The Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff hopes are on life support after another loss to a non-playoff team. One reason for maintaining a slight bit of hope is they have games against those ahead of them and the first comes against the rival L.A. Clippers.
After trading away Tobias Harris, and releasing veterans Avery Bradley and Marcin Gortat, many expected the Clippers to fall out of the playoff race, and hold on to their lottery-protected draft pick. Instead, the opposite has happened, with the Clippers moving up to the seventh seed, four losses ahead of the Lakers.
LeBron James’ numbers have been exceptional since the All-Star break, but the true bright spot for the team as of late has been the play of Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma.
Ingram seems to have truly settled into his role next to James and has been outstanding since the All-Star break, averaging 27.8 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 57 percent from the field, 52.9 percent from three-point range, and 75 percent at the free throw line.
Kuzma on the other hand has shown off his all-around game, posting 17.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.7 assists while also moving up to center in the starting lineup. The question for the Lakers is who else will step up to help the efforts of Ingram, Kuzma and James.
The Lakers’ bench support has been minimal over the last few games. Aside from JaVale McGee, no other bench player has reached double-figures over the last five games. If the Lakers plan on making any kind of run to the playoffs, they will need help from everyone, especially the role players.
That support and strong performance from the entire roster is why the Clippers have continued to play well. Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell are all averaging between 17 and 19 points since the All-Star break. Meanwhile, the Clippers youth of Shai Gilgious-Alexander, Landry Shamet, and former Laker Ivica Zubac have given them solid contributions, while also relying on vets such as Patrick Beverley and Garrett Temple.
The Lakers will need to be locked in on defense as the Clippers are second in the NBA in three-point percentage. Things can quickly get out of hand if the Lakers slack off defensively.
One area where the Lakers could take advantage of the Clippers is on the glass. The Clippers are not a great rebounding team, and limiting them to one shot, while crashing the offensive glass themselves could pay dividends for the Lakers.
“They get after it. Defensively, guards like Beverley and earlier in the year when they had Bradley as well, they really hound you all over the court,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said of the challenge the Clippers pose.
“I think the second unit, mainly being Lou Will and Harrell, they’re a problem for everyone they play. That’s going to be a big focus on whether or not we can get this win, is how well we do against that duo when they come in the game.”
The Lakers’ slim playoff hopes rest on this game. A win could potentially kickstart things, but a loss will practically make another lottery appearance a certainty.
Los Angeles Lakers (30-33) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (36-29)
7:30 P.M. PT, Mar. 4, 2019
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet, NBA TV
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Reggie Bullock
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: LeBron James
C: Kyle Kuzma
Key Reserves: Josh Hart, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, Mike Muscala
Projected Clippers Starting Lineup:
PG: Shai Gilgious-Alexander
SG: Patrick Beverley
SF: Landry Shamet
PF: Danilo Gallinari
C: Ivica Zubac
Key Reserves: Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Garrett Temple, JaMychal Green
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