Overview: The 2019-20 NBA season begins . . . again. And just like when the NBA season began for the first time, back what feels like 10 years ago in October, we have a Clippers-Lakers game preview to kick things off.
Where: Orlando, Florida
When: 6:00 PM PT
How to Watch: TNT, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Reggie Jackson — Paul George — Kawhi Leonard — Marcus Morris — Ivica Zubac
Lakers: LeBron James — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — Danny Green — TBD — JaVale McGee
Clippers: Out — Lou Williams (Quarantine), Out — Montrezl Harrell (Personal); Questionable — Patrick Beverley (Personal); Probable — Landry Shamet (Illness)
Lakers: Out — Avery Bradley (Personal), Out — Rajon Rondo (Thumb); Probable — Anthony Davis (Eye); TBD — Dwight Howard (Knee)
The Big Picture and the Antagonist
For this first preview of the formal restart, I’m going to do away with our usual split summary. These two teams’ stories are becoming increasingly intertwined, and they are predominantly measured against one another as they march toward what many presume to be an inevitable meeting in the Western Conference Finals. (Sober reminder: there remains a long road ahead.) So instead, some questions:
How much of their hand does either team show? If I had to guess, I’d guess . . . not much. Both teams are fairly secure in their seeding — the Lakers, obviously, much more so. But without homecourt advantage to strive for, slipping to the third seed is a lesser concern for the Clippers. (Unless you’re particularly worried about the Thunder or Rockets over the Mavericks. I’m not — have you seen the Mavericks score???) Eight games don’t make for a long stretch. It will take something special from either the Nuggets (in a good way) or the Clippers (in a bad way) to flip the standings. Health and harmony seem paramount. This feels more like another notch in the ramp-up, like an exhibition game+, if you will.
Who blinks first? Let’s say for a moment that these teams do actually trot out some of their A-grade stuff. Both squads are capable of playing either large or small, although it’s the Lakers who have more adamantly stuck to the former. (And it’s worked. So far.) The long-held wisdom is that playoff series are determined by adjustments. This isn’t the playoffs yet, but will either coach see it more like a prologue? If the game begins to tilt in one direction, will the team on the bottom break the glass for something a little new? This Clippers-Lakers game could be a preview, at least in miniature, for the playoffs, and the coaches might want to test the waters a little.
Who gets the keys to the Clippers’ second unit? Lou Williams will spend at least the first two seeding games in his hotel room. The Thursday statuses of Patrick Beverley and Landry Shamet are somewhere along the spectrum of uncertainty. That’s a lot of juice already squeezed from the lemon. Terance Mann may get his chance to navigate the Lakers’ forest of arms. Doc Rivers may also choose to stagger his stars, or even let Marcus Morris get a longer jab-stepping runway. Somewhere, Robert Flom shuddered.
How much do the Lakers trust Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith? Both Waiters and Smith have gotten their chances in scrimmages, but that’s what scrimmages are for. Waiters, if he can keep his shot in form (and his head too), would be the better option for real minutes, should Frank Vogel be forced into the choice. His 3(ish)-and-D(ish) game could be a snug fit with various Lakers lineups. Smith, on the other hand… well, he’s just not very good anymore. By VORP he hasn’t been better than replacement level since the Cavaliers’ championship season of 2015-16. If Smith sees any real time from here on out, either something has gone terribly wrong for the Lakers, or Smith has found miraculous rejuvenation in the Disney World pools.
Can Kawhi Leonard get his shooting unlocked? Yes, of course, don’t be silly.
Kyle Goon from the Orange County Register has more interesting details on life inside the bubble . . . Andrew Greif from the Los Angeles Times wrote about Zubac’s return after his recovery from COVID-19 . . . Greif also had this on Shamet’s return . . . ESPN’s basketball writers issued their playoff predictions. . . and the Daily News has more on the Clippers arena plans in Inglewood.
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