The Battle for Los Angeles Has Begun
The much-anticipated season opener between the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers tipped off what many expect to be one of the best NBA seasons in recent memory.
Golden State’s reign over the Western Conference appears to have come to a swift death with a ton of star players shifting teams this offseason. The West is now wide open for a number of teams to take control.
Two squads that will be gunning for the crown in the conference are the Lakers, who acquired All-Star big man Anthony Davis in a blockbuster trade, and the Clippers, who signed two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and traded for All-Star swingman Paul George this offseason.
After much offseason chatter about which team will rule Los Angeles, NBA fans finally got to watch a marquee matchup between two goliaths on the hardwood last night. LeBron James kicked off the festivities with his signature “chalk toss,” and from there, it was easy to tell that the atmosphere in the Staples Center was rocking.
The game that ensued was what many NBA fans were salivating over all offseason. The Lakers came out of the gate fast and were up by three points at the end of the first quarter, thanks to the James-to-Davis connection that will haunt every opponent that the Lakers face this season. The pair looked fluid and in sync, and showed the world that they are comfortable already. There were multiple possessions where James would bring the ball up the court, Davis would take his man into the paint, and James would drop a dime into the perfect spot for an easy Davis bucket.
The momentum of the game shifted once Doc Rivers, the Clippers head coach since 2013, made some quick adjustments to his defense, which shut down the James-to-Davis connection. The Clippers were throwing help into the paint to accommodate for their lack of size down low in hopes of slowing down Davis.
Rivers’ plan was successful, and the Lakers seemed desperate at times to force-feed Davis down low, sacrificing some good looks in favor of hammering the paint. Thanks in no small part to the adjustments, the Clippers won the first game of the season, 112-102, on the back of their impressive depth and exceptional defense.
The Clippers were getting after the basketball on every possession, challenging every Lakers ball handler by swiping at the ball. This Clippers defense is going to be a force to be reckoned with this season, especially when Paul George returns from his offseason shoulder surgery, which will keep him sidelined for about a month.
Patrick Patterson, the Clippers’ current starter at power forward, was impressive for most of the game against his fellow Kentucky big man, keeping Davis to an inefficient 8 of 21 from the field and allowing him to score only 25 points.
Kawhi Leonard proved why he was last year’s finals MVP on Tuesday night. He scored 30 points, collected six rebounds and dished five assists while playing All-World-caliber defense the entire contest. He looked like the best player on the court, even with LeBron in the game.
The Lakers looked sluggish at times, and their bench unit especially suffered against the Clippers reserves. For some reason, the Lakers just did not look like they were playing full speed at times against their crosstown rivals.
Luckily for the Lakers, Danny Green had a monster night from beyond the arc, hitting seven of his nine attempts and ending the game with 28 points and seven rebounds. If the Lakers are going to compete in a brutal Western Conference, they need to figure out how to score more points, especially with wing-scorer Kyle Kuzma out.
A few more takeaways from the game are that the Clippers have some serious depth on the team and the Lakers will always have home court at Staple Center.
Lou Williams is a walking bucket, Montrezl Harrell is an athletic freak and JaMychal Green and Mo Harkless bring a killer mentality while playing efficient, team-oriented basketball. This is a Clippers team that goes 10 men deep and will hound the opposition every night during every possession.
Although this was technically a home game for the Clippers, about 70% of fans in attendance were supporting the purple and gold. Crowd noise will be a major factor working in favor of the Lakers anytime that they play in Los Angeles, and that advantage could be huge if the Lakers and the Clippers meet in the playoffs.
All in all, Tuesday night’s meeting opened the new NBA season in bombastic fashion. Although the Clippers won the battle, they’ve got a lot of work to do before they win the war. With three more regular season matches between these two teams to go, the fight for superiority in the City of Angels is far from over.