The Los Angeles Lakers were in plenty of headlines during the annual break that coincided with the 2022 NBA All-Star Game, despite having only one player participating in all of the events during the weekend. Coincidentally, they were in the headlines because of that one player, as LeBron James’ camp and the Lakers butted heads through the media.
But it seems as if all of the drama with has subsided for now, just in time for the Lakers’ first game back on the court. That game will be against a familiar foe, as they will host the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night.
Here’s our preview of that game, a contest that will include the first time that the Lakers will have gone without Anthony Davis in a full game since Jan. 28 as he recovers from the mid-foot sprain he suffered in the final game prior to the break against the Jazz.
Can LeBron James and Russell Westbrook get the Lakers ready for the postseason?
This game was supposed to include plenty of excitement for Lakers fans. We were supposed to be looking forward to coming out of the break with a healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis, along with a hopefully re-focused Russell Westbrook, the latter of whom wouldn’t have to worry about his name being in so many trade rumors.
Sadly, we’re only getting two of those three things, as LeBron and Westbrook will have to lead the team without Davis for at least the next three weeks.
It’s another re-adjustment that Frank Vogel and the rest of the coaching staff will have to get the team prepared for as they try to stay afloat without AD. As DeAndre Jordan and (to a lesser extent) Dwight Howard seem unplayable, this will likely again cause the Lakers to deploy LeBron at center, although Vogel said Thursday that he won’t play “full-time” there.
This will create some challenges defensively, evidenced by the Lakers’ defensive statistics during the 17 straight games Davis missed in December and January with his knee injury. In that time, the Lakers ranked 24th in the league with a 115.1 defensive rating (they currently rank 16th with a 110.3 rating on the season as a whole).
But even though Davis was coming around offensively in the small amount of time in between his injuries, he’s shot poorly on the season as a whole. He’s been especially bad from deep, converting only 18.2% of his 1.8 3-point attempts per game. Defenses started allowing him to take those shots, hurting the team’s spacing overall.
With LeBron and Westbrook on the court and Davis off, the Lakers shoot a much better 36.6% from deep (compared to the 32% they shoot when all three players are on). The data shows that even with Westbrook on the floor with his own shooting woes, LeBron and the three other players not named Anthony Davis can find enough good looks from beyond the arc to hit them at a nice clip.
The spacing most likely also allows LeBron and Westbrook more room to work, as the two make 43.7% of their field-goals on the season when AD is on the court compared to 51.0% when he’s off.
Long story short, we’re most likely trending back to that 17-game stretch without Davis that included a better-looking offense with a MUCH worse defense.
However, a point for optimism — if there is one in a scenario where the Lakers don’t have Davis — is the fact that playing without Davis isn’t new for this team. They’ve already endured this type of tribulation, with potential for improvements on their play in that stretch given what they have learned does (and doesn’t) work.
We’ll see what those possible improvements may look like starting with those annoying Clippers, who are only 1.5 games ahead in the race for the Western Conference’s eighth seed. Suffice to say, how the Lakers come out in this one could have far-reaching implications as they look to climb up in the standings.
Notes and Updates:
- In terms of the injury report, LeBron is questionable so there’s no guarantee he plays. However, Vogel did not feel the need to talk about him when talking about the team’s current injuries, lending credence to the idea that he will likely suit up. Those injuries included right knee effusion that will keep Avery Bradley out, while Carmelo Anthony is probable to play after missing the team’s last five games before the break with a right hamstring strain.
- Anthony Davis will of course be out, while Kendrick Nunn will also be out. In terms of positive updates regarding Nunn, Vogel said he is beginning to ramp-up “again.” Emphasis on “again” as Nunn suffered a setback last time this was announced.
- Aside from their two superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George remaining out with their long-term injuries, the Clippers will have all of their other players you’d recognize, aside from Norman Powell, who only played three games with his new team before going down with a foot injury.
LA Clippers announced their injury report ahead of tomorrow's game. No real surprises. Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Norman Powell, Jason Preston and Jay Scrubb are all still OUT.— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) February 25, 2022
- The league will be restarting their season tonight following the All-Star break. There’s a 7-game slate on Thursday, followed by the Lakers-Clippers being one of a 9-game slate on Friday night.
The Lakers and Clippers will tip-off at 7 p.m. PT on Friday, with the game being televised nationally on ESPN, and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.