The NBA’s Battle for Los Angeles was one-sided for many years, with the Lakers being the more dominant team. Even in recent years when the Clippers were the better team and the Lakers were a bottom-dweller, Los Angeles remained a Lakers town.
This season, however, the Clippers will be looking to swing the narrative a bit, and their first crack at it comes in Tuesday night’s season opener.
Both teams made big moves in the offseason, which makes this opening-night matchup even more intriguing.
The New Fits
The Lakers traded several young players to the New Orleans Pelicans for Anthony Davis, who will play alongside LeBron James in the frontcourt. The Lakers also signed Danny Green to a two-year, $30 million deal. As a result, many experts are already favoring them to win a championship, but Davis knows their fit on the court will be the determining factor:
“We’re excited to play with each other on a team, go out here and compete,” Davis said, via Joe Vardon of The Athletic. “It’s something that’s special and it’s something that we definitely want to make sure we take advantage of while we’re both here.”
The Clippers, on the other hand, have a claim to the biggest transformation of the 2019 offseason, as the team acquired two All-Stars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Like the Lakers, how well they mesh on the floor will be the determining factor in success or failure. Leonard recently spoke about their mindset:
“It’s about the work we do and what our mindset is going to be,” Leonard told the Los Angeles Times. “If we don’t want to win, then we’re not going to win. If we want to, then we have a big chance to win.”
Filling in for PG
George is expected to miss the first 10 or so games of this season as he recovers from shoulder surgeries, which means he won’t be playing on Tuesday. The former Fresno State Bulldog says he would love to be on the floor with his new teammates, but he isn’t going to rush the recovery process:
“I’ve dealt with injuries. I’ve dealt with rehab,” George told Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times. “I know what it takes and I know when that time is. It’s no rush. It’s no rush. I do want to get back to the game, but I’m not going to rush it. I’ll be ready when the time comes.”
George has been a durable player throughout his career. However, he underwent right shoulder surgery in May to address a torn rotator cuff, and he had surgery to repair a small tear in his left labrum in June. Landry Shamet will likely be called on to start while George continues to recover, and the Clippers will need Lou Williams to score.
Rodney McGruder is said to be progressing from his high right ankle sprain, but Clippers head coach Doc Rivers isn’t sure if the former Kansas State standout will be available.
Vogel and The King
Vogel, who was hired as Lakers head coach in May, has an extensive history with James. The two met on opposing sides throughout their careers in the NBA. James has gotten the better of Vogel in the past, but now they’ll look to work together.
With so many talented players on his roster, there will be a fair amount of pressure on Vogel this season. Obviously, LeBron will get a lot of looks under his format, but there will also need to be a lot of action going through Anthony Davis — a player who can stretch the floor like few other bigs in the league.
Since his arrival, Vogel has preached defensive effort and selfless offense:
“What we’re trying to get accomplished is dominant defense and extremely selfless offense. Just playing for each other and playing stress-free offense,” Vogel said, via Lakers Nation, referring to the Lakers’ current play style. “Not forcing anything at any time. You play to attack the basket and when you draw help, you just move the rock to the next man.”
It’s not clear which side will prevail in this chapter. Perhaps the real winner in this equation is the fans in Southern California. As James has said, “It’s a great time to be a sports fan in this city.”
Tuesday night’s Lakers-Clippers matchup is set to tip inside Staples Center at 10:30 p.m. ET, with TNT having live broadcast coverage. The Lakers will also be without Kyle Kuzma for this game.