Lakers-Clippers roundtable: Where they stand before their showdown

Lakers guard Malik Monk scores against the Clippers.
Lakers guard Malik Monk scores against the Clippers during the teams’ first meeting, on Dec. 3, this season.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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With the Lakers and the Clippers set to renew their hallway rivalry on Thursday, NBA reporters from the Los Angeles Times — Andrew Greif, Broderick Turner and Dan Woike — discuss which team is in better position to make a playoff run as the the Feb. 10 trade deadline approaches and a week later the All-Star break arrives.

AG: Viewed purely through the lens of making the postseason, the difference in the Lakers’ and Clippers’ strength of their remaining schedules is negligible as Tankathon lists the Lakers as holding the third-mostdifficult, the Clippers having the fourth. But if we’re talking about the playoff race as well as who has the more promising future beyond the next 2½ months, I’d side with the Clippers. There’s a debate to be had about whether the Lakers’ or Clippers’ superstar duo has the longer realistic window to win a championship, but from a 30,000-foot view, from the the front office to the 15th man, the Clippers are almost always speaking in the same voice, one that sounds a lot like coach Tyronn Lue. Can we say that about the Lakers, especially after the turmoil that has bubbled up the past month?

DW: Maybe I’ve developed some Stockholm Syndrome around the Lakers, but if we view success in the playoffs as championship or bust, I’d still ride with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. The bet, and it’s not a good one, would be that the individual greatness matters more in the playoffs than it does during this disjointed regular season. If the Lakers are healthy — and this is a huge if with a team of this age — they at least have the star power to conceivably win. The Clippers, if Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are on the court, would be in a better spot. But as of today, I think it’s more likely the Lakers have their guys.


BT: When looking at the Western Conference standings, one can’t help but think that it’s very possible for the Lakers and Clippers to possibly meet in the play-in game to decide which team gets the eighth seed. Now that would be fun. For that to happen, the currently eighth-seeded Clippers would have to lose to the seventh-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves in the opening play-in game and the ninth-seeded Lakers would have to beat the 10th-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. Then the Lakers and Clippers would meet in the final play-in game. Sure, there is a lot of basketball left to be played and teams can change positions in the West, but it’s worth noting that it could play out that way. The Lakers still can’t figure out why things are sideways for them and the Clippers know they are a tough and gritty team.

DW: The evidence points strongly in the Clippers’ favor. He won’t get attention for coach of the year because they have not won enough games, but Ty Lue has done a lot with his team in terms of getting them to believe and to compete. They’d be a scary team to play in a one-night, winner-take-all scenario.

AG: Especially if the Clippers fall behind early by double digits.

Earlier this season, Anthony Davis was bullish on the Lakers’ prospects for a strong season. His tune has changed a bit amid the team’s struggles.

Jan. 31, 2022

I do agree with BT that the Clippers, despite a COVID-depleted and injury-ravaged roster, have shown a clearly discernible identity under Lue, no matter who filters in and out of the lineup. You have to believe that gives the front office a certain level of confidence, that if they make roster adjustments at the trade deadline — and their track record in recent seasons suggests they will absolutely make a deadline deal — that Lue can keep it going.

Here’s the thing with the trade deadline for the Clippers: It’s not so much about viewing it as how does a move help them this year, but how does this help them in 2022-23, when Leonard and George will surely be back and their championship ambitions can be taken off of pause. The Clippers have about eight months before next season starts, and every move until then is aimed at ensuring next season’s roster gives them the best chance to win. Serge Ibaka, with his expiring contract and slight role in the rotation, is the most obvious candidate to be moved. Playing a three-center rotation in the first half, then two after halftime, hasn’t seemed sustainable for quite a while.

I’ve always viewed Eric Bledsoe as a “bridge” player, too, one they traded for as a temporary, and more durable, upgrade to last season’s backcourt, but not a part of their long-term future at point guard.

As long as we’re talking trade options for the Lakers and Clippers, the Clippers have an interesting stable of younger, productive players who could become trade pieces at some point if it helped the team pursue their third star.


BT: It will be interesting to see what the Lakers do, or don’t do, between now and the trade deadline. It’s not as if they have many assets to offer teams. And the one player that keeps coming up as a potential trade chip, Talen Horton-Tucker, has seen his value decline this season because of his inconsistent play. Remember, the Lakers made their big move when they acquired Russell Westbrook from Washington last summer, and that was supposed to be a defining moment for the team. It‘s hard to imagine the Lakers pulling off anything major. Maybe along the fringes. But how much will that help this team?

DW: When I consider where both teams are today as they get ready to meet, I just know who the Clippers are more than the Lakers. The Clippers have a defined identity, a comfort in who they are and the means to overcome some of their limitations. As for the Lakers, they’re still searching. It’s an uncomfortable place for a team to be this late in the season.