Clippers push injury-riddled Lakers closer to play-in tournament with resounding win

With LeBron James, Dennis Schroder and Talen Horton-Tucker sidelined for the Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers already had a sizable advantage on Thursday. Things got worse for the Lakers when Anthony Davis was sent off with back spasms. With so many grassroots Lakers, the Clippers came away unsurprisingly with an easy 118-94 victory over their cross-arena rivals.

The win marks the first time since the 2015-16 season that the Clippers have swept the season series with the Lakers. Overall, this has only happened four times in team history, and the standings reflect this new power structure in Los Angeles. While the Clippers have practically locked up one of the Western Conference’s top four seeds and the first-round home advantage that goes with it, the Lakers are fighting just to avoid the play-in round. With another loss on the books for the defending champions, this is where we’ll start tonight’s take out.

Play-in here we come

The all-powerful Lakers, reigning NBA champions and still Vegas favorite to win the Western Conference, are officially on the verge of play-in. The loss, their 29th of the season, tied them with the Portland Trail Blazers in the standings. These two teams won’t have to wait long to settle the score. They play Friday. It is always expected that James and Schroder will miss this game. It’s unclear whether Davis or Horton-Tucker will do it as well. The winner will not only win one ranked match over the other, but also win the tiebreaker. Functionally, this gives the winner a 1.5 game lead over the loser with less than two weeks to go.

In other words, the Lakers need to start coming to terms with the idea that they’re probably going to have to use the turn of play to kick off their championship defense. It’s not the worst thing in the world for them, all things considered. If nothing else, they would probably rather play Phoenix or Utah in the first round than the Clippers. That would give them an extra leverage game or two to find their rhythm. It’s not ideal, but the fate is worse here.

But for the Clippers? It’s a dream come true. Last season, they were eliminated before they even faced the Lakers. This season, it may be the Lakers who are eliminated before a series of Clippers. The Lakers decimated their non-Clippers opponents on their way to the championship last season. Now the Clippers could have the chance to do the same.

Old friends become new enemies

The added wrinkle in this year’s Lakers-Clippers rivalry is the fact that players have moved from locker room to locker room. On paper, the Lakers got the best end of the shuffle. By signing Montrezl Harrell, they both occupied a save center spot that DeMarcus Cousins ​​could have taken and limited themselves, preventing them from signing Rajon Rondo again. Harrell is the youngest of the three. He is also the reigning sixth man of the year.

Still, he was dominated by the two former Lakers in this one. Cousins, who is several inches and nearly 30 pounds on Harrell, bullied him at the post on a 5 of 8 shooting night. Rondo added 11 points and five assists, and as Harrell finished the night with 14 points, they mainly came to the trash. The Lakers were outscored by six points with Harrell on the ground. It has become a worrying trend.

In 18 games since the Lakers signed Andre Drummond, Harrell has had a negative plus-minus 12 times and is minus-69 overall. While his score is valuable, he has proven to be exactly the kind of high-maintenance player he was with the Clippers. He is a disappointing defender and needs the ball to be effective. The Lakers are now struggling with these issues, while the Clippers have appreciated the ease with which Rondo particularly fits into their existing structure. He and Cousins ​​make less money than Harrell for the Lakers. Right now, the Clippers seem to be making the most of this arrangement.

What a difference a year makes

The Lakers-Clippers rivalry has been a microcosm of the league’s biggest stories over the past two seasons. Last season was all about LeBron’s redemption and the Battle of Los Angeles. Both teams played four teams. The four were decided by single numbers. Two boiled down to the last two possessions. The Lakers lost the first two but won the second two, narratively aligning with James’ early struggles in Los Angeles and eventual success.

This season? We’ve never seen the Lakers and Clippers go head-to-head. Opening night was the closest to us, and in the last two games James and Davis have played nine minutes combined. This season’s story has been injuries over a condensed schedule. The league has paid the price for this program by sacrificing renowned matches. Those incredible Lakers-Clippers battles of last year are a distant memory. In 2021, the best we can hope for is a healthy playoff rematch.

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