The Battle of Los Angeles gets its third installment Sunday afternoon as the Lakers and Clippers square off in the Staples Center. The previous two meetings have both gone in favor of the Clippers with wins on the opening day of the season and Christmas day. It’s important to note however, that with nearly three months since their last match up, both these squads are playing markedly different basketball than they were in December, let alone October.
The Lakers will be looking to build on their win Friday night in Los Angeles over the Eastern Conference leading Bucks, while the Clippers look to do the same after comfortably beating James Harden and the Rockets in Houston on Thursday.
This game has all the ingredients to be close right down to the wire. Oddsmakers appear to hold that opinion as well by setting the Clippers as a small 2.5-point favorite. Can the Lakers breakthrough or will the Clippers make it a perfect 3-for-3 on the season?
It’s no secret that the Lakers have struggled at times this season from beyond the arc. This deficiency was a factor in their previous match-ups with the Clippers, especially on Christmas when the Lakers shot a dismal 12 for 45 from deep. Not only a poor shooting percentage, but also poor shot selection have been the culprits in almost all the Lakers losses this season. This poor shooting almost bit them again on Friday against the Bucks until LeBron James decided to completely take over the game in the second half. James showed why he is still the best player in the world, even at age 35.
While James’ stat line on Friday night was impressive as he put up 37 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals, the real brilliance of LeBron’s game didn’t show up on the stat sheet. After Anthony Davis got in early foul trouble trying to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo, James could clearly see what needed to be done. The Lakers opened the 2nd half with James guarding Antetokounmpo, then proceeded to go on an 18-0 run and never looked back.
In what could likely be a Western Conference Finals preview, James’ renewed enthusiasm on the defensive end will be necessary to slow down Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The offense will need to take advantage of their size and length by leaning on Anthony Davis to be a force in the paint. Veterans Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee will also factor in heavily by playing physical defense, protecting the rim and winning the battle of the boards for the purple and gold.
In mid-February the Clippers were slumping a bit and as a result went 1-4 over a five-game stretch including two bad losses to Sacramento and Minnesota. They have managed to bounce back by winning six straight since, but the question remains, which Clippers team will show up on Sunday?
Besides the obvious Leonard and George, the Clippers greatest asset is their depth. They currently have six players averaging double digit points per game. Regardless of who’s doing the scoring though, this game may well be decided by the Clippers defense and how they choose to try to slow down Anthony Davis. Neither Montrezl Harrell nor Ivicia Zubac can handle Davis one-on-one. Look for the Clippers to sag in the paint and bring aggressive help from the backside when Davis has the ball, but don’t be surprised if it’s still not enough to contain A.D.
Betting Line & Pick
Sportsbooks have posted the Clippers at -2.5 with a total of 225.5. By setting the Clippers as a favorite, the oddsmakers are presenting a very unique set of circumstances. Not only is this one of the very few times throughout the season that the Lakers are getting points, but they’re getting those points while still playing in their home arena.
While technically a Clippers home game, the Lakers won’t be hampered by the typical rigors of traveling for a road game. Look for LeBron and A.D. to pick where they left off Friday, especially on the defensive end. Take the 2.5-points as a nice cushion in the event of a close game and ride the Lakers to another W.
Pick: Lakers +2.5
*Odds provided by VegasInsider