The Los Angeles Lakers have the best record in the Western Conference — that is an undeniable fact. What remains to be seen, though, is whether or not they’re the best team in the Western Conference, and that’s because they haven’t beaten the LA Clippers this season.
Five games separate the No. 3 seed Clippers from the No. 1 seed Lakers, but the Lakers are 0-2 against the Clippers this season. The Clippers haven’t exactly asserted their dominance in either one of their matchups with the Lakers, but they’ve managed to pull away in the final minutes of the fourth quarter both times.
The two teams will see each other two more times before the postseason starts, but one NBA executive told Eric Pinus of Bleacher Report that he’s seen enough to feel confident in picking the Clippers over the Lakers in a seven-game series:
“There’s no way the Lakers beat the Clippers in a seven-game series,” an Eastern Conference executive said.
A large part of the reason this executive said they feel this way is how much the Lakers rely on Rajon Rondo for shot-creation:
“There’s a reason Rondo dominated the Suns: They weren’t guarding him,” the former general manager said. “Teams want him to shoot.”
But the Lakers don’t have anyone else who can consistently handle the ball under duress, outside James. Avery Bradley is probably ill-suited if Clippers guard Patrick Beverley picks him up with full-court pressure. At least Rondo has some of the skills needed to get the Lakers into their offense—more so than Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bradley.
”He overdribbles,” said a Western Conference executive. “The team needs another guard who can handle but who can also play off of LeBron as a shooter. That’s not Rondo.”
The irony is that the Lakers probably would have won their opening matchup against the Clippers if they had Rondo available. Rondo missed that game because of a sore left calf. It’s also worth noting that Alex Caruso didn’t see playing time that night, so the Lakers really didn’t have any ball-handlers outside of LeBron James and, to a lesser extent, Quinn Cook.
That being said, it’s fair to say the Lakers will create problems for themselves if they play Rondo extended minutes in the postseason, especially against a team like the Clippers, who strengthened their already impressive guard rotation by signing Reggie Jackson on Tuesday.
They haven’t done it yet, but the Lakers have enough talent on their roster to beat the Clippers. However, in order to do that, they need to make changes to their roster, both internally and — if possible — externally. We’ll see what tricks Frank Vogel has up his sleeve when the Lakers and Clippers go head-to-head for third time on March 8.