On the surface, it seems like playing the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs would be an unnecessarily difficult matchup for the Clippers. The Lakers are the defending champs, and they have two players who are All-Stars on their worst days in Anthony Davis and LeBron James, and all-NBA or even MVP-type players at their best.
But the Clippers just swept the Lakers and held at least 20-point leads in all three games. Admittedly, James was absent for two games and Davis for almost a full two. Nevertheless, there are a number of reasons why the Clippers should feel comfortable about a potential meeting with the Lakers, despite the high level of talent.
First off, the Lakers don’t have a good way of guarding Paul George, and that doesn’t change even when James is healthy. One of Dennis Schröder or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gets George as his primary assignment, and both of them are far too small to give George any discomfort. He dropped an easy 24 points Thursday on 8-of-12 shooting, adding five assists for good measure. He’s averaging more than 24 points per game while making over 60 percent of his shots. George can get wherever he wants on the court, and he had his best game against the Lakers when they were at full strength, so it’s not like he just beat up on an injured squad.
Secondly, the Clippers have a strong advantage from 3-point range. They made at least four more threes per game than the Lakers in these matchups, giving them a 12-point cushion. That’s a tough hole for any team to dig out of, even one as talented as the Lakers. There isn’t anyone on that team who is as threatening from distance as even the average Clipper from long distance.
Interestingly, while the Clippers own the perimeter, they also have done well at the center position. Serge Ibaka proved to be a tough matchup for Marc Gasol due to Ibaka’s ability to stretch the floor back in December, and Ivica Zubac gave both Andre Drummond and Montrezl Harrell difficulty due to the Clipper’s superior size and physicality. DeMarcus Cousins was similarly imposing on Harrell Thursday. The interior is supposed to be the Lakers’ domain, but the Clippers have won the points in the paint battle by 16 points over three games.
Lastly, Anthony Davis has had difficulty scoring effectively against the Clippers. They do a good job of shrinking the floor, taking advantage of the Lakers’ lack of spacing, and sending enough doubles to frustrate Davis into bad decisions in isolation. That was on full display in the first quarter of Thursday’s game, but it was also a problem for the Lakers on opening night.
The Clippers just match up really well with the Lakers. They haven’t been able to test themselves against the Lakers at their best since the first game of the season, but the constructs of the teams suggest that the Clippers have some inherent advantages that the Lakers would have to work hard to overcome. Should they meet early in the playoffs, it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Clippers.
More news for Friday:
- Louis Zatzman identified some subtle but meaningful ways the Clippers have changed their offense this season. It’s really interesting — well worth spending some time with.
- The Athletic spotlighted five coaches potentially on the hot seat this summer, and mentioned Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups as a candidate to replace Terry Stotts in Portland.
- Reggie Jackson was pretty diplomatic about the play-in tournament (which the Clippers will not be a part of), but others around the league have much stronger feelings about the change to the postseason format.
- This was a fun check-in on this year’s rookie class.
- Former Clippers Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari are having a ball in Atlanta, and Clint Capela is a big reason why. More on the Swiss center.