In their final matchup of the regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers managed to beat the Clippers 103-101 despite playing some of their sloppiest basketball of the season, and they have their superstar tandem of Anthony Davis and LeBron James to thank for that.
In 35:30, Davis scored 34 points, including 14 points in the first quarter. Davis’ shot profile in the first half was pretty one dimensional, but he got a pair of 3-pointers to fall during a key stretch of the third quarter. He ended the game shooting 8-19 from the field.
It was a less successful night for James on offense, as he scored just 16 points on a lowly 6-19 shooting from the field, including 2-7 shooting from behind the 3-point line, James did give the Lakers nice boost in the fourth quarter, though, with a few key baskets at the start of the fourth and the key basket with less than 25 seconds left on the shot clock. He also had a few nice defensive possessions in isolation against Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Even in a meaningless seeding game, that’s an encouraging sign.
However, as impressive as James was, he wasn’t the biggest surprise on the defensive end Thursday night; that honor belongs to Kyle Kuzma. In addition to the 16 points with a team-high four 3-point makes, his defensive effort on Leonard was stellar. All season, Lakers fans have been clamoring for someone that can defend one of the Clippers’ elite wings, and while it’s too soon to say that Kuzma is definitely that guy, he certainly looked the part on Thursday.
The defensive end wasn’t where the Lakers nearly lost the game, though; it was their offense. For most of the game, the Lakers couldn’t hit even their most open 3-point attempts. Their struggles from behind the arc were especially detrimental for players Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Caruso, whose offense is dependent on his ability to make open 3-point shots. Simply put, they need to be better.
Frank Vogel also didn’t do the Lakers any favors with the rotations he played, but in his defense, wonky rotations were to be expected in their first game in almost four months. Going forward, I’d like to see less lineups with Waiters and James on the floor at the same time.
Similar to Rajon Rondo, you don’t need to another ball-dominant player on the floor when James is playing, although unlike Rondo, Waiters is more of a catch-and-shoot threat. Waiters scored 11 points for the Lakers off the bench.
The Lakers will be back at it to take on the Toronto Raptors for just the second time this season on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. PT.