L.A.’s basketball teams appear headed in different directions as the final stretch of the NBA regular season takes shape. The Clippers have six games remaining and are as healthy as they’ve been in weeks. Although unlikely to catch Utah or Phoenix for either of the Western Conference’s top two seeds, they’re battling Denver for the No. 3 seed, coming into Wednesday’s action tied with identical 44-22 records. It would take a pretty extreme collapse for the Clippers not to enjoy homecourt advantage for the beginning of their first-round playoff series.
Meanwhile, the Clips’ Staples Center roommates have lost six of eight, although they do come off an important upset win over the Nuggets at home on Monday night without LeBron James as they attempt to stay out of the West’ play-in round.
Lakers at Clippers picks and predictions don’t require worrying about any homecourt edge but hinge on whether you believe the Lakers are catching too many points without James and point guard Dennis Schroder after a spirited effort without them against Denver in a 93-89 win as a 4.5-point underdog.
Los Angeles Clippers Vs. Los Angeles Lakers
- Time/Venue: 10:10 p.m. ET, Staples Center
- TV: TNT
Clippers End Three-Game Skid and Seek Positive Momentum
The Clips opened May with a loss to the Nuggets at Staples, matching their longest losing streak of the season on the heels of road losses at Phoenix and New Orleans. They were in jeopardy of losing a fourth contest in a row on Tuesday but persevered down the stretch of a game that featured 13 ties and 21 lead changes, defeating Toronto 105-100.
The Raptors were even after three quarters and took the lead on a Fred VanVleet three-point play 2:47 left but they were outscored 8-1 the rest of the way as L.A. got big 3-pointers from Paul George and Reggie Jackson to survive as an 11.5-point favorite. Kawhi Leonard played his second straight game after sitting out five due to right foot soreness, and although he took just six shots and finished with only 13 points, his presence out there is invaluable at both ends of the floor.
George has settled into the role of primary go-to guy while Leonard has been responsible with his various ailments over the past few months and finished with team-highs of 22 points and nine rebounds against Toronto. It was an important bounce-back effort since he was the primary culprit in the loss to Denver, shooting 5-for-21 from the field and uncharacteristically missing four of 11 free-throws. Considering he’s been so sharp throughout most of the season in dispelling the mocking “Playoff P” moniker he earned after struggling in the bubble last postseason, it was disconcerting to see him struggle now that May has rolled around. He came up big when it mattered most in putting L.A. ahead for good against the Raptors.
Pesky defender Patrick Beverley is also back in the mix for the Clips, returning from a fractured hand/wrist on Tuesday night and playing with a minutes restriction of 15 minutes. He was productive and made two of three 3-pointers, adding a steal and three assists. With Rajon Rondo also on board, Jackson thriving and Nicolas Batum playing his customary glue guy role, head coach Tyronn Lue has plenty of options in the supporting cast surrounding Leonard, George and Marcus Morris, Sr.
Centers Ivica Zubac and DeMarcus Cousins will hold things down in the post until Serge Ibaka returns from a back injury that has sidelined him since May 14, so the Clippers are hopeful they’ll have their normal rotation entering the final few games of the regular season in order to build up chemistry. Following this matchup with the Lakers, they’ll have a few days off and may get Ibaka back for a Sunday duel with the Knicks that doubles as their final home game of the season. The Clippers close with a stretch of four road games in six nights, which will likely mean a few guys will sit out at least one leg of the final remaining back-to-back on May 13-14. L.A. is set to visit the Raptors in Tampa, Charlotte, Houston and Oklahoma City, which means it should safely finish top-four in the West if it handles business.
Lakers Out to Navigate Getting Healthy with Finishing Top-Six
The Lakers have been adamant that LeBron James didn’t suffer a setback after returning from an ankle sprain that forced him to miss 20 games, but the 36-year-old 17-year veteran is back on the shelf after participating in upset losses to Sacramento and Toronto in which L.A. closed as a double-digit favorite. James won’t play in Friday’s crucial matchup against the Trail Blazers, who are just a half-game behind them and Dallas in the race to stay out of the play-in round.
