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Paul George leads Clippers to rout over depleted Lakers

The Lakers' Andre Drummond can't grab a rebound while being double-teamed by the Clippers' Paul George and Ivica Zubac.
Lakers center Andre Drummond (2) can’t grab a defensive rebound while being double-teamed by Clippers guard Paul George (13) and center Ivica Zubac (40) in the first half at Staples Center on Thursday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

They have shared the same city since 1984 and same arena since 1999, but the degree to which the Lakers and Clippers have circled one another reached a new level in the summer of 2019.

With their Playa Vista practice facility undergoing renovations, the Clippers hosted workouts at an El Segundo high school less than a half mile from the Lakers’ facility. Inside their temporary office space about a mile further south, Clippers executives took cover during an earthquake late on the night of July 5 — then shook the rivalry themselves a few hours later by trading for Paul George and landing Kawhi Leonard, the free agent both teams had wooed and waited on during the previous days.

Their orbits could draw closer than ever in just two weeks, should the looming possibility of the first postseason series between Staples Center’s co-tenants become reality. And yet not since both franchises assembled star-studded rosters two years ago has one of their regular-season meetings been marked by such a gulf between them as Thursday’s 118-94 Clippers victory.

Paul George scored 24 points, and the Clippers outscored the Lakers by 26 points in his 31 minutes.

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Kyle Kuzma scored a game-high 25 for the Lakers.

“I thought our intensity was great from [the] jump,” George said. “We was in attack mode. We got to the paint, made extra plays and I thought defensively we was just locked in on the game plan.”

Ominous signs flashed from well before tipoff. Without LeBron James — whose right ankle will cause him to miss Friday’s game against Portland, as well, in a matchup loaded with seeding significance if the Lakers hope to steer clear of the play-in tournament — and Dennis Schroder and Talen Horton-Tucker, the Lakers played without three of their primary ballhandlers.

Coach Frank Vogel could only laugh before tipoff when asked who would play emergency point guard behind Alex Caruso.

“Great question,” Vogel said. “We’ve talked about that all day.”

Lakers forward Anthony Davis didn’t return to Thursday’s game against the Clippers because of back spasms, the team said.

When Anthony Davis stepped backward just nine minutes in and knocked his right ankle on the scorer’s table, they were suddenly down the All-Star big man, too, who was later ruled out because of back spasms. Davis had been so sorely needed for offense because of attrition that he’d taken nine of his team’s first 20 shots, even as Clippers defenders, unafraid of the shooters surrounding him, collapsed around Davis, allowing him only four shots inside the paint. He finished with four points.

Davis said his ankle felt fine but that his back had “locked up pretty bad.”

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“Should be good to go tomorrow based on how it’s feeling now,” he said.

As the current Lakers skidded, a pair of their former teammates whose partnership was never realized in purple-and-gold last season because of injury broke open a 23-point Clippers advantage by halftime — simultaneously their largest halftime lead this season and the most the Lakers have trailed by after two quarters in two years.

Spotted already a 13-point lead by the time he checked in off the Clippers’ bench, DeMarcus Cousins scored 11 points in his first eight minutes paired alongside Rajon Rondo, the point guard who helped guide the Lakers to last season’s championship. In one stretch Cousins drilled a three-pointer, stole a pass from Marc Gasol at the top of the three-point arc and, despite speed diminished in part by a knee injury suffered in August 2019 that ended his lone season with the Lakers (37-29) before it ever started, raced in for a transition dunk.

Clippers' Kawhi Leonard passes off in-between Lakers' Andre Drummond, Kyle Kuzma and Anthony Davis.
Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) passes off in-between Lakers center Andre Drummond (2), forward Kyle Kuzma (0) and forward Anthony Davis (3) in the first half at Staples Center on Thursday.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

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Just in case the role reversal from last season wasn’t apparent enough, Cousins backed down Montrezl Harrell, the center who walked to the Lakers in November after the Clippers (45-22) chose not to re-sign him, before lofting a turnaround basket over his left shoulder. Cousins finished with 11 points and Rondo 11, as well, with five assists.

Meanwhile the Lakers’ own buyout-market big man, Andre Drummond, couldn’t contain his first-half frustration, drawing a technical foul in the final minute of the second quarter. As the third quarter ended with the Clippers ahead by 21 and having put more points on the scoreboard than the Lakers allowed all game Monday to Denver, Drummond kneaded a towel between his fingers, staring ahead.

Most striking about the rout was its ease on a night when the Clippers were hardly perfect thanks to season-high 22 turnovers, while still tinkering with lineups. Coach Tyronn Lue didn’t insert rotation mainstay Terance Mann until the final minutes of the fourth quarter, using Luke Kennard in his spot to space out the Lakers’ defense.

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“We come down and dribbling too much and trying to be fancy and cute,” Lue said. “There’s just no time in the game for that. … When you have good teams you can get bored and depending on who you’re playing but we’re playing for something bigger than that and we have to work on our habits. We’ve got to get our rhythm. We’ve got to get our flow.”

Yet in their rivals, who “still have that championship DNA,” as Lue cautioned before tipoff, the Clippers found the motivation and solution for what George had recently called a tendency to open games with listless energy. Their 12 first-half turnovers stemmed as much from aggression as carelessness, with six coming from offensive fouls. They’d made 10 of their 19 shots after one quarter, 22 of their 35 (62.9%) by halftime and never let up in the second half, their lead never dipping below 17.

At a Clippers home game such as Thursday’s, owner Steve Ballmer is typically the most animated spectator. But when George kept his shooting arm posed a beat longer than usual after making a second-quarter three-pointer, his teammates spilled out of their sideline seats.

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UP NEXT

LAKERS

AT PORTLAND

When: 7 p.m. PDT, Friday.

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On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, ESPN; Radio: 710, 1330.

Update: The season series, and playoff tiebreaker, will be up for grabs at Moda Center, which is welcoming back fans at 10% capacity (1,900) for the first time this season. The Trail Blazers have won five of their last six games, all on the road. Portland guard Norman Powell is questionable.

—Dan Loumena


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