(Photo By: Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)
Lakers vs. Clippers: 3 Things to Know (3/4/19)
Here is what you need to know before the Lakers start their homestand against the LA Clippers.
1) It’s gut-check time for the Lakers
Having lost four of their last five games, the Lakers will need to play close-to-perfect basketball from this point forward in order to reach the playoffs.
Currently 4 1/2 games behind San Antonio for the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference, the Lakers have 19 games left to make up some serious ground.
That makes this contest even more pivotal, considering the Lakers may eventually end up racing the Clippers (five games ahead) rather than the Spurs.
To put themselves in that position, they will need to get back to playing with a defensive focus. Since the start of February, they rank last in the NBA in defensive rating (117.7) and are just 3-8 in that stretch.
2) Keep an eye on the center battles
One team starts a true 7-footer at center, while the other starts a small-ball lineup with nobody taller than 6-foot-9.
The Clippers’ giant in question is one especially familiar to the purple and gold: former Laker Ivica Zubac. Traded to the Clippers less than a month ago, Zubac immediately became a starter for his new club. And while his field goal percentage may be down, he has still provided a large presence on defense and the glass.
Meanwhile, the Lakers have opted for speed instead of size, toggling between having Kyle Kuzma and LeBron James face opposing centers. James has been especially effective in L.A.’s three games since the lineup change, averaging 30.3 points, 12.0 assists and 3.7 3-pointers on 42.3 percent from deep.
LeBron has also tallied double-digit assists in five straight games, tying the longest streak of his career. Plenty of those dimes have gone to second-unit center JaVale McGee, who has personified efficiency recently.
Over his last three games, McGee — with his timely cutting and high-flying athleticism — has made 18 shots and missed only one.
3) New-look Clippers are still in the driver’s seat
The Clippers made a huge gamble at the trade deadline by dealing an all-star-caliber player, Tobias Harris, who led the team in scoring.
But rather than decline, the Clippers have improved their footing in the playoff race, winning six of 10 since the transaction.
Several players have stepped up, including new leading scorer Lou Williams and the ever-efficient Danilo Gallinari.
Montrezl Harrell has been excellent off the bench, Patrick Beverley has stepped up his game and rookie Landry Shamet continues to show his silky shooting (including hitting six 3-pointers in the first quarter of yesterday’s win over New York).
But the biggest factor has been the Clippers ranking eighth in defensive rating since the deadline. The Lakers will require similar performances on that side of the ball in order to knock off their intracity foes.
Lakers: Lance Stephenson (left foot, second toe sprain) is questionable. Lonzo Ball (left ankle sprain) is out. Isaac Bonga and Johnathan Williams are on G League assignment.
Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute (sore left knee) is questionable. Wilson Chandler (right quad strain) is out.
Tip-Off: 7:30 p.m. PT
TV: Spectrum SportsNet in L.A. NBA TV nationally
Radio: 710 ESPN and 1330 KWKW
Unis: Gold Icon
Location: STAPLES Center — Los Angeles, California
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