Up first: Clippers-Lakers. Little wonder that when the NBA restarts its coronavirus-halted 2019-20 season on July 30, the first marquee game will be between Staples Center rivals and presumed favorites to meet for the Western Conference title.
The Lakers will have a challenging final eight games to close out the year, one of the tougher slates among the 22 teams finishing up the season in Orlando starting at the end of next month. That should not be too much of a problem when it comes to playoff seeding though, because the Lakers have a 5.5-game lead over the No. 2 Clippers heading into the restart.
It would be nearly impossible for the Lakers to lose that edge. Three wins in the seeding games will clinch the top spot in the West, which will be important for the postseason’s first round. The No. 8 seed is likely to be Memphis, but there will be a play-in scenario that could allow Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, or Phoenix to earn the spot.
No matter which team lands eighth, it will be a much easier matchup than the No. 7 seed—currently Dallas, at 40-27.
Lakers Have Fourth-Toughest Schedule
Still, the Lakers have the fourth-most difficult schedule of all teams playing in the restart, with only Miami, Toronto and Denver ranked as tougher schedules. Nine of the 22 teams are under .500 but the Lakers play only one sub-.500 team.
Of their eight games, seven will be shown on national television, including the Clippers game on TNT. The schedule (all times Eastern):
July 30: vs. Clippers, 9
Aug. 1: vs. Toronto, 8:30
Aug. 3: vs. Utah, 9
Aug. 5: vs. Oklahoma City, 6:30
Aug. 6: vs. Houston, 9
Aug. 8: vs. Indiana, 6
Aug. 10: vs. Denver, 9
Aug. 13: vs. Sacramento, TBD
Lakers-Clippers Still Carries Weight
The matchup against the Clippers is the most significant, a chance for the Lakers to get themselves back on a good footing right out of the gate. The Clippers beat the Lakers on the NBA’s Opening Night in October and won again on Christmas day, both of which were ugly losses that gave the Clippers some swagger in the intracity rivalry.
But the Lakers turned the tables in March, beating the Clippers in a nationally televised Sunday afternoon game. That win was part of an 11-wins-in-12-game Lakers stretch and came just days after the Lakers also beat the East-leading Bucks, getting vengeance for an earlier loss in Milwaukee.
Last month, Lakers forwards Jared Dudley and Kyle Kuzma marked that as the highlight of the Lakers’ pre-coronavirus season.
“Favorite moment this year,” Kuzma said, “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.”
When the season gets going again, the Clippers-Lakers hype will take center stage. Considering where they were when things left off, that’s probably how it should be.