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Clippers look to avoid embarrassment against Lakers

For the second time in three days, the Clips will square-off with a shameless tanker.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture

Right now, it’s all about the standings for the Clippers. After Saturday’s matinee affair with the Lakers is over with, LAC will have just four games left. Utah beat Washington last night, which means the Clips now sit 1.5 games back of the No. 4 spot. The Jazz have six games left, five of which come against the Spurs, Trail Blazers and Warriors. That looks tough on paper, but who knows how San Antonio and Golden State will approach those clear-cut resting opportunities?

Three of the Clippers’ remaining games come against the three teams from Texas, with the season finale coming at home against the Kings. Oklahoma City is two games behind the Clips with seven to play. Their schedule doesn’t look all that daunting, though there is a four-game road trip squeezed into the middle.

Odds are that the Clippers will stay right where they are and play the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs as the No. 5 seed. That almost surely means a date with the Warriors in the second round if they’re able to get past Utah, so make of that what you will. Dropping to six would give them the Rockets in the first round. If the Clippers would somehow get past Warriors Lite in that spot, they’d be able to avoid Golden State until the conference finals.

The Antagonist

For the second time in three days, the Clippers will be going up against a team that is flat-out trying to lose. While the Suns had shut down guys like Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler, the Lakers have been without Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov for the last several weeks. There’s a good chance Mozgov and Deng aren’t good enough at this stage of their respective careers to actually help the Lakers win games, but in any case the team is masking the blatant tanking by saying they’re using it as an opportunity to evaluate the youngsters. In any case, they’re certainly putting the “L” in “Lakers” these days. They’re 4-20 over their last 24 outings.

Brandon Ingram has certainly made strides as the season has gone along. The shooting still isn’t close to where the team would like it to be (39% from the floor, 29% from three), but he had been enjoying a strong stretch of games in March before recently going down with knee tendinitis. He is, however, expected to play on Saturday.

Ivica Zubac was another of the kids getting a chance to play big minutes, and he’s also looked fairly promising. The seven-footer has shown nice touch around the rim and should be a load on the block once he fills out and adds some bulk to his frame. He got hurt in the Lakers’ last game against Minnesota, though, and is done for the year with a high-ankle sprain.

The rest of the team is largely comprised of the same guys that have been kicking around for the last couple of years. D’Angelo Russell has shown flashes, but it seems nobody really knows what to make of him at this point. The same can be said for Jordan Clarkson, who spent the first chunk of the season in a reserve role before recently being promoted to starting point guard. Julius Randle looks like a future Hall of Famer some nights, then in other games he’s just a passenger. So it goes with a team full of 21-year-olds.

Matchup to Watch

Blake Griffin vs. Julius Randle

Randle may not be as explosive as Griffin was when he was Julius’s age, but it’s hard not to notice the similarities between the way they play. Both are happy to grab a rebound and start leading the break, which isn’t something many power forwards are capable of doing. Randle’s average of 3.7 assists per game this season ranks third among power forwards behind only Draymond Green’s 7.1 and Griffin’s 5.0.

Let’s not forget that it also took a while for Griffin to become the three-point shootin’ dynamo he’s been over the last few weeks. His jump shots often resulted in sadness back when he was Randle’s age, and Randle’s endured similar problems early in his own career.

For example, here’s Griffin’s shot chart for his age-22 season (2011-12):

And here’s Randle’s this season:

Griffin obviously had more usage considering he was the Clippers’ top option offensively, while Randle takes fewer shots on average than both Russell and Clarkson (and Lou Williams, when he was there). Another obvious discrepancy is Griffin’s elite finishing at the rim, while Randle has scuffled deep in the paint. Still, there’s lots of blood on both of these.

Randle certainly helps the team offensively with his playmaking ability, but he’s still got a ways to go as far as scoring efficiently himself.

The Fancy Table

Game Day Song of Choice

Aww, yeah. The Lakers and Clippers will get it going for the final time this season at 12:30 from Staples. Tune in! Or don’t. You can do what you want.