The Los Angeles Clippers have made the playoffs five years in a row. Each year, they fell short of the Conference Finals.
Over the next few weeks, ClipperBlog will feature the other 17 teams to make at least five consecutive postseason appearances without reaching the Conference Finals during the streak. Eight of those 17 teams broke through and eventually made the Conference Finals before the end of the postseason streak, and two made it all the way to the NBA Finals.
But none of the previous 17 teams to make at least five consecutive postseason appearances without reaching the Conference Finals won a title before missing the playoffs first.
All of these roundups will feature the players who played at least 10,000 regular season minutes, the head coaches, and what happened to each team at the end of their run of Playoff Purgatory. We’ll circle back and relate it to the Clippers’ current situation.
Portland Trail Blazers 1992-1998 Summary
– 1992-1993: 51-31 (4th seed), lost to San Antonio Spurs in 4
– 1993-1994: 47-35 (7th seed), lost to Houston Rockets in 4
– 1994-1995: 44-38 (7th seed), swept by Phoenix Suns in Round 1
– 1995-1996: 44-38 (6th seed), lost to Utah Jazz in 5
– 1996-1997: 49-33 (5th seed), lost to Los Angeles Lakers in 4
– 1997-1998: 46-36 (6th seed), lost to Lakers in 4
10K minutes: Clifford Robinson, Rod Strickland
Head Coaches: Rick Adelman (1992-1994), P.J. Carlesimo (1994-1997), Mike Dunleavy (1997-1998)
When we last left the Portland Trail Blazers in this series, they had overcome Playoff Purgatory, only to lose the 1990 and 1992 NBA Finals.
The Trail Blazers went out and signed PG Rod Strickland from San Antonio in July 1992. Strickland missed a combined 49 games the previous two seasons with the Spurs, but when he did play in 1991-1992, he averaged 13.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.6 assists, and 2.1 steals for a playoff team. With SG Danny Ainge leaving for the Phoenix Suns, Strickland was coming to Portland back up PG Terry Porter and All-Star SG Clyde Drexler.
“It was fairly obvious in the Chicago (championship) series that, when Porter was out of the game, we struggled to get the ball up the court,” Portland Coach Rick Adelman said. “In looking at the free agents available, Rod was the guy we wanted. Whether Danny was here or not, Rod Strickland was the guy we wanted to get.”
Good thing they had Strickland for 1992-1993, because Drexler underwent knee surgery after the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. Drexler, who turned 30 in June 1992, missed 33 games in 1992-1993 and saw his scoring average dip to 19.9 points per game, a seven-year low. Backup PF Clifford Robinson, in his fourth season with the team, led the team in total points with 1,570 (19.1 per game). Robinson would win the 1992-1993 Sixth Man of the Year Award, and though the Trail Blazers slipped to a four-year low of 51 wins, the team made the playoffs for the 11th season in a row. But Drexler missed Game 1 at home against the Spurs in Round 1 with a bad hamstring, and Strickland’s old team wound up beating the Trail Blazers in 4.
The Trail Blazers started turning the team over to Strickland and Robinson in 1993-1994. By January 1994, Strickland was the starting PG over Porter. Robinson became the team’s starting C, joined Drexler as an All-Star, and actually led the Trail Blazers in scoring over Drexler with 20.1 points per game (Drexler averaged 19.2 in 1993-1994). Portland would slip again in the regular season, winning 47 games, before losing to the eventual champion Houston Rockets in the 1st Round. The Trail Blazers would fire Adelman shortly after elimination.
In June 1994, the Trail Blazers hired Seton Hall head coach P.J. Carlesimo to replace Adelman. Robinson would continue to step up, averaging 21.3 points per game while moving from C to SF. The shortened three-point line benefitted Robinson as well. After making only 51-of-204 (25.0 percent) threes in his first five seasons combined, Robinson made 142-of-383 (37.1 percent) threes in 1994-1995.
But morale around the Trail Blazers continued to drop off. Robinson held out for 11 days before the season. Drexler demanded a trade in January 1995, and Portland acquiesed in February 1995 by sending him to Houston with SF Tracy Murray for PF Otis Thorpe, a 1995 1st round pick, and Marcelo Nicola (who never played in the NBA). Strickland blew up at Carlesimo towards the end of the season following Strickland missing a flight and getting benched.
