Prior to the suspension of the NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers were starting to show that they were legitimate title contenders. On March 6, they beat Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Then, two days later, they were finally able to beat Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers at full strength.
Both wins were worth celebrating, but the Clippers game in particular was a nice morale boost for the Lakers. In their two previous meetings with the Clippers, the Lakers came up just short despite the fact that their two superstar players, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, were healthy. When the Clippers beat the Lakers on opening night, they were missing Paul George.
Up until this month, it seemed like the Clippers just had the Lakers’ number, and while that may have been true before, Avery Bradley believes the Lakers’ most recent matchup with the Clippers is a better reflection of the team they are (via “Inside the Green Room” with Danny Green):
“In the first two meetings I felt like we didn’t play to our potential. In the last game, I felt like we were just a much better team. We knew we were better than what we played the two previous games. We knew we had room for improvement, and we made that room.
“We still have much more room for improvement, but we just came out with the mindset to be tougher. The tougher team, the team that was going to be able to execute, the team that was going to be able to fight through the adversity and be able to respond throughout the entire game. I feel like we did a great job doing that, and our leaders at the end of the game, they led us.
“The way LeBron and AD were playing in the fourth quarter, that’s the way you always want your superstars to be able to finish a game, and it was just amazing man. It’s amazing to be able to see LeBron play at this level.”
That last part is going to be most interesting thing to watch leading up to a potential NBA Finals matchup between the Lakers and Clippers: Is a 35-year-old James still the best player in the league when he’s playing to his potential? — and if so, will he elevate Davis to a level we’ve never seen before in the playoffs? Answering that question right now would be a little premature, but the combined 58 points and 15 rebounds they put up against the Clippers was impressive stuff.
The other “X-Factor” for the Lakers — not just in a playoff series with the Clippers — will be how much the role players around James and Davis contribute. Bradley himself was the difference-maker against the Clippers, but can he or anyone else on the team give the Lakers consistent production on both ends of the floor? Let’s hope so.
The Lakers have one more game against the Clippers on their regular season schedule. If a shortened or cancelled regular season prevents them from playing that game, the expectation is that they’ll meet at least four more times further down the road, potentially in the Western Conference Finals.
By then, we should know the answers to both of those questions.