Clippers hold distinct advantage in Battle of LA

It's the 40th meeting between two LA teams since 2012.

They may be widely predicted to finish first, but the Clippers are the last team in the NBA to make its season debut.

On Thursday night, for the third time in the Kawhi Leonard-Paul George era, the Clippers will take on the rival Lakers in the team’s opening game. It will also mark just the second time in the four-year run with the superstar duo that the Clippers have had both players healthy on opening night. 

The Lakers (0-1) started their 82-game slate Tuesday with a 123-109 loss to the defending-champion Warriors. The final score is a bit misleading in that Golden State led by as many as 27 and controlled the majority of the second half. 

If the Warriors are the barometer for the rest of the league, the Lakers did not acquit themselves very well in measuring up. However, according to pundits across the NBA landscape, the Clippers are among the few teams whose expectations are on that level. 

Thursday night, we’ll get the first sense of whether or not they’re right. 

Mar 3, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Robert Covington (23) controls the ball against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) during the first half at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers have won 32 of the past 39 regular-season matchups against the Lakers, including winning seven in a row and taking seven of the 10 games that LeBron James has been in uniform. This is the first meeting of the new year, and the opening game of the season for the Clippers. 

It’s the fourth time in the last decade the Clippers have played the Lakers in their season opener. They’ve won the last three, including the 2020 opener in which Leonard made his LA debut.

Outside of both teams’ superstar duos, the talent disparity will be noticeable Thursday. There are players on the Clippers who may not see a minute of action (Amir Coffey, for example) who would almost unquestionably start for the Lakers. If the game against the Clippers unfolds the way it did against the Warriors Tuesday, things could get out of hand when the teams go to the benches.   

”It’s not like we’re sitting here with a lot of lasers on our team.” They shot 10-of-40 from 3-point range against the Warriors, and most of the makes came in the waning minutes of a lopsided deficit. 

The Clippers long, switching defense could be even more devastating if they are allowed to sag off the likes of Russell Westbrook and Lonnie Walker IV in the first unit. And while the Lakers played with pace on Tuesday, as they had suggested they would all training camp, that’s something that could very well play into the Clippers hands. LAC is expected to effectively utilize Ivica Zubac as their lone true center, while adopting 5-out, small-ball throughout the 20-25 minutes per game Zubac is on the bench. The Lakers started their small-ball lineup on Tuesday with James and Anthony Davis starting at the 4 and 5, respectively. So, it’s already being relied upon as a go-to lineup as opposed to something to throw at an opponent in crunch time. 

The one obvious mismatch in the Lakers favor is the size and athleticism of Davis. On Tuesday, he got off to an excellent start, finishing three plays at the rim in the first quarter. However, despite scoring 27 points in 36 minutes, Davis was 0-for-5 shooting outside of the paint and went just 2-for-12 outside of the restricted area. If Davis is not a perimeter threat, at all, the matchups for the Clippers are a little easier to stomach. It’s likely that Zubac starts the game on him with everyone from Robert Covington, Marcus Morris, and Nicolas Batum getting a shot at him. That’s four defenders who present different looks. Still, it’s likely that Davis will have another strong statistical game on Thursday, it will be a matter of how difficult the Clippers make it for him to get his.

Lakers guard Patrick Beverley struggled through Tuesday night with foul trouble. Last time the Clippers saw Beverley, an important cog in the team’s 2021 run to the Western Conference Finals, he was throwing his Timberwolves jersey into the crowd after upsetting his former team in the play-in round. The strange turnabout of Beverley in purple and gold is not lost on the Clippers, who still hold a degree of reverie for the motormouth defensive ace. He was a tone-setter for the Clippers and will be his usual self seeing his old friends again Thursday. 

Clippers: Reggie Jackson (groin) is probable. It seems almost sacrilegious to type this, but they are fully healthy. 
Lakers: LeBron James (foot), Russell Westbrook (hamstring), and Anthony Davis (back) are probable. Dennis Schroder (finger), Thomas Bryant (thumb), and Troy Brown (back) are out. 

George has scored 24 or more points in 6 of his last 7 opening night games… The Clippers lost their season opener last season, 115-113, to the Warriors. They have not lost two season debuts in a row since 2009 and 2010… Overall, the Clippers are 8-3 in the opener since the start of the Chris Paul era in 2011, including five wins on the road… 

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x