player a new NBA betting star.

When the Clippers and Rockets did play each other recently (Houston won 122-117), there was one point in the game when the four NBA superstars from California were joined on the court by Rockets’ back-up center Tyson Chandler. Another basketball fan favorite and betting star, he’s almost as equally well known in Southern California as the other four. Chandler, in fact, had a more stellar high school career than the others from his years at Dominguez High in Compton. Tyson was not only the Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year as a junior for the Dons in 2000, but he repeated getting the honor as a senior in 2001. He later became the second pick in the 2001 NBA Draft by the Clippers (later traded to the Chicago Bulls) after Kwame Brown went first to the Washington Wizards.

So while Lakers vs. Clippers may get the most attention, Clippers vs. Rockets has an even more SoCal flavor to it. LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers’ two top stars, are from Ohio and Illinois, respectively.

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