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Game Preview: Clippers Look to Widen Lead Over Lakers

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Following a discouraging loss against Atlanta, the Clippers will look to bounce back in a big game against the Lakers.

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

Game Information

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

When: 7:30pm PT

How to Watch/Listen: Prime Ticket, AM 570

Projected Starting Lineups

Lakers - Rajon Rondo - Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - Brandon Ingram - Kyle Kuzma - Ivica Zubac

Clippers - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - Avery Bradley - Patrick Beverley - Tobias Harris - Marcin Gortat

Injuries

Lakers - LeBron James (out), Kyle Kuzma (questionable), Josh Hart (questionable), Lonzo Ball (out)

Clippers - Danilo Gallinari (out), Avery Bradley (questionable), Luc Mbah a Moute (out)

The Big Picture

The Clippers and Lakers each looked like shoo-in playoff teams a couple of months ago, but that’s far from the case now. The Clips will enter tonight as the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed, 2 games ahead of the Lakers. LAC will have had 2 nights off coming into tonight’s game, while the Lakers had Wednesday off after losing at home to the Sixers on Tuesday night.

Injuries have affected both teams, and the Clippers will still be without Danilo Gallinari for this one. The Lakers will be without LeBron James once again, while Kyle Kuzma may return after missing a couple of games with back problems. Lonzo Ball is still out, so Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram will keep handling most of the duties at the point.

We’re getting to the point in the season where these games are growing in importance. This will be just the second of 4 meetings between the intracity rivals after the Clippers picked up a 118-107 “road” win over the Lakers in their first meeting just after Christmas. That was one of the first games LeBron missed because of his groin injury, while the Clippers were completely healthy with the exception of Luc Mbah a Moute, whose status as a Clipper is little more than a rumor at this point.

Dropping Monday’s game against the Hawks was pretty damaging for the Clippers. You can’t be dropping games to Eastern Conference also-rans at home, regardless of how well the Hawks have been playing of late. Tonight’s game will be the Clips’ last at home before a tough 6-game Eastern Conference road swing. The Clippers will have just 2 home games in all of February, so the upcoming schedule is fairly daunting.

The Antagonist

The Lakers have been in the news this week for a few reasons. LeBron James is reportedly close to returning from what has been one of the worst injuries of his career. The Lakers have also been heavily linked in Anthony Davis trade rumors since A.D. voiced his intentions to leave New Orleans over the weekend. L.A.’s youngsters have seen their value dip since LeBron got hurt, so it remains to be seen whether they have enough to tempt the Pels into a trade at some point.

The availability of Kuzma obviously means quite a bit. Michael Beasley has started each of the last 2 games with both Kuzma and LeBron sidelined, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Hart, Lance Stephenson and Svi Mykhailiuk. Luke Walton has been wildly inconsistent with his rotations over the last couple of games as he seeks combinations that work. They have lost 4 of their last 5 overall, with the lone victory coming over the lowly Suns.

Rondo’s return has helped bring a little stability to the offense, but they still look largely rudderless without James and Kuzma in there. If both happen to sit out again tonight, this game is bordering on must-win territory for the Clippers.

Notes

  • This figures to be an up-and-down affair with both teams ranking in the top-10 in the league in pace. The Lakers have run at the second-fastest pace thus far (tied with Sacramento and Oklahoma City), while the Clippers rank ninth. The Clippers have fallen all the way to 22nd in defensive rating, while the Lakers are surprisingly all the way up to No. 9 in the same category.
  • Patrick Beverley has been a man possessed this week. In about 37 minutes a game over the last 2 games, Bev is averaging a well-rounded 13 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and a block. He has led the Clippers in rebounding in back-to-back games.
  • Avery Bradley has been much maligned all season, but we need to give credit where it’s due. Bradley has connected on nearly 42% of his looks from 3-point range in January, which is a marked improvement over where he’s been for most of the season. Maybe this version of Bradley is someone the Clippers can actually trade.
  • The Lakers had absolutely no answer for Lou Williams in their first meeting. Sweet Lou went off for a season-high 36 points on 11-18 shooting across 31 minutes against the Lakers back in late-December.