Lakers begin their title defense vs Clippers
After the shortest offseason in league history, the Los Angeles Lakers will open defense of their NBA title Tuesday by hosting the Los Angeles Clippers.
“It’s been a different training camp, to say the least, but for the time we’ve had, which hasn’t been that much, I feel like we’ve put in the work and gotten better,” Lakers forward LeBron James said. “Obviously, we’re not where we want to be long-term but that’s absolutely OK because it’s a long season, it’s a long journey. But to the credit of the guys, we’ve gotten better as the days have gone on.”
Many believe the Lakers, who finished the preseason 4-0, improved during the offseason with the additions of reigning Sixth Man of the Year and former Clippers big man Montrezl Harrell, the Sixth Man runner-up in guard Dennis Schroder, veteran center Marc Gasol and guard Wesley Matthews.
Of course, the Lakers’ success depends on the play of James and Anthony Davis. James, who won his fourth NBA title Oct. 11 when the Lakers beat the Miami Heat in six games, averaged 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and a league-high 10.2 assists per game during the 2019-20 regular season.
Davis averaged a team-high 26.1 points with 9.3 boards and finished third in the league in blocks at 2.3 per game.
The Clippers, who went 0-3 in the preseason, including a pair of losses to the Lakers, are anxious to put last season’s crushing playoff debacle behind them.
By blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals, the Clippers not only prevented an anticipated showdown with the Lakers but also cost head coach Doc Rivers his job. Former assistant Tyronn Lue replaced him.
The Clippers’ fortunes again will ride with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Leonard scored a club-high 27.1 points and grabbed 7.1 rebounds per game during the regular season.
George, who averaged 21.5 and 5.7 rebounds in the regular season but experienced an inconsistent postseason, seems more motivated by last season’s disappointing finish.
“December 22 won’t be the test of defining who we are and where we’re at playing the Lakers on their opening ring ceremony,” George said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “It’ll be a great ceremony for them. But it’s the start of what we’re trying to do and that’s the only thing we got to look at is the start of the marathon and the race that we’re running for this year. So, we have enough motivation going into this season regardless if we started this season off with someone else or the Lakers.”
Forward Marcus Morris Sr., guard Patrick Beverley and center Ivica Zubac are again expected to be key contributors. So is forward Serge Ibaka, who the Clippers signed as a free agent to fill the void left by Harrell. Ibaka averaged 15.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game last season with the Toronto Raptors.
Newcomers Nicolas Batum and Luke Kennard also will be relied upon for production. Lou Williams, one of the league’s top-scoring reserves, is again expected to provide a boost. Williams averaged 18.2 points and 5.6 assists during the regular season.