Clippers: Reggie Jackson, Eric Bledsoe, Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac
Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Talen Horton-Tucker, LeBronJames, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard
Injuries & Suspensions
Clippers: Amir Coffey (questionable); Nic Batum (out); Kawhi Leonard (out)
Lakers: LeBron James (probable); Avery Bradley (probable); Anthony Davis (questionable); Trevor Ariza (out); Kendrick Nunn (out)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before…
Last time out, the Lakers, without LeBron James – this time ruled out on gameday, for a minimum of ten days* after a positive COVID test – played down to the level of inferior competition, and went into halftime with far more questions than answers. But then…
Thanks to some pointed words from Frank Vogel and, probably, a vague recollection of what good basketball feels like, the Lakers returned with a second half performance that we’ve to expect from the opposition. Within seven minutes, Sacramento’s nine-point lead was gone. Less than three minutes later, the Lakers led by eight. The lead was thirteen by quarter’s end, and never dipped below eleven as the Lakers cruised to a 25-point win.
Anthony Davis played well – 25, 7, 3 assists, and two apiece blocks and steals – and efficiently – 12-of-22 shooting, only a single turnover – but didn’t really blow anyone away. Russ was, basically, Russ: 23 points, on 9-of-21 (1-of-5 from 3), 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 turnovers. And Malik Monk was damn good – 22, 4 and 4 with six made 3-pointers in 33 minutes. Otherwise, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and Wayne Ellington combined for 35 on 22 shots. Really good, but not mind-blowing. Dwight had 13 boards, and outstanding on defense (beyond combining with Ellington for five steals), but none of that individually is dislodging your eyeballs from their sockets.
Once upon a time, such a result against a lottery mainstay was thoroughly unremarkable. We’d probably have spent more time griping about the sad first half than celebrating the righting of the ship. You know why? Because it was businesslike. Basically, twenty-four uninterrupted minutes of the better team, playing better ball – especially on defense – and removing all doubt. That’s it. Sustained effort on defense, reasonable efficiency on offense, and a sane number of turnovers. Nothing to see here.
In all seriousness, the 40-8 run that blew the game open is worth celebrating, but really only for the reasons above. That’s what focused defensive effort from superior talent does.
You’ll hopefully excuse my gushing. An actual, a real-life mundane blowout win is a rare commodity ‘round these parts.
Tonight, the Lakers are back in L.A., and ready to take on the Clippers in the final edition of the “hallway series” before Staples is rebranded with a moniker I’ve got no interest in typing out.
The Clippers themselves are having a rough go of it in 2021-22, hovering, like the Lakers, around .500. Since the seven-game win streak that brought their record to 8-4, the Clips have dropped seven of eleven, including the last three by an average of more than fourteen per game, and sit at 11-11. In fairness, that last defeat came with Paul George getting his first rest of the season. At the same time, this is the team that they’ve got, and while there’s certainly talent on the roster, the extent to which the Clippers’ sun rises and sets with PG can’t be ignored.
After starting the season on an MVP-level tear (27, 8 and 5, shooting 45% from both the field and from 3), over his last seven games, George has regressed some, to a more mortal (by rather high standards) 23.7 points (on 40% from the field and 30% from 3), 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists. Five of those seven games were losses. With all due respect to Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Terrance Mann, Ivica Zubac and Marcus Morris Sr., this team is only going as far as PG can carry them.
As a team, they’ve hit 110 points just once November 13 (as opposed to eight times prior; they now sit 25th in offensive efficiency) and have allowed at least 120 three times in their last eight outings (compared to just once before). This is a group that’s feeling the weight of the Kawhi-sized hole in the lineup. To catch these guys, during this run of form, on their fourth game in seven nights is a golden opportunity.
The Lakers, meanwhile, are as “full strength” as they’ve been all year, with only Trevor Ariza and Kendrick Nunn missing out due to injury, thanks to LeBron churning out a pair of negative PCR tests in a 24-hour window, and dramatically cutting down his Health and Safety Protocol stay. It’s reasonable to assume that LeBron will be at least somewhat limited (though who even knows with that dude), but everything is in place for a relatively easy Laker win.
With DeAndre Jordan apparently no longer in the plans and Dwight now manning the paint with AD, the Lakers will basically always have the personnel on the floor to negate Zubac, and make Isaiah Hartenstein and Serge Ibaka work at both ends. If the Lakers control the paint as they should, the plan must be to hound the shooters around the arc, and turn the Clippers’ attack into Jackson, Eric Bledsoe (as much of this as possible, please!) and, yes, George drive with nowhere for the ball to go. Easier said than done, perhaps, but not undoable.
Done properly, and paired with a solid effort on the glass (where the Lakers, admittedly, aren’t good, but where the Clips rank bottom-seven at both ends), this means a steady stream of transition opportunities. And, when the game slows down, keep it simple. Unless the Clipper demonstrates an ability to slow down Russ and AD in the pick-and-roll, feed them a heaping helping of it. Hell, even if they’re kind of dealing with it, make then prove that they can keep doing it.
Basically, this needs to be a superstar game. The supporting cast will have to chip in, of course, but given the Clippers’ recent struggles and apparent fatigue, bludgeoning them – early and often – with top-end talent and daring them to keep pace it not a terrible plan.
More frequently, we are seeing stretches in which the Lakers are finding the intensity and relentlessness that a quality team – and, I’ll keep saying it, a team that you trust – has. The challenge now is to minimize the lapses (and collapses) prove that they’ve got it for more than a quarter or so against decent teams, and more than a half against Detroit and (sometimes) Sacramento, but hey, this is where we find ourselves.
Where you can watch: 7:00 pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet.