The Clippers face off against the rival Lakers in a battle between two injury-ridden teams. Keep reading for a full preview of the Clippers’ showdown against the Lakers on national television.
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 12:30 PM PT
How to Watch: ABC, Fox Sports Prime Ticket
Projected Starting Lineups
Lakers: Dennis Schroder – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Kyle Kuzma – Markieff Morris – Marc Gasol
Clippers: Reggie Jackson – Paul George – Kawhi Leonard – Marcus Morris – Ivica Zubac
Lakers: Anthony Davis Out (Calf), LeBron James Out (Ankle), Andre Drummond Questionable (Toe), Wes Matthews Questionable (Neck)
Clippers: Serge Ibaka Out (Back), Rajon Rondo Probable (Adductor), Pat Beverley Out (Knee), Paul George Probable (Toe)
The Big Picture
The Clippers’ only consistency is in how inconsistent they are. After a slump stretching on both sides of the All-Star break, the Clippers rattled off six consecutive wins in late March. Not to be undone, they then blew a game to the awful Magic, and were dismantled at the hands of the rival Nuggets to drop two games in a row. With just 20 games left in the season, the Clippers’ chances to build real momentum and chemistry entering the playoffs are dwindling. Now, it’s all about getting healthy and trying to maintain a hold on homecourt advantage entering the postseason.
The Lakers might be even more beset by injuries than the Clippers have been. While their depth has been less effected than the Clips’ (Drummond and Matthews are recent injuries), their key guys have missed a ton of time, and are projected to be out for at least another couple of weeks. The absences of LeBron and AD have cost the Lakers in the standings, where they sit in 4th, just a half game ahead of the surging Nuggets (though also only a half game behind the Clippers). For scoring, they rely upon Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell, but the Lakers have continued to remain afloat due to defense – they’re still tops in the league in that area. Schroder is a plus on that end, and Matthews, Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Marc Gasol, Alex Caruso, and Talen Horton-Tucker are all good defenders too. In short, the Clippers hopefully shouldn’t have much a problem stopping the Lakers, but scoring will probably be a bit of a slog.
Rondo’s Debut: Per Ty Lue at shootaround this morning, Rajon Rondo looks like he will be set to make his Clippers’ debut today. Considering he hasn’t played with the team before and has been out with injury a couple weeks, it’s doubtful he gets thrown in as a starter, leaving Reggie Jackson as the presumptive stopgap with Beverley still out. However, with Rondo added to the bench, that leaves three guards as key reserves – not counting the usually staggered Paul George. Therefore, the two general options for Ty Lue will be to play very small (with Nic Batum at center alongside Terance Mann at power forward) and eliminate the near-useless Patrick Patterson, or to play a more conventional lineup with Rondo alongside only two of Luke, George, and Mann. While Patterson is by far the worst player of those options, going extremely small doesn’t seem tenable for very long, so Lue might go with either set of rotations depending on the matchup. Either way, I wouldn’t expect to see too much of Rondo in this first outing, probably in the 15-18 minute range.
To Play or Not Play PG: Paul George has been slumping since he was first diagnosed with toe edema back in February. His shooting splits, while still excellent, are not nearly as dazzling as they were the first few months of the season. While George’s shot being off has been the primary indicator of his struggles, he’s also gotten to the basket less (and been less explosive when he gets there) for a while now too. Ultimately, the Clippers have to make a choice. Do they play Paul George in the regular season for the sake of standings, conditioning, and to build as many game reps as possible? Or do they sit him, taking a long-term view in trying to get healthy for the playoffs? While most fans seem to opt for number two, the Clippers have been mostly on track to keep him playing – it sounds like they know the injury isn’t serious, just a bit painful. However, that can still backtrack, and it’s probably better to have a 100% PG in the playoffs with somewhat worse standings and chemistry than an 85% PG with the inverse.
The Lakers’ Weird Center Drama: When the Lakers signed Marc Gasol, there was all kinds of hullabaloo about how good a fit he was, how many triple-doubles he’d put up, etc. Now, five months later, he’s effectively been benched for the recently signed Andre Drummond – and he’s not happy about it. Gasol has maybe been disappointing offensively (though people expecting more clearly didn’t watch the Raptors last year), but he’s been a big part of their defense, and is significantly better than Drummond there. Maybe the Lakers think they have enough defense, and are willing to exchange Gasol’s rim protection and communication for Drummond’s offensive rebounding and theoretical rim running. I don’t know if I agree, but we will just have to wait and see how Drummond operates on an actually good team.
That about does it for this preview of the Clippers’ game against the Lakers. Comment on the NBA games tonight as well as the Final Four NCAA tournament contests, and stick around for the game tomorrow.