What a weird, strange trip it’s been Lakers’ fans.
We have officially made it to the final game of the 2017-18 season and the Los Angeles Lakers are set to square off against the very same team they opened up their season with, their LA brethren, the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers like the Lakers, will enter the game barely resembling the team they began the season as. This is exemplified no further than simply taking a glance back at who the starting lineups the teams trotted out on game one were:
For the Lakers: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Luol Deng, Larry Nance Jr, and Brook Lopez.
For the Clippers: Milos Teodosic, Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan.
Obviously a lot has changed on both fronts as the two Los Angeles teams have undergone mid-season transformations in the forms of: big trades (okay the Clippers admittedly a little more drastic) injures galore, bountiful G-Leauge call-ups, and a reliance on rookie contributions.
Despite the obstacles the two teams have had to ordeal throughout the season, they both have competed extremely hard up to game 82 and I feel they should be acknowledged and appreciated for it by both fan bases. There were many instances the squads could have easily spiraled but they have both consistently fought on, and ultimately provided quality basketball through what is expected to be a transition period for the two franchises.
In terms of this matchup, both Los Angeles teams will officially miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2004-05 season according to basketball-reference. Head coach Luke Walton also has shared it is “very likely” we have seen the last of the trio consisting of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma, as the team will play it “safe” as the season draws to a close according to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk.
For more on the Los Angeles Clippers, I and the rest of Silver Screen and Roll were very lucky to have editor and contributor to Clips Nation, Robert Flom, give us some insights on the team across the hall:
“This Clippers team ran out of energy down the stretch. They are completely injury-ridden, losing three presumed starters as well as a key bench piece for the remainder of the season. The Clippers just didn’t have enough in the tank to beat any of the teams competing against them for the playoffs.”
It is easy to forget how much the Clippers have truly gone through this season. As Robert pointed out, the group simply “ran out of energy” in a fashion very similar to the Lakers. Eventually the combination of injuries and relying on rookies/G-Leauge players catches up to most teams, and it unfortunately did for both squads. Despite this, and the Blake Griffin blockbuster back in January, the team still were only a mere few wins away from clawing their way to that final eight-seed but simply fell short.
The new look Clippers are headlined by talented young wing Tobias Harris, 6th-man extrodinare Lou Williams, and Clipper mainstay DeAndre Jordan. The team has also recieved and unearthed solid contributions from unlikely sources throughout the season including the likes of: Tyrone Wallace, CJ. Williams, Sindarius Thornwell, and Jawuan Evans.
The team simply has not been able to maintain the perfection necessary for playing so many new, and young players, over an extended amount of time. Robert explained the area the team has dipped the most recently because of this:
The Clippers’ defense has fallen off a cliff in the second half of the season. This is mostly due to a combination of the factors above: injuries and fatigue. In addition, the Clippers have had to rely on rookies and two-way players (also rookies) all season, and the G-League players in particular didn’t have any time to practice with the team to get adjusted to scheme and system. The result has been a dropoff from a respectable defensive rating of 106 before the All-Star break to a putrid 111.2 after it.
According to Cleaningtheglass.com, the Clippers 106 defensive rating prior to the all-star break would have slotted in the current top-ten defenses of the league, but as Robert explains, the team has understandably struggled to maintain their intensity. For a Lakers’ squad who will be missing nearly all over their primary creators in this one, playing a struggling defensive team can help pick up the offensive slack on the scoreboard.
Now one match-up that may be safe to say will be seen, and I am personally looking forward to, is that of Julius Randle vs. Montrezl Harrell. The two forwards are very much alike in terms of the energy and pure ferocity they play the game of basketball. This is evident when you watch Harrell play, and Robert had nothing but glowing remarks about the 24-year-old out of Louisville:
Montrezl Harrell is a beast. Over the course of this season, he’s revealed himself as one of the best bench players in the entire NBA—a dynamo of whirling hook shots, thunderous dunks, and contagious energy. He’s leapt from a nice 9.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in 15.4 minutes before the All Star break to a staggering 14.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game in 19.4 minutes after it. He’s scoring the ball at that rate while shooting 68.2 percent from the floor and getting to the line nearly four times a game. Simply, he’s been virtually unstoppable.
The level of efficiency and production Harrell has given the Clippers in such a small amount of minutes per game is mind-boggling. Among bigs, Harrell is in the 98th percentile in points per shot attempt, 95th percentile in effective field-goal percentage, and in the 87th percentile in drawing shooting fouls. To conclude, Harrell is one of the best bench players in the NBA, and one of the more underrated players in the league.
The game will ultimately not “mean” anything in terms of standings or seeding, but it will be a chance to showcase some of the under appreciated talent that both teams have relied on all season long.
What this game does, or has the ability to prove, is that sometimes those players often thought of as marginal, or too young, can prove to be valuable cogs to creating a positive culture through their undeniable enthusiasm and love for finally playing the game they always wished they could.
Time: 7:30 p.m. PT
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Special thanks to Clips Nation’s very own Robert Flom for helping us out in understanding the Clippers a little better. Also, be sure to check out his end of season awards piece over on the site (which includes a few Lakers!)
Also on a personal note, just wanted to thank the entire Silver Screen and Roll site for allowing me to write this entirely too long game-previews, and for every one of you are willing to read them or anything I write for the site. It means more than you know. Thanks for a great season of Lakers’ basketball.