The Clippers could be ready to contend for a title, watching the Lakers in the rearview mirror as the 17-time champions look poised to fall in the first round or before the season’s end.
Analysis by Edward Segal, Valley Life Editor
From the Lakers winning their seventeenth championship to tie the Boston Celtics to the Clippers breaking their second-round curse, Los Angeles basketball fans have seen many successes over the last three seasons. But while the Clippers have gone further in each playoff run, the Lakers went from NBA champions to first-round exit and in 2022, became a frivolous team.
Following the Clippers’ season series sweep of their hallway rivals, the teams of Los Angeles have proven to be at opposite ends of the contending spectrum — the Clippers made trades at the deadline to solidify their depth, while the Lakers failed to find suitors for their pieces.
The Clippers needed two things to solidify their championship contention — healthy versions of forwards Paul George and Kawhi Leonard and a point guard from the buyout market, which consists of recently released players who have not yet signed with teams.
Other than Rajon Rondo in 2021, the Clippers have not had a true point guard since George and Leonard joined the team. Former Clipper Patrick Beverley locked up the opposition on the defensive end but could not be counted on to create offensively. Guard Reggie Jackson has covered his duties well, averaging 17 points and 4.7 assists this campaign, but the Clippers could use another playmaker to back him up.
After trading Eric Bledsoe and losing out on free agents, the Clippers are running out of options to find a creative offensive player. Their best option is to hope that the rebuilding Houston Rockets release John Wall or Dennis Schroder – giving the Clippers a chance to sign either veteran and fill the final gap on the roster.
The Clippers have hovered aroun .500 without their stars, going 21-21 with George and Leonard injured. Forward Marcus Morris and guards Luke Kennard and Jackson proved they could step up in the absence of their superstars and lead the team to enough wins to contend for the playoffs.
Jackson had 36 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in Thursday’s victory over the Lakers, showcasing his leader mentality and ability to step up.
“He loves the moment. He’s a big-time player,” said Clippers’ Head Coach Tyronn Lue after the sweep of the Lakers. “I get on him sometimes, we go back and forth, but at the end of the day, he’s held us together all year.”
If deadline-pickup Norman Powell returns from his broken foot, the Clippers will have enough scoring to hold the fort down heading into the playoffs.
On the other hand, the Lakers have accomplished very little to show they can compete with the best.
Focused on taking impossible threes and complaining to officials in lieu of his teammates’ own mistakes, team captain Lebron James has lost sight of the goal to bring the city another title.
Coupled with the lack of dominance usually seen from center Anthony Davis and the myriad of turnovers from point guard Russell Westbrook, the Lakers’ season has transformed into a self-made disaster.
Just before the all-star break, the Lakers had a 24-24 record and battled for seventh place as they looked to bypass the play-in portion of the playoffs. Losing 13 of their next 17 games, they could not keep their season afloat and are now on the brink of their third failed super team since the turn of the millennium.
The Front Office and management used the same formula for the other failed super team attempts: bring in superstars, win a championship and replace the youth on the team with 40-year-olds in hopes of claiming more titles. As the only team to break an average age of thirty in 2022, this strategy failed the Lakers twice before and is failing the historic franchise again.
Finding zero buyers for Westbrook’s $40 million contract at the deadline, the Lakers failed to improve their team and are stuck rotating buyout market players onto their roster.
“[I’m] trying things I’ve never tried as a coach,’’ said Lakers head coach Frank Vogel Thursday after the loss to the Clippers. "Just trying to play a different brand of basketball."
Vogel’s elusive brand of basketball may soon include bringing Westbrook off the bench.
The Lakers are five games back from eighth place and have the second-hardest schedule going forward. With a record of 19-19 against teams below .500, the chance that the Lakers will make something out of this season is slim.