With all eyes on Los Angeles this NBA season, we’ll be taking a routine look at the rivalry between the Lakers and Clippers. For each edition, we’ll be joined with friend of the site and unfortunate Clippers fan Justin Russo for a different perspective on both teams.
In our first edition, we overreact to the Clippers 112-102 win over the Lakers on opening night with one hot take each about both teams.
Honi Ahmadian: I tried my best not to make a negative hot take because I’m bitter. But the Clippers played a great game and deserve a lot of praise for their game plan. That’s why my overreaction to this game is that Doc Rivers will win coach of the year. The Clippers came into this game with worse health (Paul George was out with a shoulder injury) and theoretically had no one to guard Anthony Davis.
But Rivers adjusted early in the game after the Lakers ran post-up after post-up for Anthony Davis to crowd passing lanes and double-team the star on the catch. The Clippers’ length and physicality gave the Lakers issues all night, leading to 14 turnovers for the Lakers and numerous rushed midrange jumpers for Davis and James who finished the night going a combined 15-40 from the field. Sure, some of that was due to the Lakers still adjusting to get those two players comfortable with each other. But the Clippers did not do them any favors.
Justin Russo: Clippers fans should be feeling pretty good after that opening night win since, after all, Paul George didn’t play and they were also without Rodney McGruder, who seems like he’ll factor in quite a bit into the rotation. But there is reason for some hesitancy: rim protection. It seems odd to have complaints after a win, but there is a valid reason.
The Lakers shot 18-of-28 (64.3 percent) inside the restricted area last night. Some of that could be due to their size advantage, but rim protection will be an issue for the Clippers all season regardless of opponent. Ivica Zubac only played 10 minutes, mainly due to how good Montrezl Harrell was, but he’s going to be a guy they count on to be a primary rim deterrent. For the Clippers to be a viable contender, they need to get better play out of the back line defensively.
Ahmadian: The Lakers will only win the title if they can acquire Andre Iguodala (or another big wing). We all knew this was an issue before the game ever started but seeing Kawhi Leonard hit five straight jumpers over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, despite the guard’s best efforts, really put it in perspective.
Danny Green is a great defender (and apparently the greatest scorer in Lakers history) but that’s really all the Lakers have in the way of big wings. James obviously is one but his defensive effort will not always be dialed up. Kyle Kuzma could theoretically help this situation but that’s putting a lot of faith on more improvement from the forward defensively. Iguodala, who is also not a full-effort player in the regular season, not only adds one of the best defensive wings in the game to the roster, but can also be an additional playmaker, which the Lakers also severely lacked in the game with James on the bench.
Russo: Despite the loss, the Lakers are a lot better off than others might think. While, yes, they lost despite the Clippers being without George, the Lakers were also missing key players. Kyle Kuzma could have helped supply scoring punch off the bench and Rajon Rondo or Alex Caruso could have provided secondary ball-handler minutes to ease the burden on LeBron James.
On top of that, the Lakers got really lackluster play out of James and Anthony Davis throughout the entire second half. Yet they were right there near the end of the game. That has to count for something. James isn’t going to play like that more than a handful of times all season, and Davis looked like he was getting acclimated to everything. Once the Lakers get beyond the initial sluggishness of coming back from an overseas trip, they’re going to be a very formidable opponent for the rest of the league.