And now the Clippers might win it all. Prior to the their trade for Marcus Morris, of the New York Bricks ( I mean Knicks), the Clippers were favored to win the West despite the fact that currently the Lakers are in first in the conference. But the Clippers made the trade of the day yesterday, and scooped up Morris, his grit, and his 20 points and 5 rebounds per game. The Lakers, who also wanted Morris, are again left on the corner, with their thumb out for a ride to the title.
Of course, there is still a chance the Lakers might win the West and advance but it just got more difficult because they made no moves. They will go forward with Anthony Davis and LeBron James and a bit shaky Kyle Kuzma, who despite great promise upon entering the league, has not been as productive since Davis came to town. Here is a look at some numbers as they relate to the challenges they face.
The Lakers average 114 points per game and surrender about 107. Their differential is a respectable 6–7 points per game. But the Clippers, before Morris are right there. They score 115 points and surrender 109 points. Both teams are strong at the Staples Center and good on the road as well (Lakers are really good) but the Clippers have handled the Lakers so far in their meetings. The teams have played twice and the Clippers won both games. Kawhi Leonard got it done both games with stellar performances and proved as he did last year, he is the best two way player in the game right now. He scores, rebounds, defends, assists, and wills his team to a victory.
But the real albatross for the Lakers now is the depth of the Clippers. They have six players, not counting Morris who average right now at least 5 rebounds. They have five players who average in double figures, not counting Morris. The Lakers, in contrast, have three players who average double figures, and three who have double figure rebounds.
Additionally, the Lakers core log far more minutes than the Clippers core players. James and Davis both play about 36 minutes per night while Leonard and Paul George play less minutes per games.
One possible wild card for the Lakers is Kyle Kuzma, a player they seem dedicated to keeping for the future, likely when James is gone and retired. While Kuzma has struggled, he has recently played better and appears to be finding his way at last. He has to become a big time player into the season and playoffs if the Lakers expect to advance very far. It also helps that the Lakers have the one player on either team who could simply dominate any series and any other superstar and that is Anthony Davis.
James has been wise to get the ball to Davis a lot this year and Davis has responded. Davis is currently averaging 26 points per game, 9 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks, dominance by a big man similar to what Tim Duncan used to do in San Antonio. Lakers also have a defensive mindset under defensive guru head coach, Frank Vogel, and this will have to carry them, however far they make it.
But the Clippers, as noted above, have depth, and while the Lakers seem be developing their third guy, the Clippers are much deeper. Paul George scores 20 points per game. Lou Williams is at 19 per game. Montrez Harrell scores 19 per game. And Landry Shamet is at 10 per game. Lakers’ only chance is for the emergence of a fourth player somewhere but it does not seem as if that person is on their roster. Is it Danny Green, one of the most competent two way players in the league? How about Dwight Howard, rejuvenated after back surgery, even though he is mainly a back-up? There are possibilities but if the teams were close before this trade, Morris might have slid the Clippers ahead a bit more. But as one famous coach once said — it is why we play the games.
The battle for L.A. nevertheless is on.