The Los Angeles Lakers head into their Christmas Day matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers with a horrific 5-24 record. After losing by 35 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the purple and gold would appear to be badly outmatched by their inter-city rivals, who fancy themselves as title contenders.
Still, Kobe Bryant has been on a tear of late, averaging 23.8 points on on 46 percent shooting. The 37 year old Mamba will be playing in the final Christmas game of his illustrious career, and will undoubtedly be looking to put on a holiday show for the citizens of Los Angeles.
Massive contributions will be needed from D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and the rest of the young Lakers if they hope to make this a contest. All metrics suggest the Clippers should roll through the Lakers without breaking a sweat, but no team should be counted out, especially on Christmas.
The Lakers came out looking good in their Christmas jerseys, but gave up a few easy early baskets to Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Lou Williams also struggled to chase J.J. Redick off of screens, and J.J made him pay. Larry Nance Jr. accidentally scored on his own basket on what will probably be the strangest play we see this season, and one that he won’t live down anytime soon. Hibbert started 4-of-4 from the field to keep the Lakers close, but it was 17-9 Clippers at the seven minute mark. Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell joined the game halfway through the first, but Randle struggled to defend Blake Griffin and couldn’t get his jumper to fall. Russell, on the other hand, came out on fire, hitting three of his first four shots for seven early points. It certainly wasn’t pretty, with seven turnovers and the Lakers finished the quarter down 32-22.
Russell continued his hot shooting at the start of the second, hitting his second three of the game off of a nice kick out from Julius Randle, then crossed over Pablo Prigioni for a sweet jumper. Defensively the Lakers continued to struggle, with Jamal Crawford hitting from mid-range at will. Kobe Bryant scored his first point of the game with a jumper over former teammate Wesley Johnson, but the Clippers had pushed their lead to 14 with 6 minutes to go in the quarter. Kobe followed that up a few minutes later with back-to-back threes that got the STAPLES Center crowd on their feet and brought the Lakers to within 10. DeAndre Jordan bullied Nance inside whenever Roy Hibbert rotated out, and prevented the Lakers from driving to the rim with his intimidating presence. The Clippers finished the half up 16, and looked to be getting whatever they wanted on both ends of the floor.
Kobe opened the scoring for the Lakers with his third three of the game, but both the Lakers and Clippers offense went cold for a few minutes. The Clippers snapped out of their funk before the Lakers did though, with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute hitting a three and then Jordan finishing a lob to put the Clips up 20. Jordan Clarkson broke the Lakers scoring drought with a nice floater over Jordan, but Chris Paul answered with a rainbow jumper of his own. A pair of jumpers from Nance and another one in transition from Clarkson brought the Lakers to within 16, forcing the Clippers to take a timeout. Nance connected on another jumper but after that, the Lakers offense just looked flat, and they didn’t score for the final four minutes of the quarter. The Lakers head into the 4th down by a whopping 28.
The fourth quarter opened with Byron Scott inserting Marcelo Huertas into the game, and he quickly found Brandon Bass inside for a dunk. A series of stops, included a pair of blocks from Brandon Bass and one from Russell, helped create an 12-2 run for the Lakers in the first four minutes. Julius Randle hit a big three, followed by a post up basket from Russell to amazingly bring the Lakers to within 13. The Clippers were forced to bring their starters back in, but the Lakers continued to chip away at the lead including this insane pass from Russell. The Lakers got the margin down to seven, but a Wesley Johnson three took it back to 10 with just over three minutes to play. The Lakers called timeout with fans on their feet, hopeful to see a Christmas miracle. While the crowd chanted for Kobe, head coach Byron Scott opted to leave the lineup of Huertas, Russell, Nick Young, Randle, and Bass on the floor. The bench unit wasn’t able to complete the comeback, ultimately losing 94-84, but Lakers fans got their money worth from their valiant comeback effort.