After back-to-back, come-from-behind wins over the weekend, the Lakers (22-25) are back in action against the Clippers (25-24) on Tuesday night. The game tips at 7:00 p.m. on TNT and 710 ESPN Radio.
Below are three things to know ahead of the matchup:
The Lakers acquired Rui Hachimura in a trade with the Washington Wizards on Monday, exchanging Kendrick Nunn and three second rounds picks for the former #9 overall pick in the 2019 draft.
In discussing the signing, Vice President of Basketball Operations Rob Pelinka noted that Hachimura's "two-way skills and upside" will offer "size and depth" to the Lakers wing rotation. Whether that is as a starter or a reserve is for Coach Ham to determine, but Hachimura has experience in both roles, coming off the bench in all 30 of his appearances this season after being a starter for 118 of his previous 147 games to begin his career.
Hachimura's game is a throwback of sorts, offering three-level scoring but with a particularly strong mid-range game where he's making 51.2% of his shots this season. He's also shown a penchant for creating shots for himself, averaging 1.17 points per play in isolation while shooting 72.7% on shots in the restricted area with nearly half (47%) of those shots unassisted.
Hachimura is ruled out for tonight's game with the Clippers, but could make his Lakers' debut as early as Wednesday vs. the Spurs.
LEBRON, RUSS, AND DENNIS
The Lakers are 6-4 in their last 10 games, a stretch in which neither Lonnie Walker IV nor Anthony Davis has played at all and where Austin Reaves has missed nine games. A big reason for the team's success over this stretch is the minutes in which LeBron, Dennis Schröder, and Russell Westbrook have played together.
This trio has logged 105 minutes together over that stretch of games and those lineups have been absolutely dominant, posting an offensive rating of 128.2, a defensive rating of 100.4, and are a +62 in the box score. The Lakers play at a blazing pace during these minutes (104.1), but don't turn the ball over nearly at all (21 total) while also dishing out nearly three times as many assists (60) on their possessions.
Defensively, lineups with those three are forcing turnovers (28) and are limiting offenses to 43.4% shooting from the field -- including 26.4% from behind the arc. These lineups are also hanging tough on the defensive glass, posting a 72.4% defensive rebounding percentage -- a number that is better than the 70.2% rate the team as a whole is posting during this same stretch.
MATCHUP WITH THE CLIPPERS
In the last matchup between these teams (11/9), both sides dominated a quarter in the 1st half only to have the Clippers seize control in the 3rd quarter and cruise to a 13-point win. The win was the Clippers' 9th straight over the Lakers and dropped them to 2-9 on the season -- a hole they've been fighting to dig themselves out of ever since.
Any matchup with the Clippers begins with who they have available and, more specifically, whether their star perimeter duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will play. Both are available tonight, making the Lakers defensive challenges significant.
Leonard has been playing particularly well of late, finding his stride after injury and inconsistent availability (seemingly) impacted his rhythm. That has not been the case in January however, as he's played in eight of Clippers' 11 games while averaging 26.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.6 assists on 52/50/94 shooting splits in those contests.
Any team with Leonard as its focal point will play with a methodical approach offensively and the Clippers are no different. They play at the 6th slowest pace in the league, while the Lakers play at the 2nd fastest. The LeBron-led Lakers can play at either end of the speed spectrum and have good results, but if they can successfully speed the Clippers up and turn the game into track meet by getting defensive stops and hunting transition opportunities, the game can turn in the Lakers' favor.
Outside shooting will also play an important factor in determining the winner. The Clippers shoot 37.5% from behind the arc as a team (6th in the NBA) on the season, while limiting their opponents to 35.0% from distance. In the two earlier season matchups the Lakers combined to shoot 19-77 from behind the arc, including a 9-45 effort in the first game of the season. Bucking these trends can give the Lakers a real boost on both sides of the ball.