Lakers and Clippers off to a rocky start

Both teams entered the season with finals aspirations, but have started slow.

Analysis by Edward Segal, Staff Writer

Lakers and Clippers should both be Western Conference playoff favorites, but are off to rocky starts. (Graphic by Vickie Guzman/The Valley Star)

The Los Angeles Lakers (5-3) and Los Angeles Clippers (2-4), two of the NBA’s title favorites, have had a dysfunctional start to the 2021-2022 season.

Over the last few years, the challenge for the Lakers has been beating teams projected to make the playoffs. Last year, the Lakers’ record against teams who made the playoffs (without the play-in) was 10-20. This year, they seem to have the same problem.

The Lakers’ dysfunction is caused in part by Anthony Davis playing at the power forward position next to a center who can’t shoot. The former first overall pick’s refusal to start at center has been an area of concern for the Lakers since he came to the team, resulting in him taking outside shots rather than attacking the rim.

DeAndre Jordan, the Lakers new center, has been inconsistent at best. In his first eight games, the former Brooklyn Nets big man has averaged 5.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 14.3 minutes.

However, the Lakers’ biggest struggle has to do with the player the team traded for to make its “big three.”

In his first year in his hometown since his days at UCLA, point guard Russell Westbrook’s play has been ugly to say the least. The former Washington Wizards ball handler has shot the ball on impulse and has missed most of his shots. With his 4.9 turnovers per game and shooting 58.1% at the free throw line, all he has accomplished is putting the Lakers on pace for their third failed super team in the last 20 years. In a loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Westbrook secured a quadruple-double, with 20 points, 13 assists and 14 rebounds, but turned the ball over 10 times.

Westbrook and the Lakers need time to gel, as they only have three players who played on last season’s team. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel says that everything will work out with Westbrook and that he needs time to build chemistry with his new teammates. Vogel believes former most valuable player Lebron James will find a way to bring the team together and win the championship.

“All these other stars that [James] has played with, he adapted his game,” said Vogel on Lakers’ media day. “He’s done whatever is necessary to win and put himself in position for the ultimate goal.”

After losing to Oklahoma City in what was for the Thunder a 26-point comeback win, the Lakers pulled off a three-game win streak upon LeBron’s return, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Houston Rockets twice.

As for the narrative that they are old, the Lakers shrugged it off.

“I don’t think we would be here, regardless of age, if we didn’t believe in our ability and what we can do,” said Davis on media day.

The Clippers have struggles of their own to deal with.

The Clippers are dealing with many injuries, including their team captain, forward Kawhi Leonard, who will miss most of the season with a torn ACL sustained last postseason. In addition, forwards Serge Ibaka and Marcus Morris have missed games as well, resulting in a lack of depth in the frontcourt.

Various players have stepped up in each game for the Clippers. Shooting guard Luke Kennard’s 23-point performance off the bench against the Portland Trail Blazers got the team its first win of the season. Small forward Paul George, their de facto leader, grabbed eight steals on the defensive end.

In their fourth game of the season against Cleveland, no one stepped up. The Clippers had no offensive production, shooting 9-41 from three, with George missing all eight of his attempts.

Figuring out the best lineup to close games is something the Clippers are known to have had problems with, and without Leonard, it became a greater challenge. Their biggest struggle has been finding offense in the fourth quarter, averaging just 23.8 points in the final frame through their first four games.

Other than George, the Clippers have no one they can rely on to step up on a daily basis. Various role players such as Morris, Kennard, and guard Terance Mann are expected to have their share of outstanding performances, but until Leonard returns, George will have to carry the team independently.

“We all [have] got to do better,” said power forward Nicolas Batum on Clippers’ media day, “but I am pretty confident in [ George] leading.”

The Clippers are looking like a play-in team at best without Leonard in the deep western conference. They will need consistent production from their role players if they want to make the playoffs directly.

“When you’re missing a guy like Kawhi [Leonard], you got to be really good at executing,” said Clippers Head Coach Tyronn Lue on media day. “That’s what we got to work on this season.”

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