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NBA Opening Night: Lakers vs. Clippers Preview

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The Clippers have the chance to send a message to their intracity rivals when they host the Lakers on Tuesday night.

NBA: Preseason-Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

When: 7:30pm PT

How to Watch: TNT

Projected Starting Lineups

Lakers: LeBron James, Avery Bradley, Danny Green, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee

Clippers: Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet, Kawhi Leonard, JaMychal Green, Ivica Zubac

Injuries

Lakers: Kyle Kuzma (Out - Foot), Rajon Rondo (Questionable - Calf), Alex Caruso (Probable - Pelvis)

Clippers: Paul George (Out - Shoulder), Rodney McGruder (Questionable - Ankle)

The Opponent

Los Angeles was the epicenter of the most frenzied NBA offseason of all-time, so it’s only fitting that we’ll get to see the new-look Clippers host the new-look Lakers on opening night. You can pretty easily argue that 3 of the 10 best players in the league joined an L.A. team this summer, so this is going to be fun.

After Luke Walton was fired, the team publicly flirted with Jason Kidd before ultimately deciding to hire Kidd as an assistant to Frank Vogel. Vogel has had a good bit of success in this league in the past, but it’s only a matter of time until the rumors about Kidd staging a hostile takeover will start to seep out. I, for one, can’t wait.

The Lakers finally landed Anthony Davis following months of not-so-private wooing from LeBron James and the rest of the organization. Ultimately, the Pelicans couldn’t turn down LAL’s offer of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and a trio of first-round picks in exchange for the 6-time All-Star. So, following a disappointing first season for LeBron in L.A., the Lakers have their complementary star.

The Lakers also signed a couple of useful veterans in Danny Green and Quinn Cook in free agency. DeMarcus Cousins inked a deal before tearing his ACL shortly thereafter, which led to the team’s brass deciding to roll the dice on Dwight Howard again. JaVale McGee, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo and Alex Caruso were all re-signed. Old friend Avery Bradley, noted hero of practice, is also here.

Obviously, everything this team does is going to be focused on James and Davis. Davis seems like the perfect big man to pair with James thanks to his ability to space the floor. LeBron is supposedly going to be the starting point guard, so the Lakers should have little issue putting points on the board.

Keeping points off the board will be a different story. James has been coasting on defense for years, and his lack of effort on that end was a big reason for the Lakers’ struggles last season. Green and Davis are plus defenders, which should help, but I don’t think it’s crazy to expect the Lakers to struggle defensively early in the year with so many new faces in the rotation.

Kawhi is Here

The worst part about the opening night extravaganza is that we won’t get to see Paul George join the fray right away. George is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, so we likely won’t see him until November. On the bright side, we will see plenty of Kawhi Leonard. Doc Rivers confirmed on Monday that Kawhi has no minutes limit for the opener after the team took it easy on his preseason workload.

Doc has been teasing the “sliding starting lineup” all preseason, so we don’t know for certain at the time of this writing (Monday afternoon) who will be joining Leonard in the starting 5. My best guess is that we see Patrick Beverley with Landry Shamet in the backcourt, while JaMychal Green and Ivica Zubac start up front. The Lakers have tons of size, so I’d be surprised if Doc chose to go with Maurice Harkless over Green at the 4 to start.

Kawhi saw 22 minutes of action in the team’s final preseason tune-up against the Mavs. He’s obviously going to be the hub of the offense, especially with George watching from the sidelines to start the year. We saw quite a bit of playmaking from Leonard during his limited preseason minutes, which was interesting. Kawhi has never averaged more than 3.5 assists per game over a full season.

We can expect a healthy dosage of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell considering the Clippers can’t rely on Leonard to do it all himself offensively with George out. The front office has done an admirable job of surrounding the new Kawhi/PG-13 core with excellent depth and capable shooting. Guys like Harkless, Green, and Rodney McGruder can play multiple positions, which gives Doc some nice flexibility with lineup construction.

While starting the season off with a win over the Lakers would be nice, it’s worth remembering that this is just game 1 of 82 (and, hopefully, a lot more). It would be surprising if everything coalesced perfectly right away considering the roster overhaul, and it’s safe to say the version of the Clippers we will see Tuesday night won’t look all that much like the Clippers team we will hopefully see by mid-April.

Enjoy the ride. Basketball is back!