On its face, the Lakers taking on the Clippers for the fourth and final time during the regular season on the first night the NBA resumes its 2019-20 campaign seems like a HUGE matchup. These are two title-contending, star-laden heavyweights from the same city, playing their final (non-playoff) game against each other to see if either the Lakers can tie the season series, or if the Clippers can win it 3-1.
Then you look at the circumstances this game will be played under. This is the first real NBA basketball either of these teams have played in four months (no, the scrimmages don’t count). Plus, the Clippers will be missing two key contributors in Montrezl Harrell (outside of the bubble) and Lou Williams (really likes strip club wings). Patrick Beverley (self-isolating) is also listed as questionable, although he was at the team’s shootaround and seems like at least a possibility to play.
While the Lakers don’t have quite that level of absences, their own injury report does list a few dings as well, maladies they’ll surely be careful with as they continue the process of slowly and cautiously ramping back up to full strength.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (right rib contusion), LeBron James (sore right groin) and Kyle Kuzma (right ankle sprain) are all PROBABLE to play tomorrow against the Clippers.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) July 29, 2020
The team is listing Anthony Davis (sore right eye) as questionable (he said today he plans to play).
As mentioned in that tweet, Davis said at practice on Wednesday that he’s planning to play today as long as doctors give him the all clear, although he may wear goggles as a precaution. Given that all the other guys are probable, expect them to play too, just also prepare for the Lakers to not quite go 100% in this one, because they have bigger goals than this game.
There is also the matter that both teams will likely continue to hold a few things back in this matchup, with both Frank Vogel and Doc Rivers trying to save a few wild cards for a potential playoff series that seems all-but-guaranteed to happen down the line. If either of them doesn’t make an obvious adjustment during the game or does some fairly vanilla stuff, expect that there is likely a reason for that.
Now, with all that mentioned, would it be nice for the Lakers to win this game, even if solely for perception alone? Absolutely, because if they lose to this version of the Clippers, not only will the noise about their chances in a playoff series against the fully healthy iteration be insufferable, but one would also have to think it would be fairly cathartic to rally back and tie up the season series after going down 0-2 to start the year. The Lakers just have bigger goals than that, even if they see this game as a good test.
“Three months ago before we finished? I feel like we were definitely at elite status at that time. In conditioning, in camaraderie and the way we played together. I really don’t know right now just because we haven’t played any real games, so I feel like that answer will be answered on Thursday to see what we need to clean up,” Lakers center JaVale McGee said on his Tuesday Zoom call. “It’s a good comparison for sure.”
The Clippers apparently agree.
Paul George on Clippers-Lakers: “Two teams that are ready for this matchup. ... I think you put us two together and we’re gonna create that intensity on our own.”— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) July 30, 2020
Paul George on Clippers-Lakers being the opener: “I think it’s a great way to kick off the restart.”— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) July 30, 2020
Still, McGee acknowledged that the Lakers were only at around 80% right now by his estimation, and would continue having to work hard to get back to where they were when the season shut down. That process began a few weeks ago, but we get our first official progress report on it tonight, even if this game probably won’t ultimately be much more than that. Because no matter how this one goes, the real question of which of these teams is superior won’t be answered until the Western Conference Finals.
Notes and Updates
- For a more succinct preview of tonight’s affair, we go to our special contributor and former Lakers president of basketball operations, Magic Johnson:
I’m so happy that the NBA is back today!! I get to watch my favorite team, the @Lakers, and my favorite player LeBron James with superstar Anthony Davis take on the Clippers duo Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. pic.twitter.com/o31XJ13ALK— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) July 30, 2020
Never forget that he literally quit his job so he could (have his tweet person) send tweets like that. What a legend.
- I gave some of my thoughts on how the Lakers match up with the Clippers overall in this Q and A with 213Hoops, and that story is also a good read just to see the kinds of things Clippers fans are (and aren’t) concerned about.
- LeBron James broke down his process for getting back into playoff shape, something that will be incredibly important to watch his progress on over these eight regular season games.
- If you want to get even more ready and excited for tonight, check out our three favorite plays from the scrimmage round, why what we’ve seen so far is enough to make our own Christian Rivas question if the Lakers have a role for Rajon Rondo when he returns, as well as the five burning questions we have about this restart.
The Lakers will take on the Clippers at 6:00 p.m. PT tonight. The game will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet, and nationally on TNT. We’ve said this a few times, but now it’s official: Basketball is (almost) back. It took months, but in a few hours we’ll have made it, everyone. Get excited.