December 29, 2017, 1:39 pm
The Lakers (11-22) host the Clippers (14-19) on Friday for the teams’ third meeting of the season — the Clippers have won the previous two encounters. The Clippers have recently dominated the cross-stadium rivalry winning 20 of the last 22 games against the Lakers.
The Clippers are hoping to get back All-Star forward Blake Griffin who was injured November 27 in a game against the Lakers. Griffin’s initial prognosis was to miss up to eight weeks but he is significantly ahead of schedule and is tentatively expected to return for Friday’s contest.
Even though the Clippers finished the Nov. 27 contest without Griffin, and were already missing several players including Danilo Gallinari, Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic, they were able to defeat the healthy (at the time) Lakers 120-115. Former Laker Lou Williams keyed the victory with 42 points, four rebounds, three assists and one steal while shooting 12-of-21 from the field, 4-of-8 from 3-point range and making all 14 of his free throws. The Lakers only had him to concern themselves with and they were simply unable to even slow him down as evidenced by his efficiency on the evening.
Williams has been one of the Clippers’ most consistent and healthy players on the year averaging 20.8 points, 2.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.9 steals and 2.7 3-pointers per game.
The Clippers played one of their best of games of the season on Tuesday as they simply demolished the Sacramento Kings 122-95. The game was so lopsided that no Clipper starter played more than 26 minutes. They were led off the bench by Montrezl Harrell who had a huge game with 22 points, eight rebounds, three assists, one block and a plus-17 rating on 7-of-12 from the floor and 8-of-9 from the line.
The Lakers have struggled to win games this year and even more so of late as they have lost four games in a row and eight of their last nine.
Making matters worse for the Lakers, they are missing starting center Brook Lopez, starting point guard Lonzo Ball and could also be without leading scorer Kyle Kuzma who suffered a bruised thigh after taking a knee to that region during the loss to Memphis on Wednesday.
Kuzma played one of the worst games of his short yet stellar NBA tenure as he scored in single digits for only the fourth time in his 33 career games. He struggled mightily from the field hitting only 4-of-24 attempts from the field, 1-of-11 from 3-point range and not attempting a single free throw. Kuzma appeared tired as his shot was regularly short on the night but both he and coach Luke Walton declined to attribute his lackluster performance to fatigue.
The Lakers really missed Ball on the evening as they registered only 14 assists — their lowest output on the season. He may have demonstrated his impact on the Lakers more by missing this game than by any statistical contributions he has made while on the court during his rookie year.
Jordan Clarkson has stepped into the starting point guard role during Ball’s absence and has been producing statistically but does not have the same affect on the game as far as pushing the ball up the court, encouraging unselfish play and augmenting the pace of the game. Clarkson has averaged 19.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.5 blocks while shooting 15-of-41 from the field for 36.5 percent during his two starts for Ball. The statistical output does not belie his inability to replicate Ball’s significance to the team, nor does it account for the negative effect of removing Clarkson from the second unit.
Coach Luke Walton has struggled to find an appropriate replacement for Clarkson in the second unit and it has negatively impacted the team. During the last game, Walton alternated between Alex Caruso and Tyler Ennis — neither played well during their short stints. Caruso was particularly ineffective as he registered a minus-9 rating during his four minute stretch at the beginning of the fourth quarter, costing the Lakers all of their hard-earned momentum and handing the Grizzlies a lead the Lakers would not recover from.
Another debatable point with regards to coach Walton’s rotations has been his use of his big men Andrew Bogut, Larry Nance Jr. and Julius Randle. Walton has decided to start Bogut for the injured Lopez, actually decreasing the average playing time of Nance Jr. and Randle since the starting center was injured. Although Bogut was able to grab nine rebounds during his 13 minutes in the game, his inability to contribute on the other end often brings the Laker offense to a standstill while he is on the court. When he checked out of the Memphis game for the first time after playing five minutes, the Lakers had only been able to score a total of three points.
Randle played only 11 minutes against Memphis and has been handed a very inconsistent role during this pivotal contract year for the young forward. He was unable to have a productive game during his shortened stretch registering only six points and three rebounds on 2-of-5 from the field and 2-of-6 from the line. Some fans might have preferred that the Lakers embrace their position-less mantra in this game and allow Randle to play backup point guard instead of the ineffective Caruso and Ennis.
On the other hand, Nance Jr. was outstanding during the Memphis game, playing tremendous defense, grabbing five offensive rebounds and providing the spark that key Laker runs in both the second and third quarters. He finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, one assist, one steal and a team leading minus-one rating for the game. It was therefore puzzling that he played only 19 minutes.
It will be interesting to see how coach Walton tweaks his rotations as the short-handed Lakers try desperately to defend their home court and end both their recent overall struggles and the Clippers’ domination of the in-house rivalry.
- The Lakers continue to be the worst free throw shooting team in the league by a wide margin shooting only 68.9 percent from the line. The Clippers are not significantly better at 74.3 (24th) percent from the charity stripe.
- The Clippers turn the ball over 14.6 (15th) times a game compared to 16.4 (29th) by the Lakers.
- The Lakers are a good rebounding team as they average 46.6 (3rd) per game compared to 43.6 (15th) for the Clippers. However, the Clippers have the best individual rebounder in the contest, DeAndre Jordan, who averages 15.2 per contest and generally gives the Lakers fits with his length and athleticism.
- The Lakers average 22.9 assists (10th) per game vs. 20.6 (26th) for the Clippers. However, they may be unable to reproduce those numbers without the influence of Ball.
Josh Hart (PG)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG)
Brandon Ingram (SF)
Kyle Kuza (PF)
Julius Randle (C)
Milos Teodosic (PG)
Austin Rivers (SG)
C.J. Williams (SF)
Blake Griffin (PF)
DeAndre Jordan (C)
Lonzo Ball (shoulder) – OUT
Brook Lopez (ankle) – OUT
Kyle Kuzma (thigh contusion) – STARTING
Tyler Ennis (illness) – OUT
Blake Griffin (knee) – STARTING/LIMITED
Danilo Gallinari (glute) – OUT
Wesley Johnson (foot) – AVAILABLE
Time: 7:30 PM PST, 10:30 PM EST
Television: SPECSN/SPECD, FOX SPORTS PRIME TICKET
Radio: 710 AM ESPN, 1330 AM ESPN DEPORTES, AM 570 LA SPORTS