“I don’t like him, and you can write that,” Strickland said. “I didn’t like him in the beginning, and I don’t like him now. I’m just going to play these last 14 games and that’s it.”
Portland’s win total dropped for the fourth season in a row, finishing 1994-1995 at 44-38 and getting swept out of Round 1 by the Phoenix Suns. The Strickland-Carlesimo feud would overshadow the team headed into the 1995-1996 season, along with rumors that general manager Bob Whitsitt would look to trade Strickland or Robinson. By the beginning of February 1996, Strickland and Robinson were in the middle of internal team issues while Portland hovered under .500. By the end of February 1996, Strickland refused to play for Carlesimo and missed six games. By time Strickland came back in early March, Portland was 26-34 and out of the playoff picture. Strickland’s return helped the Trail Blazers win 18 of their last 22 games to earn the 6th seed in the West. Portland forced a deciding Game 5 against the Utah Jazz in Round 1. But the Jazz held the Trail Blazers to 24 1st half points of Game 5, embarrassing them 102-64 to eliminate Portland from the postseason.
After two stormy seasons, it was crystal clear that the Carlesimo-Strickland fiasco had to end. Strickland and PF Harvey Grant were sent to Washington for 1995 5th overall pick PF Rasheed Wallace and SG Mitchell Butler in July 1996. Portland filled the void left by Strickland’s departure by signing New Jersey PG Kenny Anderson to a 7-year contract and trading PF Bill Curley, SG James Robinson, and a 1997 1st round pick to Minnesota for 1993 5th overall pick SG Isaiah Rider. Once again, Portland would finish the season strong, winning 20 of their last 25 games. The Trail Blazers would improve to a 49-33 record in 1996-1997, but they would lose to the Los Angeles Lakers in 4 in Round 1. It would be the fifth year in a row that the Trail Blazers lost in the 1st Round, each time to a different team. This time, it cost Carlesimo his job after three seasons.
Portland hired former Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Dunleavy to replace Carlesimo. In August of 1998, Robinson signed with Phoenix, leaving Portland after eight seasons. Without Robinson, the Trail Blazers entered the 1997-1998 season without a single player from Portland’s 1992 Finals team. Portland made the playoffs for the 16th season in a row, but the Lakers would bounce them from the first round again, marking six straight seasons of zero postseason series win for the Trail Blazers.
Portland’s Lockout Blazers didn’t have a single player average more than Rider’s 13.9 points per game in 1998-1999. But Portland had a top-ten offense and defense and secured a Pacific Division title. The Trail Blazers swept the Suns for their first postseason series win in seven years, then upset the 2nd-seeded Jazz in the Semifinals to meet the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. The Trail Blazers were up 85-83 with 12.0 seconds left in Game 2 at San Antonio – and then the Memorial Day Miracle happened.
The Spurs would sweep the Trail Blazers en route to their first NBA Championship, but Portland would re-tool and come back in 1999-2000, finishing 59-23 and earning another trip to the Western Conference Finals after defeating Minnesota in Round 1 and Utah in the Semifinals. The Lakers took a 3-1 lead over the Trail Blazers, but Portland forced a Game 7 at STAPLES Center and led by 15 points early in the 4th quarter. But then this happened.
There isn’t much of a correlation between the 1990s Trail Blazers and these Clippers. Portland had to let Carlesimo go after the repeated 1st Round failures and chemistry issues. Los Angeles head coach Doc Rivers doesn’t have those issues, and he won’t need to trade Chris Paul like Portland traded Strickland. However, the prospect of Blake Griffin leaving Los Angeles after eight years like Robinson left Portland after eight years remains following the 2016-2017 season.
One thing that helped Portland get over the top was increasing their depth. By 1999-2000, Portland had nine players averaging at least 13 minutes per game in the postseason. But five of those players (SG Steve Smith, SF Scottie Pippen, C Arvydas Sabonis, SF Detlef Schrempf, PG Greg Anthony) were older than 30, while Wallace was the only All-Star.