Top Stories

5 takeaways from Clippers' season-opening win vs. Lakers

Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers' depth spark a win, the Lakers' shooting woes continue and more.

Game Recap: Clippers 103, Lakers 97

LOS ANGELES — Five takeaways from the LA Clippers’ 103-97 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers at Arena on Thursday.

1. Kawhi Leonard is back on the floor

After missing the 2021-22 season with an ACL injury, Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers’ medical staff determined he should start 2022-23 … as a reserve.

“We have players on our team that can fill that role in the starting lineup,” Leonard said. “It’s just about me trying to get consistent minutes, recovery, and staying healthy in the long run.”

Kawhi Leonard plays in his 1st game since 2021, scoring 14 points off the bench to give the Clippers a win in their season-opener vs. the Lakers.

Leonard finished with 14 points (6-for-12 overall, 1-for-4 on 3-pointers) and seven rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench. Clippers coach Tyronn Lue described Leonard’s play as “good,” but also noted that Leonard “got tired in stretches.”

After entering the game with 6:25 left in the second quarter, Leonard showed flashes of his old self in the post on consecutive possessions. But the Clippers held only a 56-54 halftime lead after the Lakers went on an 18-4 run once Leonard entered the game.

The Clippers were better in Leonard’s other stints, opening the third quarter with an 18-9 run when Leonard played until he sat for the final 5:01. When Leonard closed out the final 8:01 of the fourth quarter, the Clippers outscored the Lakers 14-10.

The Clippers had Leonard play with the reserves in two scrimmages last week and he calculated this would ensure he could play crunch-time minutes. But that required him waiting 1 1/2 quarters before entering the game.

“It was long, but I waited 82 games last year,” Leonard said. “I don’t think 15 minutes would be that long.”

It is unclear how long the Clippers will use Leonard as a reserve on restricted minutes. The Clippers have their first back-to-back set this weekend that starts in Sacramento on Saturday and ends at home vs. Phoenix.

2. The Clippers are looking deep

Leonard’s bench role already has affected the Clippers in other ways. And it could prompt his teammates to accept fluctuating roles, too. Thursday night, 11 players got minutes against the Lakers, and that might become the norm.

Charles Barkley believes the Clippers are just stacked with talent and will be a top team in the Western Conference.

“We have 11-12 guys that deserve to play,” Lue said. “It’s a good situation. It’s a tough situation as well. My guys understand it’s not personal.”

The starting point guard remains fluid, as Lue started Reggie Jackson over John Wall on Thursday. Jackson has more familiarity with the Clippers’ offense, while Wall is getting his first game action in nearly four seasons after dealing with a myriad of injuries.

Jackson had eight points and four assists in 23 minutes. Wall had 15 points and three assists in 25 minutes.

“When you start to get into the flow and get into the rhythm, you’re like ‘don’t take me out.’ But it’s a bigger picture for us,” Wall said. “That’s something I have to maintain and look at from the past history of me trying to play 40 minutes every game and practicing for three hours.”

Beyond the point guard spot, the Clippers have depth in the frontcourt (Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris, Nicolas Batum), on the wings (Paul George, Robert Covington, Terance Mann) and boast dependable shooters (Norman Powell, Luke Kennard).

“It’s created by culture,” Lue said. “Our guys understand I’m going to do whatever it takes to win the game.”

3. Westbrook starts again

Lakers coach Darvin Ham said he had a “brief discussion” with Russell Westbrook after Westbrook said Tuesday that his bench role in the preseason finale “absolutely” contributed to his hamstring injury.

“The Lakers, myself and my staff in no way shape or form will ever put anybody — a player or employee — in harm’s way physically, mentally or spiritually,” Ham said. “We don’t stand for that. We’re not about that. That’s not who we are.”

Westbrook started once again on Thursday, finishing with two points (0-for-11 shooting). He described his play as “solid” after also collecting five steals, including forcing two turnovers while defending Leonard in the post in crunch time.

Ham said he and Westbrook “moved on” following their discussion. Westbrook says his communication with Ham “has been good.”

Nonetheless, this topic could be an issue throughout the season. Although Ham wants a definitive starting lineup, he plans to keep his options open to account for player performances and injuries. Westbrook started 78 games last season under coach Frank Vogel.

“My staff and I are going to do what’s best for our team to be as successful as we can,” Ham said. “You have to be prepared to do whatever your team needs to do. However we choose to use him, there has to be a willingness there to sacrifice for your teammates for the good of the team.”

4. LeBron downplays Lakers’ 3-point woes

Following the team’s season-opening loss to Golden State, LeBron James said “we’re not a team that’s constructed of great shooting.” After Thursday’s loss, James said he wasn’t calling on the front office to make roster changes.

Charles, Shaq and Kenny discuss why the Lakers are in trouble and what needs to be done to right the ship.

“Our ball club is our ball club. I’m definitely not going to sit here and harp on what we can’t do every single game,” James said. “That’s not being a leader. What I know we can do is defend.”

The Lakers forced 21 turnovers and collected 12 steals against the Clippers. They are encouraged by those numbers, more so than they are concerned about their 3-point shooting (9-for-45 Thursday).

“I love the way we’re playing basketball right now,” James said. “We’re sharing the ball offensively. We’re moving bodies. We’ll begin to knock down shots.”

They haven’t yet. After going 10-for-40 from deep against Golden State, Westbrook (0-11 FGs, 0-6 3-pt FG), Patrick Beverley (1-7 FG, 1-6 3-pt FG) and Kendrick Nunn (0-7 FG, 0-4 3-pt FG) all shot poorly Thursday against the Clippers.

“We’ve all had bad shooting nights,” James said. “I’ve had bad shooting nights. Every person in this league had bad shooting nights. Who cares. [Westbrook] played a great game. Defensively, he was in tune and locked in. He just didn’t make any shots.

5. Davis takes a spill

Anthony Davis took a hard fall after contesting a Leonard shot with 9:18 left in the third quarter, but was on his feet within moments, and walked without assistance.

He finished with 25 points while shooting well from the field (9-for-16), from beyond the arc (2-for-4) and at the free-throw line (5-for-7).

“We’ll see how it is,” Davis said afterwards. “But I’m pretty sure it’ll be all right.”

* * *

Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.