The Lakers got a great and much needed win vs. the Nuggets on Monday, but their overall circumstances still leave them in a rough spot. LeBron James remains out with his sore ankle, Dennis Schröder is out due to COVID protocols, and THT dealing with a calf strain that leaves him questionable for tonight’s matchup with the Clippers. Meanwhile, the race for seeding (and to stay out of the play-in game as a 7th seed or lower) remains as tight as ever, with the Lakers and Mavs currently tied (but the Lakers in the 6th seed due to the tiebreaker) and both only a half game up on the 7th seeded Blazers who have found their stride again.
If THT doesn’t play, the Lakers will be down 3 ball handlers, leaving them with only Alex Caruso as a lead guard type and a bunch of forwards/big men who would need to pick up the slack. At this point, with how the Lakers have handled injuries, I’d assume THT sits, so I think we need to prepare ourselves for a game where AD does a lot of ball handling and where Marc Gasol ends up getting more minutes simply as a way for the team to have another strong decision maker on the floor. What this would mean for Harrell would remain to be seen, but I have a hard time seeing Vogel playing Marc/Trez together, but we’ll see if any of my assumptions (including Marc playing at all) are correct.
In saying that, my mindset going into this game is similar to what I had on Monday before the Denver game: I do not expect the Lakers to win. The Clippers have been dealing with their own health issues, but of their main rotation players, only Serge Ibaka is ruled out tonight. So, expect a nearly full squad clippers group ready to come in and get a win as they ramp up for the playoffs. The Lakers are going to be in survival mode and, with some desperation, that could be meaningful. But, in the big picture, this is still a talent league and the Lakers are down a lot of that.
That said, the big thing I’m looking for this game is for Anthony Davis to bring a similar level of effort and determination as he did on Monday. AD played his best game since returning from injury vs. the Nuggets and carrying that forward, even in these far from ideal circumstances, is a key goal for this game. No, the Lakers aren’t likely to win, but they can play hard and start their own process of preparation for the post season (whatever form that takes). So, play hard, play smart, and continue to work on the things the team will need to do well in the playoffs.
That starts on defense. AD is sure to get a myriad of different assignments this game, from Kawhi to Marcus Morris to Zubac to even Paul George (mostly on switches here, but even as a primary assignment now and then). I’m hoping to see a continuation of improved timing, instincts, and intensity from AD in whatever matchup he has, moving more towards the destructive defense player he’s been over the course of his career. I also want to see how KCP holds up on George, if Wes can hold his own on possessions vs. Kawhi, and how much Drummond can be impactful in the P&R when Zubac is in the game — can Drummond keep him from getting downhill cleanly; can he battle him for deep position; can he keep him off the offensive glass? I also want to see the Lakers defend the arc, getting into rotations quickly and showing good discipline when chasing shooters off the line.
Offensively, I don’t expect much. The Lakers are down too many shot creators and I expect the Clippers to throw the kitchen sink at AD whenever he has the ball. That will include hard doubles, shading extra defenders into his driving and passing lanes, and generally showing him multiple defenders whenever he’s in an attack position. The Lakers can counter this with good weakside screens and smart ball movement, but that will only go so far. It would be really helpful if they could knock down some outside shots, too, but that’s still so much of a question night to night that it’s hard to rely on that.
Where I think the Lakers could do some damage offensive is in the paint, if they’re able to get the ball into their bigs consistently. Zubac will offer good resistance when he’s in the game, but he won’t play 48 minutes. The Lakers must use their size and their athleticism to their advantage, both in the post, but also on the offensive glass and in transition. It won’t be pretty trying to ram the ball into the restricted area, but slowing the game down and, potentially drawing some fouls that get them to the FT line either on shooting attempts or via the penalty, could help balance the scales some.
In saying all that, my expectations are fairly low for this one. The Lakers are severely outmanned and the Clippers also seem to have that extra motivation when playing this team. So, if the Lakers can just go out there and compete hard, I’ll live with the results.
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on TNT.