The Los Angeles Lakers (22-25) hosted the Los Angeles Clippers (25-24) on Tuesday. The Lakers wanted to extend their winning streak to three games. The Clippers wanted to extend their winning streak to three games, as well. But the black jerseys lit the Purple and Gold up from deep en route to a wire-to-wire victory, 133-115.
LeBron James scored 46 points on 16-for-29 shooting, including 9-for-14 from beyond the arc, with 8 rebounds and 7 assists.
Russell Westbrook scored 17 points on 4-for-13 shooting and dished five assists.
Paul George scored 27 points on 11-for-20 shooting and pulled down 9 rebounds.
Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points on 11-for-16 shooting and grabbed 9 rebounds.
Here are three observations from the Lakers’ loss.
The Clippers’ three-point shooting in the first half was the grand separator
The proverbial away team shot 15-for-22 from three in the first half. Fifteen makes is a great total for a whole game, but the Clippers accomplished that in just 24 minutes.
There was some incredible shotmaking, as there usually has to be when you hit 15 triples in a half. However, the Lakers’ transition defense was absolutely dreadful. All half, it felt like the Clippers were one or two passes away from an open three. That’s quite difficult to do against a set defense; there just isn’t enough space on the court for that.
But, you look at the court and you often see a five-on-four push for the Clippers. It then occurs to you that someone — whether it be James, Westbrook, or someone else — is either sulking on the floor after blowing a layup or slumping shoulders in disgust at a bad possession.
The Lakers don’t have to like what happened on their end of the floor. But letting that affect their urgency to get back on defense isn’t making anything better. They surely aren’t going to win the sympathy of officials doing that. That’s simply amateur behavior, and good offenses will crush them if they don’t match them step for step in transition.
Don’t get caught up in the screen
Even when the Lakers had the discipline to contain the Clippers to a half court environment on offense, they really struggled to defend screens. Some of that is fundamental communication. You have to stay true to your scheme, but you also have to talk because not every screen is going to fit your scheme. The Lakers struggled to get around screens quickly, or they telegraphed the coverage ahead of the action. The Clippers weren’t pressed to make split decisions or act under the duress of a closing window, turning their primary actions into what seemed like practice drills, giving them open threes against the Lakers’ drop coverage.
The Lakers’ roster flaws are on full display
The Lakers, mostly by the will of James, tried to shoot their way back into this game in the final 12 minutes, even cutting the deficit to just 10 points with more than half the quarter to play.
But, there’s no staging a comeback without stringing together stops on defense. And that by and large did not happen while the Lakers were shooting the ball well. Simply put, that James could amass the stat line he did, not commit any turnovers, and the team still be minus-14 with him on the court says a lot about the players on the roster not named LeBron James.
On a deeper level, the Lakers’ roster showed that it’s essentially one big over-correction after another. Patrick Beverley was on the court with James to try to help make opposing stars uncomfortable, mitigate dribble penetration, and be active in the passing lanes. Yet, his teammates throw the ball his way and, more often than not, it’s just a hollow few seconds of dribbling before James rescues him from doing something disastrous.
Thomas Bryant was on the court during the Lakers’ run, as well. The Clippers weren’t perturbed, bringing his defensive assignment into the pick-and-roll and taking advantage of him at various levels of a drop coverage. Whether it’s late contests on jumpers after playing at the level on screens or being out of position or flimsy at the rim on deep drops, the Clippers scored at will.
But, Bryant can pop out of ball screens and knock down the three or dive to the cup for thunderous dunks.
This game was a microcosm of the Lakers’ biggest problem — they have a superstar, a star-level player when he’s healthy, and 13 NBA contracts for players who cover up problems on one end of the floor at the expense of providing value on the other end.
They might beat the dreck of the league on a night-to-night basis and sneak some wins past the NBA’s better teams, but they’re not beating anyone consistently at a high level with that roster construction.
The Lakers (22-26) will host the San Antonio Spurs (14-33) on Wednesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Pacific time. You can catch the game on Spectrum SportsNet.