Last year, every single matchup between the Lakers and Clippers was not only appointment television and a potential Western Conference Finals preview, but seemingly also a referendum on both teams’ collective souls.
This season, the matchup hasn’t quite had the same luster. For one thing, it’s no longer the most relevant barometer for the championship hopes of two teams that had never won with their current cores. The Lakers winning the title last year while the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead in the second round gave the defending champs a level of benefit of the doubt over their cross-hall rivals that no regular season result can quite cancel out. That would be the case even if the Lakers weren’t about as banged up as humanly possible.
The thing is, though... The Lakers are about as banged up as humanly possible. This is not the star-studded showdown of All-Star duos we got for the better part of four games last season. LeBron James (high ankle sprain) and Anthony Davis (Achilles and calf strains) are both out for Sunday’s showdown between the two teams in Los Angeles. And as if that weren’t bad enough, new starting center Andre Drummond may miss this game with what the team is calling a right big toe contusion that is actually the result of Drummond having his full toenail ripped off in his debut, while veteran shooting guard Wesley Matthews could be out with a neck strain that he re-aggravated on Friday. Both of the latter two players are listed as questionable.
The Clippers aren’t much healthier. Both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are expected to play, but George has been limited by a much more serious toe injury of his own, and has been open about how hard it is to move at times with the bone edema that may not go away this season. Patrick Beverley (right knee soreness) and Serge Ibaka (lower back tightness) are both out, while new trade acquisition — and familiar face — Rajon Rondo is listed as questionable with right adductor soreness. Before the injury report came out on Saturday, head coach Ty Lue said that Rondo was on-track to make his debut for the Clippers against the Lakers team he helped win a title last year, but his status at least appears to be somewhat in doubt.
If Rondo is playing, this game will still be a must-watch despite all the injury absences, because whatever revenge-fueled, petty shenanigans he’ll almost inevitably get into with Dennis Schröder will be high comedy. Will he drop a triple-double powered by pettiness alone? Get ejected two minutes in for attempting to start a fight? Who the hell knows, but either way, it will be entertaining to see Rondo’s unique brand of gamesmanship join the other side of this rivalry after the Lakers moved on from him last summer in an attempt to upgrade and get younger at his position.
Drummond suiting up for the Lakers would also be a reason to watch, not just to see how he fits against a thin Clippers frontline and how the Lakers continue to integrate him, but also to see what his return would do to Marc Gasol’s minutes during a week that could determine if Gasol wants to remain with the Lakers for the rest of the season.
If one or neither of those guys can go, however, then you’re looking at an extremely overmatched Lakers team going against a Clippers team that still has both its stars. Even if one of them is hobbled, that’s likely not a recipe for a competitive basketball game.
But given that the Lakers and Clippers will tip off at 12:30 p.m. PT at Staples Center on Sunday, who knows what could happen, because these early start times are always a wild card for both of these teams. And at the very least, Montrezl Harrell going for throats against the organization that happily let him walk should be solid entertainment in one way or another. You can watch him and whoever else plays in this one nationally on ABC, and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.
Notes and Updates
- Rondo spoke with Rachel Nichols of ESPN about joining the Clippers and returning to play his old team, and it was a fun conversation:
1-on-1 with Rajon Rondo, who plans to make his Clippers debut tomorrow...in a game against the Lakers. We discuss switching from one side of the LA rivalry to the other, plus how Kawhi has already surprised him: pic.twitter.com/9Kbyumhi5P— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) April 3, 2021
- And speaking of the player the Lakers tried to replace Rondo with: Please don’t go in Dennis Schröder’s Instagram comments and demand he sign an extension. He’s made it clear he doesn’t like it.
- The new Space Jam trailer dropped, and it looks great.
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope continuing to bust out his slump could help against the Clippers. He explained how support from Frank Vogel and his teammates helped him get out of his recent funk.