If you told the Los Angeles Clippers before the season started that they’d have no Kawhi Leonard, lose Paul George for an extended period, miss several others at different times — often simultaneously — due to illness and injury, and still be in with a shot of making the playoffs, I think they’d have taken it. In the face of all kinds of mitigating circumstances, this squad can be pretty pleased with where they’re at, or at the very least proud of how much heart and fight they’ve shown.
This season has been a strange one for franchises up and down the league, and the Western Conference is now starting to take shape after the halfway point. The playoff locks may be starting to think they’re all but settled now, while three teams currently residing in the play-in tournament places may be beginning to feel that they’re there to stay. Two of those just so happen to also reside on either half of the arena formerly known as STAPLES Center.
When: Thursday, February 3 at 7 p.m. PT
Where: Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, CA
How to watch/listen: TNT, KLAC/KTMZKSPN/KWKW-LAL
Opposing perspective: Silver Screen And Roll
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Reggie Jackson, Amir Coffey, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris Sr., Serge Ibaka
Lakers: Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, Malik Monk, Stanley Johnson, Anthony Davis
Clippers: Ivica Zubac — Paul George, Keon Johnson, Kawhi Leonard, Jason Preston — OUT
Lakers: Anthony Davis, Malik Monk — PROBABLE; LeBron James — QUESTIONABLE; Sekou Doumbouya, Mason Jones, Kendrick Nunn — OUT
It arguably shouldn’t have been this way. The Los Angeles Lakers were supposed to be building a team of talented veterans around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and though some critics would’ve had their doubts about exactly how it would look as it came together, there were few who could’ve predicted the extreme highs and lows they’ve witnessed so far this campaign. Though they’ve taken on a completely new look to the squad that went all the way in The Bubble, the addition of a star like Russell Westbrook was designed to help Bron and AD get them back into contention.
It hasn’t worked out that way so far, with the Lakers currently sitting ninth in the Western Conference standings and all but out of the race for a guaranteed playoff spot. Injuries and illnesses have crippled them, with James’s aging body starting to catch up with him, Davis continuing to suffer from various ailments, and the supporting cast not being able to get it done. Their offensive rating of 108.5 puts them at 23rd in the NBA, with their 17th-placed 110.2 seeing them even out at 21st with -1.7. Statistically speaking, they’ve had similar problems to the Clippers, with high turnovers, low rebounding numbers and inconsistencies in their ability to score the ball.
Unlike their city counterparts though, the Clippers can look back on their last eight road games and take some real positives back home. Ty Lue’s team finished their spell 4-4, while the Lakers finished 2-4 on their slightly smaller trip away — on top of losing in both Sacramento and Denver just prior to that. There were still some questionable moments and things to work on for the coaching staff on this side of L.A, such as the number of defensive breakdowns in their loss to the Indiana Pacers last time out, but they’ll be able to look back and beam about their massive comeback wins in Philadelphia and Washington.
"For eight games in fourteen day, I thought our guys battled and competed every single night."— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) February 2, 2022
-Coach Ty Lue on the long road trip stretch. pic.twitter.com/BhbEBSlvbs
These two teams won’t feel like they’re out of anything yet, and they’ll both know just how quickly things can change in this crazy season. However, this matchup feels like a big moment for the gaining of momentum as we move deeper into the back end of this campaign. The ongoing absence of James will give the Clippers hope, but they’ve been thriving on the bigger stage recently and would’ve relished the challenge either way. They’ll have to capitalize on this one especially if the Lakers do come into this one even more banged up. Time keeps ticking and the margin for error gets smaller and smaller. The message for both is clear, though. Make the playoffs, by hook or by crook, and worry about the rest later.