The Los Angeles Lakers keep on rolling.
Following a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, the Lakers picked up another statement win on Monday, this time by defeating the LA Clippers by a final score of 112-103.
It's the first time the Lakers have beaten the Clippers this season, as they lost to their in-arena rival on both opening night and Christmas Day.
Here are some quick thoughts from the game...
1. These teams are ridiculous defensively
And they both excel in different ways.
As I wrote following their win over the Houston Rockets, what makes the Clippers so terrifying is they have four wings in Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Marcus Morris who can legitimately guard four positions. It allowed them to switch across the board against the Rockets because they could each hold their own against James Harden and Russell Westbrook - although Morris did have more trouble staying in front of Harden than Beverley, Leonard and George did.
Anthony Davis makes it more difficult for them to switch as liberally against the Lakers - more on him soon - but they can still switch Beverley, Leonard, George and Morris onto James without any one of them being at a complete loss. There might not be another team in the league who can put four players on the court at the same time who welcome the challenge of guarding the four-time MVP like they do.
It's a big reason why I and many others were so high on the Clippers getting Morris at the trade deadline, even though his shot selection at times is ... questionable
As for the Lakers, they're just so long. They start games with Davis and JaVale McGee in the frontcourt, two 7-footers with massive wingspans who can protect the rim. Pair them with James, Avery Bradley and Danny Green in the backcourt, and passing lanes come and go in the blink of an eye. The three of them provide some switchability as well, with James, Bradley and Green each having the size, speed and length to guard multiple positions.
On the season, the Lakers and Clippers rank third and fifth, respectively, in defensive efficiency. That seems low for both of them.
2. Guards shouldn't challenge LeBron James at the rim
I get it. He's 35 years old. He's in his 17th season. He's not quite as athletic as he once was.
And yet, James has been doing this for long enough now for players like Reggie Jackson to know better than to try and score against him in transition:
LeBron was ready to block him on either side 😳 pic.twitter.com/yAVmpnpp2E- ESPN (@espn) March 8, 2020
They should know better, anyway. Maybe they'll never learn at this point.
3. Paul George is still capable of being the best player on the floor
He looked like the best player on the court for a large portion of this game, particularly in the first half.
Through two quarters of play, George led all scorers with 19 points, doing so on 7-for-11 shooting from the field. It was encouraging to see him attack the basket strong - three of his seven made field goals in the first half came at the rim, where very few of his shot attempts have come from this season.
George finished with 31 points to lead the Clippers. It's only the eighth time this season that he's scored 30 or more points in a game.
George didn't play in the first meeting between the Clippers and Lakers this season and scored 17 points on 5-for-18 shooting from the field in the second. If he can stay healthy and provide a more consistent scoring punch down the final stretch of this season and in the playoffs, he has the potential to take this Clippers team to an even higher level because he can take the pressure off of Leonard as a creator and play alongside him as a shooter.
George's shooting ability can also take attention away from Leonard. Just watch what happens on this possession:
🏃🏾♂️ @kawhileonard 💨- LA Clippers (@LAClippers) March 8, 2020
📺 ABC | #ClipperNation pic.twitter.com/PLnxIG7ydN
McGee and Davis are so focused on Ivica Zubac and Morris setting a screen for George that they lose sight of the ball. The result? Nobody is in position to stop Leonard when he blows by James.
That's the sort of impact George can make when he's firing on all cylinders.
4. Avery Bradley was a difference-maker
Not only did he score 24 points - making him the team's third-leading scorer - Bradley was the only player on the Lakers who was able to get it going from the perimeter.
He made six of his 12 3-point attempts, whereas everyone else on the Lakers shot 4-for-23. Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma and Markieff Morris struggled the most, combining to shoot 0-for-9 from distance.
Every team in the league is better when their support cast is making 3s, but it matters more to the Lakers than most because of the amount of attention James and Davis draw when they have the ball in their hands. When they're not making shots, it makes it much easier for teams to load up on their All-Stars.
The best passer in the world gets it to the hottest hand on the court 🔥🔥🔥- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) March 8, 2020
(📺: ABC ) pic.twitter.com/WKQlEc3HVO
On Monday, Bradley was the one who helped keep the defence honest. The Lakers are going to get that type of performance from him every game, but all they need is for one of their role players to make some shots to make them look unstoppable.
5. The Clippers still don't have an answer for Anthony Davis
30 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block.
The Clippers had a hard time guarding Davis, to say the least.
The seven-time All-Star was at his best in the third quarter, which is when the Lakers started to take control of the game. He then had a couple of timely baskets in the fourth quarter, the first coming with just over six minutes to go to put the Lakers ahead by 12 points.
AD is getting hot in the fourth! 🔥- USA TODAY NBA (@usatodaynba) March 8, 2020
A few minutes later, Davis threw down a big reverse dunk set up by James to extend their lead.
Point. Guard. LeBron.- ESPN (@espn) March 8, 2020
AD does the rest 😤 pic.twitter.com/9z25CVW3RM
The scary sign for the Clippers is that Davis continues to get better against them. He struggled on opening night, finishing with 25 points on 8-for-21 shooting from the field. He scored one fewer point on Christmas Day, but was a much more efficient 8-for-17 from the field.
In this game, Davis shot 11-for-19, making for his best game yet against the Clippers.
Maybe he's figured them out.
6. LeBron James does it again
I firmly believe that Giannis Antetokounmpo should be the MVP this season, but James sure is making things interesting down the stretch.
After getting the better of Antetokounmpo on Saturday, James got the better of another MVP candidate in Leonard on Monday. He was having a quiet game through three quarters - by his standards, at least - but he dominated down the stretch by scoring 12 points, grabbing three rebounds and dishing out three assists in the fourth quarter.
LeBron. Dagger.- ESPN (@espn) March 8, 2020
MVP chants for the King 👑 pic.twitter.com/aYy3zNA4V7
He was also making the hustle plays, trying to draw charges and diving on the floor for loose balls.
Just another incredible all-around performance from James.
7. What's next?
The Clippers and Lakers don't face each other again until April 9.
With it being one of the last games of the regular season for both sides, there's a good chance the Clippers and Lakers will take a more cautious approach to that one, either by sitting certain players out and limiting their minutes to avoid anyone suffering an injury so close to the playoffs.
In other words, this was likely the last time we'll see the Clippers and Lakers play each other at full strength before the playoffs.
Now let's just hope these two teams do meet in the playoffs. Because if there's one thing we've learned from their regular-season meetings so far, it's that it would be a whole lot of fun.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.