It may have been a rivalry game, but it very much was also a preseason game, as the LA Clippers kicked off their tune-ups ahead of the 2020-21 NBA season with a 87-81 loss against the Los Angeles Lakers Friday at Staples Center.
The game, officially a Lakers home game, was an opportunity for nearly every player in camp for the Clippers to get playing time, with Marcus Morris Sr. the only returning player who did not feature on the night. Morris was feeling knee soreness and was held out as a precaution.
Tyronn Lue, in his first game helming the Clippers, went for a strong starting five to kick things off for the Clippers, with Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and newcomers Nicolas Batum and Serge Ibaka tipping off. The Lakers went for a different approach, with Dennis Schröder, Wesley Matthews, Talen Horton-Tucker, Kyle Kuzma and former Clipper Montrezl Harrell lining up, LeBron James and Anthony Davis sitting out the preseason opener.
Lue made a line change with four minutes to play in the first quarter, and the play with both units was predictably sloppy, the Lakers leading 25-22 after the opening quarter.
Midway through the second quarter, the Clippers grabbed their first lead of the night, going ahead by eight points before the first half ended with the Clips posting a 46-43 lead.
Mfiondu Kabengele came off the bench and provide a spark as a complimentary piece, a good start to preseason for the second-year pro.
Leonard and George played just over 14 minutes on the night, the star duo not coming out for the second half. George paced the Clippers with 10 points to lead the team overall on the night, Leonard putting up just three points on a rusty shift.
The Clippers went with a progressively younger lineup in the second half, with Lue giving minutes to many of the players who dressed. They held onto the lead until the final 1:27 of the third quarter, when a rally spurred by Horton-Tucker gave the Lakers a one-point edge. But Kabangele buried a 3-pointer to restore the lead coming out of the 3rd stanza for the Clippers.
Kuzma gave the Lakers a 72-70 lead halfway through the 4th quarter from the free throw line, and Clippers rookie Daniel Oturu posted up and hit a close-range shot to put his side ahead by a point again.
But Quinn Cook buried a 3-pointer, and Tucker extended the lead to give the Lakers a five-point cushion. In the end, the Lakers took the game by six points.
Obviously the objective in the preseason is to get some game time and stay healthy, and from those standards it was a success. We know the Clippers will use the regular season to ramp up into shape, too, but they know they can’t afford to fritter away time while they wait for the playoffs this time around.
We know games in the regular season aren’t likely to look like this one. But it was a decent first outing for the new season, with the Clippers set to face the Lakers again in the preseason on Sunday, the second of three total preseason games before the games that count tip off.