April 11, 2018, 8:40 pm
The Lakers play a road game in their own arena against the Clippers on Wednesday as both teams look to close out their seasons on a positive note. This final matchup lends a certain element of closure as the two teams opened the year against each other October 19 in a game that resulted in 108-92 Clipper win.
The two teams would argue that they both had successful seasons with the Lakers showing tremendous growth from the previous year (winning at least eight more games than the previous year) and the Clippers beginning a rebuilding phase with a winning record. Both teams would have finished with more impressive records if they hadn’t been derailed by the injury bug. Each team has players that want to leave their mark on this campaign before they embark on offseasons that are likely to shape the future of each respective franchise.
Julius Randle took the microphone on Tuesday night to thank Laker fans and said “look forward to seeing you next season.” Randle, the only Laker to suit up for all 82 games (should he play Wednesday), has had a breakout season heading into restricted free agency. The decision to re-sign him will be one of the keys to the Lakers’ offseason and future. He heads into the last game of the season averaging 16.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists while shooting 55.7 percent from the field. However, his stats were more impressive once he joined the starting lineup as well as showing the ability to pick up the slack for his injured teammates — he showed tremendous growth in his skill set and maturity.
Speaking of maturity, the story of Tuesday’s game was 32-year old Andre Ingram making his NBA debut after spending 10 years in the developmental leagues. The crowd, aware of his story, cheered him from the onset but no one could have predicted how well this fairy tale would develop. Ingram scored 10 points in his first seven minutes and finished with 19 points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal and three blocks on 6-of-8 shooting from the field. His transcendent performance prompted the Laker faithful to serenade him with MVP chants during one of his trips to the line. After 384 games in the minor leagues, he played an excellent game in front of his wife and family, treating Laker fans to a truly inspirational story to close out their season.
Another fan favorite, Josh Hart, played another stellar game with 20 points, seven rebounds and two steals while playing a game-high 40 minutes. Hart, the No. 30 overall pick in this year’s draft, has been a revelation for the Lakers, providing solid defense, 3-point shooting and leadership.
Tonight may be the last time Laker fans get to root for many players who have expiring contracts including the aforementioned Randle, Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and many of the G-League players who are helping to fill out the depleted ranks at the moment.
The Clippers may have plenty of roster turnover this offseason including lifetime Clipper DeAndre Jordan, who has a player option and may choose to opt out of his contract. The Clippers were able to sign Lou Williams to an extension earlier this season to ensure that their leading scorer will return to help continue their rebuild next season. Williams, a former Laker, had a career year averaging 22.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.1 steals. Unfortunately he will not take the court Wednesday due to an ankle injury.
In his stead, Sindarius Thornwell, who exploded for 20 points, five rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks in his last outing, will get a chance to showcase his game at Staples Center. Thornwell played in the Laker organization earlier this year and may look for some revenge against the franchise that gave up on him. Hopefully Laker players got a chance to view his monster dunk over DeAndre Liggins and make an aggressive defensive play or seek shelter if he approaches the rim.
-The Lakers enter the game with a defensive rating of 105.7 (13th), a significant improvement from last year when they finished last in the NBA with a rating of 110.6 (Suns are last in the NBA this year with the same defensive rating of 110.6). The Clippers’ 107.6 defensive rating (19th) this year is down from the previous year when they earned a 105.8 rating. Perhaps one can attribute the change to losing Chris Paul, one of the league’s elite defenders at the point guard position.
-Kyle Kuzma finishes the season as the first Laker rookie in history to finish with at least 1200 points, 450 rebounds and 150 3-pointers. The last Laker to achieve that feat at all was Kobe Bryant.
-Brandon Ingram is the only player under 20 years of age to average 16 points, five rebounds and three assists — portending to an exciting future for the young Laker.
Projected Starting Lineups
Alex Caruso (PG)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG)
Josh Hart (SF)
Julius Randle (PF)
Brook Lopez (C)
Tyrone Wallace (PG)
Wesley Johnson (SG)
C.J. Williams (SF)
Tobias Harris (PF)
DeAndre Jordan (C)
Brandon Ingram (concussion) – OUT
Lonzo Ball (knee contusion) – OUT
Kyle Kuzma (ankle) – OUT
Isaiah Thomas (hip) – OUT
Luol Deng (ankle) – OUT
Austin Rivers (elbow) – PROBABLE
Patrick Beverley (knee) – OUT
Milos Teodosic (foot) – OUT
Jawun Evans (abdomen) – OUT
Danilo Gallinari (hand) – OUT
Avery Bradley (groin) – OUT
Lou Williams (ankle) – OUT
Time: 7:30 PM PST, 10:30 PM EST
Television: FOX SPORTS PRIME TICKET, SPECSN/SPECD, TSN1,
Radio: AM 570 LA SPORTS, 710 AM ESPN, 1330 AM ESPN DEPORTES