Ernie Johnson and Charles Barkley get heated on Inside the NBA

We’re used to Charles Barkley going toe to toe with Shaquille O’Neal or Kenny Smith. But Sunday night, Ernie Johnson reminded the audience he’s more than just an Inside The NBA facilitator.

During TNT’s halftime studio coverage Sunday night, Barkley claimed the Los Angeles Clippers sent a message that they wanted to face the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs by winning their final game of the regular season. But not only would losing that game have avoided a matchup with the Suns, it could have sent the Clippers to the play-in tournament, where they may have been knocked out of the playoffs before the first round even tipped off.

“The thing that scared me, they won the game to play the Suns,” Barkley said, insinuating the Clippers should have lost their final regular season game on purpose to enter the play-in tournament.

Johnson is used to hearing Barkley make wild assertions on the set of Inside the NBA, and can usually brush them off as no big deal. But even he had to push back on Barkley’s latest ridiculous brand of analysis, arguing no team would choose to bypass an automatic bid into the playoffs.

“The Clippers didn’t want to fall into the play-in,” Johnson argued. “There’s no coach in the NBA who would want his team to play in the play-in rather than avoid that.”

“You’re just wrong,” Barkley fired back. “The play-in was easier,” Barkley added of the NBA tournament that he told fans not to bother watching last week.

If the ultimate goal is winning a championship, then every team is going to assume they will have to play the best opponents at some point during their run to the NBA Finals. That’s not to say no team ever plays the matchup game leading up to the playoffs, but Barkley was completely dismissing the fact that the Clippers could have been knocked out in the play-in. No team is going to lose on purpose to give their players an additional hurdle and risk losing out on a potential trip to the playoffs altogether.

“You’re the only person who would want to be in the play-in,” Johnson told Barkley.

Shaq chuckled at the dust up between Johnson and Barkley, as Smith noted, “I’ve never seen Ernie and Chuck go at it.”

Barkley’s not on the Inside the NBA set for his astute analysis or preparation. He’s there because he’s funny, unfiltered and will say things to generate a reaction. But even the even-keeled Johnson thought Barkley’s hot take that the Clippers should have risked missing the NBA playoffs by losing a game on purpose was taking things too far.

[Inside the NBA]

About Brandon Contes

Brandon Contes is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously helped carve the sports vertical for Mediaite and spent more than three years with Barrett Sports Media. Send tips/comments/complaints to