Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
When: 7:30 PM PT
How to watch: Prime Ticket, Fox Sports West
Projected Starting Lineups:
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Avery Bradley – Tobias Harris – Danilo Gallinari – Marcin Gortat
Lakers: Lonzo Ball – Josh Hart – Brandon Ingram – Kyle Kuzma – Ivica Zubac
Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute Out (knee)
Lakers: LeBron James Out (groin), Rajon Rondo Questionable (finger), JaVale McGee Questionable (illness), Michael Beasley Questionable (personal), Tyson Chandler Questionable (back)
The Big Picture:
After a 2-7 stretch to start December that threatened to capsize the Clippers’ ship, the team has righted itself by winning three of the past four games. Uncoincidentally, the winning ways began when Lou Williams returned to the team. The Clippers have scored at least 125 points in each of those four contests, with the offense that so devastated teams in November returning in full force. Lou has been hot, Montrezl Harrell is back to destroying souls, Danilo Gallinari is torching the nets, and both Avery Bradley and Pat Beverley have perked up on offense too. The Clippers are on a roll, and definitely have their swagger back, near-collapse against the Kings aside.
The Lakers sit at 5th in the West with a 20-15 record, sitting squarely in the Western Conference playoff race for most of the season. This is unsurprising considering the Lakers now have some guy named LeBron James playing for them, but is notable because some pundits thought they would struggle to coalesce early. While the Lakers certainly aren’t world beaters, they’re a quite good basketball team when James is orchestrating the show. Unfortunately for the Lakers, James left their win against the Warriors on Christmas with a groin injury, and will probably miss at least a few more games. The Lakers still have talent, even without James, but losing the best player in the NBA does hurt quite a bit.
- Johnathan Motley time: Motley was called up for the second time this season on Wednesday morning before the Kings game, but did not play. Doc said that Motley would probably get some minutes against the Lakers, and this would be a great opportunity for him, especially if Chandler and McGee are out. Clippers’ fans might be a little overeager for the debut of Motley, who’s a two-way player with very limited NBA experience, but he does have a toolset the Clippers could use, and it’s about time he got a shot to prove himself.
- Lou makes all the difference: For all the talk of Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Montrezl Harrell, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander this season, Lou Williams has the highest total Net Rating on the team, with +8.8 (+5.9 on, -2.9 off). The Clippers’ offense, in particular, suffers greatly when Lou doesn’t play. His ability to breakdown a defense and find big men in the paint or shooters on the wing is vastly important, as his is uncanny ability to get off his own shot regardless of situation or defender. Perhaps most importantly, without Lou, Montrezl’s production suffers, and as the Lou-Trez pick and roll is the Clippers’ most reliable source of offense, Lou’s absence is felt greatly. Trez is up there, but Lou really might be the Clippers most indispensable player due to his unique abilities and overall offensive greatness (yes, greatness).
- Avery Bradley finds proper offensive role: Avery Bradley had his best game of the season against the Sacramento Kings, and it was mostly because of the way he was utilized on offense. Yes, he actually made his open shots, which is something he hasn’t been doing most of this year, but they were also shots that he is better equipped to take. Rather than creating out of the pick and roll, or off of pindowns, Bradley spent much of the game standing in the corner. When he was open, he shot it. When he saw the defense falling asleep, he cut, and had a couple easy scores around the basket. His sneaky hops also came into play more, as he was able to grab a couple nice offensive rebounds when defenders forgot about him. It will take more than a game or two to make me a believer in Bradley again, and his defense is still overrated, but the Bradley who played against the Kings on Wednesday was worth $12 million.
- Pat Beverley continues to improve: Pat Beverley has improved his field goal and three point percentages every month so far this season. In December, he’s at a perfectly solid 38.6% from the field and 40.5% from three, while also getting to the line a decent amount. He looks much quicker and more confident than he did in the early part of the season, and his overall energy has perked up too. As he continues to work his way back from that microfracture surgery, he should continue to improve, and he too looks like he’s now fully worth his contract, if not more.
- Attacking the Lakers: If either Tyson Chandler or JaVale McGee is out, or both, the Lakers will deploy Ivica Zubac, who has come out of nowhere to make a big impact over the past few games. However, he’s not the fleetest of foot, and is exploitable on defense. Lonzo Ball is a very good defender, and it will be important for Shai to not get rattled by his pressure early. On the other end, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram will lead the Lakers attack, with Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari likely the two players spending the most time on them. Fortunately, the Lakers lost in a close game last night, and all their key players saw big minutes, so they should be pretty tired against the Clips.
Check out the Lakers’ perspective over at Silver Screen and Roll, and return later for the game thread!