The Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers meet for the first time Sunday since the season opener, when the Clippers defeated the Lakers on the night the Lakers received their championship rings.
Though much has changed since that night, both teams are still considered contenders to represent the Western Conference for this year’s NBA Finals.
The Lakers (31-18) have been dealt injuries to two of their top players in LeBron James and Anthony Davis. James has been out two weeks nursing a right, high-ankle sprain suffered on March 20 against the Atlanta Hawks. The Lakers are 3-5 without him in the lineup.
Davis has missed a total of 26 games this season, the last 21 due to a strained right calf. The two superstars remain out indefinitely.
In their absence, the Lakers have leaned on the trio of Dennis Schroder, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell, as they have averaged nearly 54 points a game during the month of March.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he spoke with shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope before his team’s win on Friday in Sacramento, asking him to look for his shot more with James and Davis out.
Caldwell-Pope responded with 13 points against the Kings on 4-of-7 shooting from the 3-point line, in addition to grabbing 10 rebounds in a 115-94 win.
“When AD (Davis) and LeBron went down — I wouldn’t say pressure — but we had to step up a little more than usual,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We needed more scorers out there. And just me not being aggressive enough, not taking enough shots, not hunting shots. But tonight, I wanted to just be aggressive.”
Sunday will be the Lakers’ last game in Los Angeles before leaving for a five-game road trip that starts in Toronto on Tuesday. After losing four in a row, the Lakers have won three of their last four games.
The Clippers (32-18) have had to figure out how to win consistently without starting point guard Patrick Beverley (right knee soreness) and big man Serge Ibaka (lower back soreness). Those two have missed a combined 31 games due to injury.
However, the Clippers have their two superstars in the lineup to lean on in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Leonard is averaging 25.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists a game, while George has contributed 22.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game. George also has been dealing with a lingering toe issue.
Along with those two, Terance Mann and Luke Kennard have stepped up to fill the void offensively, averaging 20.4 points a game off the bench during the month of March.
The Clippers are in the middle of a nine-game homestand; they are 2-2 so far at Staples Center during that stretch, having lost the last two games against the Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets.
The Clippers hope veteran point guard Rajon Rando will take the floor for the first time since joining the team in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks last week. Rajon has been working his way back from right abductor soreness. The Clippers held a practice on Saturday, giving head coach Tyronn Lue an opportunity to see how Rondo meshes with the team.
“We just need to keep playing with the consistency we’ve been playing with over the last eight to 10 games,” Lue said, when asked what he expects to see from the team for the rest of the regular season. “Once we get everybody back and start understanding what we need to do — which we understand but start doing what we need to do — and getting guys back and healthy, we’ll be fine.”
–Field Level Media