The All-star break: a time of celebration, rest, and most importantly, a sign of the impending ramp up into the final stretch of the season. For the Clippers, it also represented the end of one of the toughest schedule stretches for any team in the NBA.
And the Clippers, who survived that stretch and emerged just one game under .500, is in about as good a shape as can be expected, given the circumstances. With Kawhi Leonard sidelined, likely for the season, with the medical team still waiting for Paul George’s MRI results for an MCL injury that has kept him out since mid December, and with Norman Powell joining them on the injury roster, indefinitely, a combination of stellar coaching by Ty Lue and an embracing of the “Next Man Up” mentality from the rest of the roster have kept their playoff hopes alive.
When: Friday, February 25 at 7 p.m. PT
Where: Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, CA
How to watch/listen: ESPN
Opposing perspective: Silver Screen and Roll
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum, Ivica Zubac
Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Malik Monk, Lebron James, Stanley Johnson, Dwight Howard
Clippers: Norman Powell, Jay Scrubb, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Jason Preston — OUT
Lakers: Avery Bradley — QUESTIONABLE; Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, Kendrick Nunn— OUT
Now, entering the last quarter of the season, especially as the NFL off-season paves way for a more mainstream audience to tune into games as well, the battle for playoff seeding is sure to intensify. And besides those three aforementioned players for the Clippers being out (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Norman Powell), the health of the rest of the rotation indicate the Los Angeles’ preparation for a late-season push.
The Clippers sole representative last weekend, Luke Kennard, showed a mainstream audience what Clippers’ nation has been clamoring about, internally, for a while. This man can shoot. Kennard ended up tying Trae Young for second place in the shoot-out and tallying more combined points through the duration of the entire contest than even the winner, Karl-Anthony Towns.
The recent play of Terance Mann is also noteworthy. Scoring more than 20 points in three of his four games before the break and adding more ball-handling and playmaking responsibilities, in the wake of the trade deadline, Mann is emerging as a key cog in the Clippers rotation.
Another major storyline out of All-Star weekend? Lebron James. Bill Simmons (yes, the notorious homer and Lebron hater, but one of the great sports minds of our generation regardless) claimed that James “hijacked all-star weekend” with a series of moves to the media: some veiled, some less so. And as the NBA, especially over the last decade, has become a star-centric league (and prominently, driven by Lebron-centric narratives), how the situation across town plays out will no doubt, become a factor through the rest of the season.
The last time these two teams faced off, they traded baskets in the clutch, with Reggie Jackson having the final dance. The time before? Luke Kennard and Marcus Morris Sr. iced another exciting, clutch game in the dwindling minutes of the fourth.
Another win tonight would extend the gap in seeding between the eight seeded Clippers and the ninth seeded Lakers, clinching the season series for the good guys, and bringing them that much closer to the seventh seeded Timberwolves (who currently sit two games ahead of the Clippers but possess a tougher remaining schedule). Either way, expect the Clippers to compete for 48 minutes. And, as has been customary with cross-town games, expect a spectacular show.