The Los Angeles Clippers are taking on the Los Angeles Lakers in what is a quasi-home game for the Lakers. The court will be purple and gold, but both of these teams call the Staples Center home. The Clippers are coming into this game off of one of the toughest back-to-backs I have seen all season. The Clippers did blow out the Knicks, as everyone does these days, but they still had to travel from New York to LA and play in a basketball game right before and after that trip. The Lakers are really struggling to find wins after they blew a game late to the Bucks on Thursday night, they came out flat vs. the Suns the next day and proceeded to lose that one as well. They are 4.5 games back of the 8th seed in the Western Conference, and they need to start stacking wins starting NOW.
The Clippers are in a very weird position right now. They were generally sellers in free agency while also being in the 7th seed in the Western Conference standings. The Clippers traded Boban and Tobias for Muscala and Shamet, and then they turned Muscala for another developmental player in Ivica Zubac from their hometown rival Lakers. Since these trades, we have seen the Clippers actually move up in the conference, mostly due to the Spurs struggles.
I expect this team to be considerably worse with the loss of Harris, but they do have a few players that can be massive impact players in certain games. Danilo Gallinari is likely their most well-rounded player, and he has been good since the deadline. Gallinari has struggled with injuries for a long time now, but when he is healthy, he is a good player. The interesting part about this team is that they play two of their three best scorers off of the bench. Lou Williams is a walking bucket and is capable of taking over any game. Montrezl Harrell is another beast at times, especially in the right matchup.
Matchup-wise, I expect Williams and Harrell to be the most impactful Clippers tonight. The Lakers’ biggest two defensive weaknesses are defending scoring guards and skilled big men. Harrell isn’t the most skilled big, but his motor makes up for whatever he lacks in polish. I expect the Lakers to continue to play small and that should benefit Harrell.
The Lakers have really struggled since Lonzo Ball went out, and they have not found a solution. The biggest problem lies on the defensive end, where LeBron has really lacked engagement. This lack of switching and willingness to defend has left constant miscommunications and missed assignments in recent weeks. I would hope that the Lakers would understand to key in on Lou Will in this spot, as he is the only scary scorer from a creation standpoint on the Clippers roster.
The interesting part about this stretch is the Brandon Ingram is CLEARLY in the best form of his career. He is scoring at will from all three levels (even though he is a tentative 3-pt shooter). He is taking and making tough shots at a high rate. LeBron’s offensive performance is pretty standard for him. Kuzma has struggled a little in some games, but he is an inconsistent shooter at times. The issue is that no one else on the team can score. The good news for the Lakers is that the Clippers are in a similar boat. They are almost always running out 2 players that don’t want to shoot the ball when they touch it, which is interesting to watch against a defense as bad as the Lakers.
Lakers Will Get the W
The Lakers are still -4 favorites after their recent struggles, which is not a huge surprise to me. At some point, I expect LeBron James to kind of get over himself and dedicate his focus to winning games. If that ever happens, I expect the Lakers to become a good team. This is THE spot for it to happen against a team that has very few forwards that can defend anyone, nevermind LeBron. I expect the Lakers trio of scoring forwards to carry the weight in this game and cover the 4-point spread.