The Lakers sit atop the Western Conference standings coming out of the NBA’s All-Star break at 41-12. That’s 4.0 games better than the No. 2 Nuggets and 5.0 games ahead of the Lakers’ in-city rival, the Clippers. They entered the All-Star break on a three-game winning streak, with wins in five of their last six games.
But you can toss all that aside, Clippers point guard Patrick Beverley says. It would appear that the road to the NBA Finals runs through the Lakers, but Beverley disagrees.
“No, no,” Beverley told me. “I have said, they are going to have to go through us. I think 1-through-17, coaching staff, training staff, organization, we all feel the same way. No matter what, you’ve got to come see us. That’s our attitude. That’s been our attitude since last year. And that won’t change.”
To open the season, in the wake of the additions of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard this summer, the Clippers were the favorites to win the NBA championship, starting with +300 odds, according to PointsBet.com. That hasn’t changed, but the difference is that the odds for the Lakers have improved—the website now has the Lakers (as well as the Bucks) at +260.
Lakers Still 0-2 vs. Clippers
But, as Beverley pointed out, the Lakers have yet to beat the Clippers, who beat the Lakers on Opening Night and again on Christmas. In both games, the Clippers dominated the fourth quarter, by a combined total of 52-37.
“They’re not No. 1 against us,” Beverley said. “We’re the only team that’s beat them twice. And it’s no discredit to them. They’re having a hell of a year. Gotta give them a lot of credit, they’re playing good basketball. But we feel like, no matter what team, Lakers, Houston, Portland, Denver, whatever. Those teams have got to come through us.”
The Clippers are 37-18 but headed into the All-Star break on a downswing, losing three of four games during a six-game road trip. Beverley, who has been dealing with a persistent groin problem, missed all of those games.
Beverley said he probably came back from the original groin injury too quickly. In all, he has missed 15 games this season and the Clippers have gone just 7-8 in those games.
“I need to stay my ass healthy,” Beverley said. “I have to get better at being healthy. Always have to get better, that’s my mindset. I just try to go out there and be Pat. My pain threshold is not like everyone else’s. I think I am OK but sometimes I am not. That’s part of the game.”
Injuries Have Upended Clippers’ Season
Beverley’s trouble with his groin has been symptomatic of what’s slowed the Clippers thus far this season. At 37-18, they’ve played 55 games and center Ivica Zubac (who plays only 17.8 minutes per game) is the only starter who has been in at least 50 games.
Leonard has missed 13 games this season. Beverley has missed 15. Paul George has missed 21. The Clippers are breaking in a new starter at power forward, Marcus Morris, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Knicks. Morris has played three games.
The Clippers have used 27 starting lineups thus far this season, but have only had Beverley, George and Leonard healthy in the same lineup 18 times. They’re 14-4 in those games and that trio is plus-11.4 n point differential per 100 possessions.
The Clippers’ depth is one of the things that separates them from the rest of the West this season. But injuries to the team’s top players have hurt. When it comes to beating the Lakers and winning the conference, health will be critical.
“We have to think about the big picture,” Beverley said. “Just take the time, the necessary time to rest it and not miss any more games coming up.”