Game of the Night – L.A. Clippers at L.A. Lakers (-4, 237), 10:35 ET, NBATV
Mathematically, the Lakers still have a chance to make the playoffs. Realistically, they are done.
After coming up empty in a weekend back-to-back that saw it lose at home to the Bucks and on the road to the horrible Suns, Los Angeles opens the first full week of March behind San Antonio by 4.5 games for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Spurs hold the head-to-head tiebreaker too.
Their Staples Center roommates, the Clippers, are five games up on them, currently running seventh. If the Lakers beat them tonight, you’ll hear all about how they had to have the victory and hopefully it’s the beginning of a huge, season-salvaging run, but their team has already blown multiple “must-win” games and shouldn’t be counted on.
Since the All-Star break ended, the Lakers have lost “must-win” games in New Orleans, Memphis and Phoenix, teams already looking forward to next season. L.A. has surrendered 118.7 points per game in those losses and has been atrocious defensively, missing rotations and allowing teams to find a rhythm with their poor execution on that side of the ball night after night. The Lakers have dropped eight of 11 and are 9-17 since Jan. 1 and just blew a game that, at least on paper, looked like the only gimme on a difficult schedule the rest of the way.
Following tonight’s matchup with the Clips, the Nuggets and Celtics will come through town. Next week will see the Lakers leave town for their second-longest road trip of the season, a five-gamer that includes stops in Toronto, Detroit and Milwaukee in which they’ll be underdogs. Their April schedule features five games against teams that would all make the playoffs if they started today, including a home date with the Warriors that comes early enough that they’re unlikely to be resting players.
At the All-Star break, Las Vegas’ Westgate Superbook had ‘no’ at -140 on whether the Lakers would be able to reach the postseason in LeBron James’ first season, offering a modest return of +120 if you were still a believer. Last Tuesday morning, ‘no’ went off at -400 and ‘yes’ went off at a return rate of 3-to-1 following their upset loss in Memphis. After Saturday’s ridiculous setback against the Suns, ‘no’ went off at -900 and anyone that still has blind faith in the Lakers can now get +600 if they correctly back an unlikely resurgence.
When the Lakers ultimately miss the playoffs, you’ll be able to point to setbacks against the Hawks, Knicks, Cavs, Wizards and Pelicans as to why. They’ve lost to the Grizzlies and Magic twice. They’ve dug their own grave by simply not respecting teams.
After wrapping up a 127-101 win over the Warriors despite losing James to a groin strain in the third quarter of its Christmas day blowout victory, L.A. was a healthy 20-14, on track to surpass its projected win total set at 48 by the Westgate Superbook that now looks destined to be won by naysayers who bet the ‘under.’ The Lakers went 6-12 without James as he missed 17 games between Dec. 27 and Jan. 29 and an additional game against the Warriors on Feb. 2.
Although a lot has been made over much of the team’s young core being rubbed the wrong way by the Lakers making them available to New Orleans via trade, Brandon Ingram has averaged nearly 28 points and 7.5 rebounds since the All-Star break and Kyle Kuzma has averaged over 17 points per game. L.A.’s problems lie much deeper than hurt feelings. Its pieces simply haven’t fit together well.
They’ve missed point guard Lonzo Ball, who has been out with an ankle injury since Jan. 21 and is hoping to join the team for the start of next week’s road trip. Despite the unfortunate attrition, no one is feeling sorry for the Lakers. Outside of their fans, no one is shedding tears over the misfortune the same franchise that tried to strong-arm the Pelicans into trading them Anthony Davis has had to deal with. Know who else has had a few rough patches? The Clippers.
Jerry West traded leading scorer Tobias Harris to the 76ers and elite perimeter defender Avery Bradley to the Grizzlies in order to free up a pair of maximum-salary slots in an effort to try and recruit Kawhi Leonard and another elite free agent this offseason, essentially pulling the plug on realistically contending for a postseason berth. The Clips are 6-4 since making those deals. Owner Steve Ballmer is now rooting on a playoff push, and his young team is responding.
Landry Shamet, a rookie shooter who was part of the Harris deal that also landed multiple future first-round picks, nailed seven 3-pointers in Sunday’s 128-107 win over the Knicks. Fellow rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is shooting 60 percent over the last three games, averaging 14.3 points per game. A second unit featuring scoring guard Lou Williams and big man Montrezl Harrell continues to dominate fourth quarters. Although they’re in an underdog role against the Lakers tonight, the Clippers began an eight-game run at Staples Center yesterday that has them in town until March 22, further strengthening their position as a likely playoff team.
The Clippers lost 123-120 in their last game against the Lakers on Jan. 30, falling despite the presence of Harris as LeBron returned to the Lakers’ lineup with 24 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. They won the first meeting between the teams on Dec. 28, taking advantage of James’ absence. The Clippers have covered the spread in six of their past seven games. Conversely, the Lakers are on a 1-7 ATS run. Due in part to their porous defense, the ‘over’ has prevailed in four of their last five games.