The Los Angeles Lakers enter the stretch run of the 2021-22 season needing a major turnaround to stay alive in the Western Conference playoff race. To begin that stretch, they’ll face their locker room rivals — the L.A. Clippers — in the first of two matchups over the next week.
Friday’s meeting against the Clippers signals the first game of what figures to be a long stretch of time without superstar Anthony Davis. Davis is out at least three more weeks with a mid-foot sprain and will be joined by Kendrick Nunn and Avery Bradley as inactives.
On the positive side of the injury news, Carmelo Anthony — who has been out since Feb. 3 with a hamstring injury — is making his return to the lineup. With Davis out, having Anthony’s scoring punch from the power forward position figures to be a massive boost.
Of course, the Clippers continue to play without their star duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, putting most of the scoring in the hands of Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr. Even with role players carrying the bulk of the work, the Clippers have managed to hover .500 all season.
This is, in part, thanks to the incredible coaching of Tyronn Lue and the camaraderie of a roster that feels eerily similar to their 2018-19 team the summer before acquiring Leonard and George. While they are not the most talented team, they are capable of beating anybody on any night.
They are already 2-0 against the Lakers this season, with both meetings going down to the wire. The Lakers have lost both games by a combined five points, with a Davis missed buzzer-beater being the defining moment from their last matchup.
Beyond Jackson and Morris, the Clippers have received quality contributions from Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, Ivica Zubac, and Nicolas Batum. Norman Powell — who shined in his first few games in L.A. — is out indefinitely with a fracture in his foot.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are in the midst of an identity crisis with Davis out of the lineup. In their win against the Utah Jazz prior to the All-Star break, they leaned heavily on LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and the young trio of Austin Reaves, Talen Horton-Tucker and Malik Monk.
Putting faith in youth has paid off more times than not for the Lakers this season. And with Bradley out, it opens up extra opportunities for those three, as well as the defensive-minded Stanley Johnson.
This first game after the break can serve as a litmus test for L.A.’s ceiling without Davis. If they find a formula that works in a winning effort, they inch closer to the Clippers in the standings and build some momentum. However, a loss would be discouraging with the Play-In Tournament appearing all but certain at this point in the season.
Lakers (27-31) vs. Clippers (30-31)
7:00 p.m. PT, Feb. 25, 2022
Crypto.com Arena, Los Angeles, California
TV: ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN LA
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Malik Monk
SF: Stanley Johnson
PF: Trevor Ariza
C: LeBron James
Key Reserves: Austin Reaves, Talen Horton-Tucker, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard
Projected Clippers Starting Lineup:
PG: Reggie Jackson
SG: Terance Mann
SF: Nicolas Batum
PF: Marcus Morris Sr.
C: Ivica Zubac
Key Reserves: Luke Kennard, Isaiah Hartenstein, Amir Coffey, Robert Covington, Brandon Boston Jr.
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