Preview: Lakers and Clippers kick off seeding games in bubble

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 08: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrate his basket and LA Clippers foul during a 112-103 Lakers win at Staples Center on March 08, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Lakers and Clippers playing in the summer. Back at the beginning of the season, we would have expected that to mean some late May or early June playoff games between the crosstown rivals. However, COVID-19 had other plans. Those playoff games won’t be happening until possibly late August, as the Lakers will be kicking off their eight seeding games against the Clippers. It will be the fourth matchup between the two teams; the original date of their final game was rescheduled to later in the season following the sudden death of Kobe Bryant. The Clippers beat the Lakers in the first two meetings, while the Lakers beat the Clippers on March 8th right before the season was suspended. The Lakers could even the season series at two-a-piece before heading into a possible meeting in the playoffs.

Clippers coming in short-handed

The Lakers will obviously be without Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo, but the holes left by the two guards seem to be in competent hands with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Dion Waiters, and others. However, the Clippers will be without two key players that have both become absent in two different, but still surprising reasons.

Montrezl Harrell will miss the bubble season opener (reported by Chris Haynes and Yahoo Sports), as he has been tending to a personal matter outside of Orlando since last week. He has missed all three scrimmage games but has reportedly produced negative COVID-19 tests every day while he has been away. This means that he will only have to be quarantined for two days once he returns, but that will come at the cost of at least the Lakers game with the Clippers’ next game being on Saturday against the New Orleans Pelicans.

The other player who will miss tonight’s game is Lou Williams, who — as I’m sure you’ve heard — was required to participate in a 10-day quarantine after visiting Atlanta strip club ‘Magic City.’ Lou Will was there during a family and friend gathering following a funeral they attended. Either way, Williams broke the protocol of the league’s restart in the bubble and will miss tonight’s game against the Lakers as well as the Saturday game against the Pelicans.

Although the Clippers will still have their two superstars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, those two players played a key role for the Clippers all season with both making direct impacts in the games against the Lakers as well. Harrell has averaged 18.3 points per game in the three games with the Lakers, while Lou Williams was able to slice-and-dice the Lakers’ guards in the first game while Kawhi was out, scoring 21 points in the 112-102 win for the Clippers.

The Clippers may also be without Patrick Beverley who also had to leave the bubble but has returned and completed his quarantine. His availability is likely based on his fitness level.

LeBron James looking to pick-up where he left off

When we last saw the Lakers playing meaningful basketball, they were arguably on top. They lost their final game before the season was suspended to the Brooklyn Nets but before that, they had captured back-to-back wins against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Clippers. LeBron James was looking like he was ready to shift into an extra gear for the playoffs, as the king averaged 32.5 points, 8.5 assists, and 8.0 rebounds per game across the two huge wins. LeBron was really starting to plant himself into the MVP conversation with Giannis Antetokounmpo, and he will be looking to get right into that type of gear again with the playoffs starting in a little over two weeks.

Will the 35-year-old have what it physically takes to finish off his fourth championship in October, a full-year after the campaign started? Head coach Frank Vogel seems to think so, saying that LeBron is “playing at a really high level” in their Orlando practices. We’ll see if he comes out of the gates firing tonight against a depleted Clippers squad.

Tune in on Spectrum SportsNet or TNT at 6:00 p.m. Let’s do this!

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