LeBron James, Slumping Lakers Fall Further Back in West with Loss vs. Clippers

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LeBron James, Slumping Lakers Fall Further Back in West with Loss vs. Clippers
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 4: Danilo Gallinari #8 of the LA Clippers shoots layup against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 4, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

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The Los Angeles Lakers’ dismal season continued Monday with a 113-105 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.

The Purple and Gold are now 3-9 in their last 12 games following their third consecutive loss and fell a head-turning six games behind the seventh-seeded Clippers and 5.5 games behind the eighth-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference race. The Clippers have won three games in a row as they look to make the playoffs and avoid the No. 8 seed and a possible matchup with the Golden State Warriors.

Six Clippers scored in double figures in a balanced effort, including Danilo Gallinari (23 points and six rebounds), Lou Williams (21 points and five assists) and Montrezl Harrell (14 points, 11 rebounds and five dimes).

Rajon Rondo (24 points, 12 assists and 10 boards) notched a triple-double for a Lakers team playing without Brandon Ingram, while LeBron James added 27 points, eight boards and six assists.

          

Loss to Clippers Final Straw in Wasted Lakers Season

Monday’s matchup may have been billed as a crucial opportunity for the Lakers to make a late charge in the playoffs against a team it was five games behind. In reality, it was just a way for the team to delay the inevitable end to a wasted season.

In the micro picture, the Spurs defeated the Denver Nuggets and the Sacramento Kings defeated the New York Knicks on Monday. That meant even the chance to make up ground on the Clippers came with a limited impact with the other contenders the Purple and Gold are chasing both winning.

From a macro picture, this Lakers squad is better off tanking the rest of the way for an improved draft than entertaining the notion it can not only sneak into the playoffs but also realistically compete when it gets there.

The failure to trade for Anthony Davis in February generated plenty of headlines and put the team’s shortcomings under an even brighter spotlight. The Lakers didn’t sign James after he made eight straight NBA Finals appearances to compete for a No. 8 seed, but even that is a long shot at this point.

Lonzo Ball hasn’t played since Jan. 19 with an ankle injury, both cutting into his individual development as a franchise building block after he played just 52 games as a rookie and taking away one of the team’s primary playmakers.

Ingram was ruled out with a shoulder injury, leaving his status in question for the stretch run after he scored at least 23 points in six straight games and carried the team alongside James for stretches. What’s more, Kyle Kuzma went to the locker room late in Monday’s loss.

Even Carmelo Anthony reportedly sees the writing on the wall, considering Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com noted he and the Lakers paused talks “wondering if it made sense to bring the veteran into an unsettled environment with suddenly no chance of making the playoffs.”

Marc Stein of the New York Times reported the “prevailing assumption in league coaching circles” is head coach Luke Walton will be fired after the season, and he isn’t going to have a chance to save his job in the playoffs with the health issues, the upcoming schedule and his team’s atrocious defense standing in the way.

Tankathon ranks the Lakers’ remaining schedule as the third-most difficult in the Western Conference, and the gauntlet of the final five games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Warriors, Clippers, Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers stands out.

Navigating that stretch with a competent defense, let alone one that is last in the league in defensive rating in the last 10 games, per NBA.com, would be challenging. That defense reared its ugly head against the Clippers, as the Lakers blew a double-digit point lead with Gallinari and Patrick Beverley drilling threes, Williams attacking off the bounce and Harrell battling down low.

Even if the Lakers do somehow sneak into the playoffs, they could be facing a matchup with the mighty Warriors. It would be nothing short of a basketball disaster to ask this defense to account for All-Star-caliber players at every position against the two-time defending champions.

Monday’s game was just a source of false hope for Lakers fans. This team isn’t going anywhere.

          

Clippers Arriving Ahead of Schedule in Western Conference

It was easy to assume the Clippers were solely looking toward the future when they traded leading scorer Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers and landed rookie guard Landry Shamet, Philadelphia’s 2020 first-round pick and an unprotected 2021 first-round pick via the Miami Heat.

After all, even Wojnarowski reported the Clippers “wanted to move themselves into contention as players in the marketplace for stars wanting to get to the Los Angeles market, and the picks could go a long way to building a significant arsenal.”

Along those lines, Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com reported in January many believe Toronto Raptors swingman Kawhi Leonard will choose between remaining in Toronto or joining the Clippers this coming offseason.

With no more Harris and the possibility of Leonard or another star coming down the line, Los Angeles could have used the rest of this season to focus on the development of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander after it selected him with the No. 11 pick in the 2018 draft.

While he scored 14 points with four assists against the Lakers and continues to see significant playing time—which only figures to help his development—as an important piece, the Clippers have far more than hope for Leonard and the Kentucky product to one day form a dynamic duo.

They are only a half-game behind the sixth-seeded Utah Jazz after their third straight win and are as close to the No. 3 seed as the No. 9 seed (3.5 games).

The balanced attack with Williams, Gallinari and Harrell each averaging between 16.2 and 19.8 points a night means opponents can’t focus in on just one player. What’s more, the veterans and youngsters have meshed well, there is a defensive intensity with Beverley on the perimeter and Harrell continues to clean up the glass on both ends.

Combine that with multiple outside shooters such as Gallinari, and Los Angeles is a dangerous team in the Western Conference in both the present and the future.

           

What’s Next?

Both teams are at home in their next game. The Lakers face the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, while the Clippers host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.

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