For the Lakers, one of the difficult aspects of the NBA’s shutdown because of the coronavirus in March was that the team really had hit its stride. Yes, there was the 2-point loss to the Nets on March 10 at Staples Center in what has, so far, been the final game of the season, but before that, the Lakers had been on a run that stretched back to before the All-Star break in which they won 11 of 12 games.
The last two wins: Milwaukee on March 6 and the Clippers on March 8. If any two teams stand between the Lakers and a championship—assuming the NBA gets back into action and finishes the year in the coming weeks—it is the Bucks and the Lakers’ cross-town rivals, the Clippers.
When teammates Jared Dudley and Kyle Kuzma talked about the best moment of the season, it was little surprise that Kuzma picked that 1-2 punch of games.
In an Instagram Live chat, Kuzma said, ��Favorite moment this year, I think beating Milwaukee and then beating the Clippers. That was the highlight of the year. It was fun, superfun. Kinda marking our territory.”
“So much hype,” Dudley chimed in. “Clippers beat us twice, we gave them the game on Christmas, we were up double-digits. Just coming off the Milwaukee win, at the Clippers. … I just thought, our physicality, I am with the Clippers on that one also.”
Clippers Carried Swagger After Beating Lakers
Indeed, the Clippers had made much of having beaten the Lakers twice in the first two matchups of the teams this season. In the season opener, the Clippers dominated the Lakers in the fourth quarter to win by 10 points. On Christmas, the Clippers trailed by 12 at halftime before coming back to secure the win.
Back at the All-Star break, Clippers guard Patrick Beverley told me that the two wins gave his team supremacy over the Lakers—even if the purple-and-gold were the No. 1 seed in the West.
“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.”
LeBron James Was at His Best
The win over the Bucks was just as impressive. In the first meeting between the teams, Milwaukee built up a 19-point lead and held off the Lakers on their own home floor. But in March, the Lakers got 67 points from the 1-2 punch of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, pulling away for the win in the third quarter.
In both games, James was the dominant feature, combining for 65 points in the wins.
“His best weekend in a Lakers uniform I’m assuming,” coach Frank Vogel told reporters at the time. “I wasn’t here last year but, in my mind, this was the best two-game stretch. Really just dominated both games and helped close them out.”
The Lakers may have marked their territory with those wins, but whether that can carry into a post-COVID-19 NBA, whenever it gets underway, will one of the biggest features of a rebooted postseason.