James averaged 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists while playing fewer minutes than he customarily does and clearly didn’t like the way he was responding following Sunday’s loss the Raptors. He’s going to take a “cautious” approach after visiting an ankle specialist and experiencing soreness, telling reporters he wants to get practice time in before returning for good. That may keep him out another full week before the final two games of the season, a road back-to-back at Indiana and New Orleans.
Although the Lakers got Anthony Davis back seven games ago, he was considered questionable to play through a calf injury before being upgraded to “probable.” We’ll see if he’s able to play in a second straight back-to-back when L.A. takes the floor against Portland on Friday, but Davis has ramped up his production, topping 22 points in three of his last four outings and finishing with 25 in the win over Denver. It’s obviously vital that he stays healthy with the playoffs around the corner but the Purple and Gold need him to serve as the driving force through the stretch run with James and Schroder out.
Schroder was scratched from Sunday’s game against Toronto due to health and safety protocols, which means he’s out 10-to-14 days. The earliest he can return is for that aforementioned season-ending back-to-back against the Pacers and Pelicans. Lakers at Clippers picks and predictions will hinge on how effective Davis can be working with a new face in center Andre Drummond in protecting the paint and handling business on the boards. Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should round out L.A.’s starting five barring any late scratches.
It’s looking increasingly likely that the Lakers will have to tread water without James and Schroder for games against the Clippers, Trail Blazers, Suns, Knicks and Rockets. Only that final one against Houston appears to be an easy game, which makes it very possible that the defending champs slide all the way down to the No. 7 seed, which puts them in position where they would have to beat the No. 8 seed to secure their place in the Western Conference playoffs or risk elimination against whoever comes out of the 9-10 matchup if they fail to hold serve at home. While it’s certainly an alarmist take that we could see a playoff round without the Lakers, just the fact that it could be possibility is a wild turn of events.
Sports Betting Line Analysis
These teams played on April 6 with James and Davis missing and the Clippers at full strength with the exception of Beverley and Ibaka and the line closed out 11 with a total of 210.5. The Clips rolled 104-86. The L.A.-based rivals met to open the regular season and the Clips won 116-109 as a 2-point underdog. That total closed at 219.5.
BetRivers lists the Clippers as an 8-point favorite and set the total at 210.5. FanDuel and DraftKings opened with the Clippers laying 7.5 points but that quickly shifted to 8. Westgate and William Hill have held steady at that number although we have seen the total fluctuate, opening at 212.5 at Westgate. William Hill moved it from 211 to 210.
The Lakers have seen three of the last four contests close ‘under’ the posted total, while the Clippers have closed on the low side in nine of 10, essentially printing money as Lue has preached defense. The Clips have held four of their last eight foes to 105 or fewer points.
Injuries/Rotational Adjustments To Watch
With Ibaka out, Zubac and Cousins will hold down the paint, so there’s nothing new. Beverley will probably be allowed to play more than 15 minutes but probably won’t see more than 20 with Jackson and Rondo in the mix. The Clippers do have reserve Amir Coffey in COVID protocols but he was unlikely to see much time with L.A.’s depth restored.
The Lakers won’t have James or Schroder, so expect to see Caruso play extended minutes at the point. Talented second-year wing Talen Horton-Tucker is listed as questionable due to a calf issue, so L.A. may have to get creative with who brings the ball up the floor when Caruso sits if he’s unable to play. Caldwell-Pope and Wes Matthews will see wing minutes alongside Kuzma looking to make life difficult on Leonard and George.
Lakers At Clippers Handicapping Notes And Pick
It would’ve been great to see both of these teams at full strength with the playoffs around the corner but instead, we’ll see how Davis fares handling go-to chores at both ends of the floor. It’s not a role that’s alien to him, and if George or Leonard struggle from the field, this is a game the Lakers can actually steal as the “road” team. The best bet is to ride the low side, since both teams have opted for a deliberate pace of late.