Lakers top Clippers: LeBron James, Anthony Davis get better of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George
LOS ANGELES — The Lakers and Clippers brought meaning to the regular season by offering an NBA playoff preview.
The Lakers finished with a 112-103 win over the Clippers in a nationally-televised game Sunday at Staples Center, which offered more of a complete picture than when the Clippers won the first two regular-season matchups. The Clippers won on opening night without Paul George, but the Lakers were just figuring out the LeBron James-Anthony Davis dynamic, new role players and a new coaching staff. The full-strength Clippers won again on Christmas Day, but James nursed soreness in his left groin during that game.
On Sunday, the Lakers and Clippers showed what a presumed playoff series would look like in two months. Both teams stressed not to feed into such story lines.
Said Clippers coach Doc Rivers: "If we win this game or lose this game and we played them in the playoffs, this games means nothing in some ways."
Said Lakers coach Frank Vogel: "When the playoffs start, all of these regular-season games won’t matter."
LBJ, AD lift LAL [email protected] (28 PTS, 7 REB, 9 AST) & @AntDavis23 (30 PTS) help the @Lakers top LAC at Staples Center! #LakeShowpic.twitter.com/MPJRj6KN6O
Nonetheless, there were three key developments that determined Sunday’s outcome. Those keys should factor in significantly should both L.A. teams meet in the postseason.
Star duos thrive through suffocating defenses
Both teams threw varying defenders at the stars hoping to slow them down. It only worked some of the time.
No one seemed to have an answer for George, who had 31 points while going 9-of-16 from the field, 3-of-7 from 3-point range and 10-of-11 from the free-throw line. But then Davis drew a key offensive foul on George as the Lakers nursed a 97-87 lead with 6:40 remaining. Davis defended Kawhi Leonard well by forcing him to the perimeter (2-of-9 from deep). But when Leonard matched up on James, the Clippers star often drove past him on pick-and-roll plays. Leonard finished with 27 points on 9-of-18 shooting.
LeBron James on how well he is playing at age 35 pic.twitter.com/yqIwHXs3vO
The Clippers played physical against James and Davis by throwing multiple defenders at them, including their stars (Leonard, Paul) and role players (Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris, JaMychal Green). It mostly did not work. James finished with 28 points and nine assists, while consistently driving to the basket and drawing fouls (12-of-14 from the line). Despite missing his first two shots, Davis had 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting and eight rebounds. But James went scoreless in the third quarter, and Davis collected his fourth foul with 31.5 seconds left in the third.
Bradley emerged as Lakers’ third option
During NBA All-Star weekend in Chicago, Lakers luminary Magic Johnson gave the Clippers the edge over the Lakers. One of the reasons? The Lakers have not had a definitive third option behind James and Davis. Avery Bradley stepped into that role with a season-high 24 points while shooting 9-of-17 from the field and 6-of-12 from 3-point range. He also brought his normally dependable defense. Though the Lakers’ stars had plenty of their moments, Bradley’s production came in handy because the Lakers’ 3-point shooting struggled.
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The Clippers had stockpiled their roster with late-season additions in Jackson and Marcus Morris, and plan to add Joakim Noah soon. Though the Lakers responded to that arms race with signing Markieff Morris and Dion Waiters, sometimes the best upgrades come from within.
Lakers had home-court advantage
L.A. will always be a Lakers town. So it was hardly surprising more fans wore purple and gold instead of red and blue at Sunday’s game. Unlike opening night, the Clippers drew cheers during lineup introductions instead of boos. Leonard sparked "M-V-P" chants when he went to the free-throw line instead of jeers. Still, the vibe was incredibly pro-Lakers.
Fans cheered when the Lakers made highlight plays. They booed when the Lakers collected fouls. They groaned when the Clippers made a key play. Should the Lakers and Clippers meet in the playoffs as expected, the Lakers will have home-court advantage regardless of seeding.
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