3 Things to Know: Lakers at Clippers 04-5-23

Three Things to Know: Lakers at Clippers 4-5-23

The Lakers (41-38) look to keep their streak going and clinch a winning season against the LA Clippers (41-38) in a battle with massive postseason seeding implications. The game tips off on the Clippers’ court at 7:00 p.m. PT on ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet, and ESPN Radio 710. 

The Race for 6th
There have been some highly anticipated Lakers-Clippers matchups in recent years — from Opening Night to Christmas Day to the first game of the 2020 Bubble restart. But no game between L.A. teams has been more important playoffs-wise than this one. 

With only three games left in the season, the teams find themselves locked into a tie for 6th place in the West. And the difference between 6th and 7th is huge, with the former getting to bypass the Play-In scenario and go straight to the playoffs. 

The Lakers come into this meeting playing some of their best ball of the season, winning four straight and seven of their last eight. But they are also on tired legs, having played into overtime last night in Salt Lake City, the final leg of a four-game road trip.

LeBron James has ramped up of late, with his last two outings being a triple-double and 37-point night. Similar trajectory for Anthony Davis, the reigning conference Player of the Week, who’s averaging 34.4 points, 12.3 rebounds and 61.0% FG during the Lakers’ streak. But both players — and D’Angelo Russell — are question marks to play on this second part of a back-to-back. 

Hello Brodie 
Adding to the storylines of the night is Russell Westbrook, who will be facing his former team for the first time since the Lakers traded him two months ago. 

A sixth man for the Lakers, Westbrook has started all of his games for the Clippers, including in a larger role over the last six games in which Paul George has been out with a sprained knee. 

Westbrook’s passing has blossomed with this added opportunity, notching double-digit assists in each of his last four games. Meanwhile, his scoring has ranged from simmering to scorching, putting up 12, 36, 4, and 24 points in these four matchups. 

While Russ will get plenty of attention from his old teammates, it’s obviously paramount for the Lakers to key in on corralling Kawhi Leonard, who dropped 40 points in the Clippers’ last game four days ago. While LAC lost that matchup to New Orleans, they enter tonight with fresh legs compared to the Lakers, who played well into the night yesterday. 

Saucetin’ Reaves 
One of the joys of the Lakers’ season has been the saucy play of Austin Reaves, who has taken his game to another level over the past month. 

It can be easy to forget that Reaves is still just a sophomore with the way that his game has opened up this season. He has scored double-digits in 15 straight games (averaging 18.8 points in that stretch) — the longest such streak of any Laker other than LeBron and AD since 2019. 

With great body control, underrated ball handling, and a knack for drawing contact, Reaves has been a foul magnet over his last eight games, attempting 8.0 free throws a night and hitting 90.6% of them. But his play outside the whistles has been arguably more impressive. 

Reaves has been a legitimate three-level threat for the Lakers this season. Of the nine players who have taken at least 100 3s for the team, Austin is shooting a team-best 39.1% from deep. He’s also at 44.2% from mid-range (an area that has sneakily been key for the Lakers).

But the crown jewel of Reaves’ resume has been his play at the cup. With a blend of craft, control, and strength, Reaves has been arguably the game’s best finisher this year. He’s shot 72.4% on layups this season — No. 1 in the entire league.