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Game Preview: Clippers and Lakers Face Off in Crucial Western Conference Matchup

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The LA Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers each continue to confound expectations with the postseason on the horizon.

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

Game Information

Where: Staples Center - Los Angeles, CA

When: 7:30 p.m. PST

How to Watch: NBA TV, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, Spectrum SportsNet

How to Listen: AM 570, AM 710

Projected Starting Lineups

LA Clippers: Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Ivica Zubac

Los Angeles Lakers: Rajon Rondo, Reggie Bullock, LeBron James, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma

Injuries

Clippers: Wilson Chandler (Quad) - Out, Luc Mbah a Moute (Knee) - Questionable

Lakers: Lonzo Ball (Ankle) - Out, Lance Stephenson (Toe) - Questionable

The Big Picture

The LA Clippers, currently 7th place in the Western Conference with a 36-29 record, remain in the postseason hunt. It’s tight in the West, with a mere 4.5 games separating 3rd and 8th place. This means every matchup going forward is crucial, particularly against conference and division opponents. Fortunately, the Clippers are 6-4 in their last 10 games and riding a 2-game win streak; what’s even more impressive is that tonight’s matchup will be their 6th game in a span of just 9 days. Even better news lies ahead, because of their 13 remaining games this month, only 4 will take place on the road. And in those 13 games left in March, only 5 matchups are against Western Conference teams.

Landry Shamet, acquired in the blockbuster trade that sent Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, and Mike Scott to the Philadelphia 76ers, has been exactly the kind of shooter they’ve needed all season long. The rookie sharpshooter, at just 21 years of age, has made 12 of 21 attempted 3-point field goals over his last 2 games; and in his 9 games played with the Clippers, he’s shooting 46.6% from beyond the arc, averaging 3.0 makes on 6.4 attempts per game. Shamet provides excellent off-ball movement that keeps defenses scrambling, and needs very little time and airspace to get squared up and release his shot.

Ivica Zubac, the 21 year-old center who came from the Lakers at the trade deadline (essentially in exchange for fringe rotation player Mike Muscala, via the Sixers trade), has impressed in his 9 games with the team (all starts). Zubac is averaging 8.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1 block in just 19.8 minutes played per game; he’s got an excellent motor and provides tremendous upside as a rebounder, rim protector, and finisher in-and-around the paint.

And JaMychal Green, acquired via the trade that sent Avery Bradley to the Memphis Grizzlies, doesn’t jump out on the stat sheet, but he’s been a versatile addition to a team that was already pretty deep. In his 9 games with the Clippers, he’s averaging 9.6 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 45.2% from beyond the arc on 3.4 attempts per game. His length, athleticism, and basketball IQ have also been significant for the Clippers at the defensive end of the floor.

Danilo Gallinari remains the offensive centerpiece for the starting unit, and Patrick Beverley remains the heart and soul of this squad, but it is the pairing of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, leaders of one of the most productive benches in NBA history, that is really turning heads. Since the trade deadline, they have led the team in scoring, combining for 41.2 points per game while pitching in a combined 8.5 assists and 7.9 rebounds per contest for the Clippers.

This team is poised for the playoffs, and their focus and energy will probably only intensify in tonight’s matchup against their cross-hall rivals.

The Antagonist

The Los Angeles Lakers, currently 10th place in the Western Conference with a 30-33 record, are a team in disarray. Led by LeBron James, who hasn’t missed the postseason since 2005, the Lakers are just 3-7 over their last 10 games and currently in the midst of a 2-game skid. With just 19 games remaining in the regular season, they’re 4.5 games away from 8th place in the conference standings and simply haven’t looked cohesive over the last month. Pegged by many to be the favorites to challenge the Golden State Warriors in the West this season after acquiring James, by far the biggest name in 2018 free agency, the Lakers have significantly underachieved thus far.

They’ve received stellar play from Brandon Ingram since the trade deadline, who is averaging 24.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game on 53.4% shooting from the field and 45.5% shooting from beyond the arc during that span. And LeBron James has mostly looked like LeBron James. But the team has appeared, more often than not, disengaged at the defensive end, both in terms of communication and level of effort. There have been rumblings about players’ dissatisfaction with playing time, and the magnifying lens placed on this team’s young core following the Anthony Davis trade rumors doesn’t appear to have been very conducive for morale.

The window is narrowing for the Lakers to turn things around and begin looking like the powerhouse many thought they could be, let alone a postseason team. But so far, things are looking dim, and a loss to their cross-hall/division rivals tonight would be yet another disappointment and head-scratcher for a team that established lofty postseason aspirations, that employs the league’s best player, and who still has their hopes set high on 2019 free agency.

Game Notes

  • Expect free throw shooting to be a major factor in tonight’s matchup. The Clippers rank 1st in the NBA in free throw attempts (28.6) and free throws made (22.7) per game. Conversely, the Lakers rank 11th in free throw attempts (23.8) but just 25th in free throws made (16.4) per game, placing them 30th in the entire league in free throw percentage (69.0%). The Lakers also rank dead last in opponent free throw percentage (79.2%). This presents a great opportunity for the Clippers to push the ball downhill and get to the line early on.
  • Expect 3-point shooting to be a point of emphasis for both teams tonight. The Clippers are one of the best in the NBA from beyond the arc, both offensively and defensively; they rank 2nd in the league in 3-point percentage (38.3%) and 3rd in opponent 3-point percentage (34.1%). Conversely, the Lakers are one of the worse teams at both ends of the floor, ranking 28th in 3-point percentage (33.8%) and 22nd in opponent 3-point attempts per game (33.1).
  • As usual, rebounding will be critical for the Clippers. They rank just 22nd in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game (9.6). Unfortunately for the Clippers, the Lakers are the 2nd-best defensive rebounding team in the NBA, averaging 36.5 per game. Despite the favorable figures for the Lakers, however, they rank just 20th in the league in opponent second-chance points (13.7) per game. If the Clippers can remain active on the glass in their own half court, they have a great opportunity to convert rebounds into scoring opportunities.

Be sure to check out the Lakers perspective over at Silver Screen & Roll.