EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Lakers vs. Clippers matchup on Christmas Day is being billed by many (including yours truly) as maybe the biggest game of the year for the purple and gold, and while head coach Frank Vogel agrees, it’s not for the reason that one might think.
“It’s the next game in front of us, which makes it the most important game of the year, which is how we’ve approached every game all season,” Vogel said after the Lakers lost their third game in a row on Sunday night. “That’s really it.”
Vogel wasn’t alone in that mindset, or even the most understated about making sure the Lakers are taking things one game at a time. The hordes of media at practice at Monday hoping for some spicy Lakers/Clippers “rivalry” storylines heading into Christmas were likely sorely disappointed, with Kyle Kuzma for the most part unwilling to even come close to acknowledging that this game meant anything more than any of the other 81 games the Lakers will play this year.
And his lack of bulletin wasn’t for lack of trying to get him to say something about the game meaning a little more, either.
How much can this game tell you about where this team is at?
“Nothing, because it’s December,” Kuzma said.
How much do you look into the extra attention around this game?
”Not at all. We play every game the same,” Kuzma replied.
Kuzma admitted that he hasn’t always had such a living-in-the-moment way of looking at the schedule, recalling how back in college at Utah, playing one game a week would leave him “hating” a rivalry school like BYU by the time tip-off rolled around. He claims the NBA’s 82-game schedule makes that type of in-season rivalry impossible for the players, no matter how juicy those storylines might be for those of us on the outside.
“In the league it’s a little bit different. We may play the Spurs on a Tuesday and then play the Clippers. We’re not thinking about playing the Clippers until Wednesday. That’s just kind of how the NBA season goes,” Kuzma said.
Beyond the unusual circumstances of the game being played on one of the biggest days of the year, Frank Vogel says nothing is different about this game than any of the others his team has played and will play before the postseason.
“You know, it happens to be the Clippers. It’s Christmas day, I hope everybody has a great holiday, and spends time with their families, but you know it’s just about the next opponent in front of us. We’ve got to get a win,” Vogel said.
Making that more difficult will be the Clippers being closer to full health than they were in the opener, as the team has gotten Paul George back to pair with Kawhi Leonard. And if there was any way Kuzma might have let it slip that this one means anything more to him, it might have been the brevity-bordering-on-annoyance of his response when asked how different George’s return would make this game than the season-opener, the probably incidental suggestion by omission being that the Lakers are not also a different team than they were on opening night.
“I mean, we’re gonna have me and (Rajon Rondo), so it’s gonna be different, yeah,” Kuzma said.
Now it’s on the Lakers to go out and prove it, whether they’re actually extra motivated to or not.
Notes and Updates
- UPDATE: Frank Vogel said before the game that both Anthony Davis and LeBron James will play against the Clippers after previously being listed as questionable, and that James, Davis, Avery Bradley, JaVale McGee and Danny Green will start. The Clippers also have everyone available.
- For his part, Kuzma said at practice on Monday that he hasn’t felt as healthy as he does right now all season.
“This is the best I’ve felt physically and mentally. I think for the most part this year I’ve been playing at 70%,” Kuzma said. “I think the time off really allowed me to get all the way healthy.”
If Kuzma is finally past the part of the season that’s been so marred by injury to this point, that’s indeed some great news for the Lakers.
- Speaking of Kuzma, I really enjoyed Marc Spears of ESPN’s excellent, empathetically told story about Kuzma’s family getting to spend their first Christmas all together in years today. Whether you work today or not, I hope everyone reading this gets some time to cherish with their family and friends over the course of this week.
- As we get closer to wrapping up another decade of Lakers basketball, our own Ali Behpoornia rounded up the top 10 best Lakers dunks of the decade. The video is worth a watch:
- Along a similar vein, our Alex Regla also broke down three New Year’s resolutions the Lakers should make as 2020 approaches.
The Lakers take on the Clippers at 5:00 p.m. PST, and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN and ABC. Whatever you celebrate, have a happy holidays from Silver Screen and Roll.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.