The Los Angeles Lakers not have a monkey on their again. After dropping their first two matchups with the Los Angeles Clippers, they got here into Sunday’s battle realizing {that a} loss would result in extra whispers about their playoff viability. Falling to 0-Three in opposition to your largest rival is borderline disastrous, and the Lakers performed prefer it in a 112-103 win.

It was a detailed recreation, and the Clippers led at halftime. But finally, the pairing of LeBron James and Anthony Davis was simply too robust. The celebrity duo mixed for 58 factors within the victory, nevertheless it was their protection that really stood out. They led the Lakers in holding the Clippers to solely 39.5 p.c taking pictures from the sector. For the second consecutive recreation, the Lakers — who beat the Bucks on Friday — largely managed to close down among the best groups within the NBA.

The distinction for the Lakers wasn’t the superstars, although. After all, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard gave the Clippers an similar 58 factors. It was the position gamers that pushed the Lakers excessive. Avery Bradley scored a season-high 24 factors in making half of his 12 3-point makes an attempt. His protection, together with that of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Markieff Morris and even Kyle Kuzma proved important.

Now the Lakers can enter the playoffs with none regular-season narratives weighing them down. They’ve crushed everyone that they should beat. They’ve confirmed every thing that they should show. And whereas there’s nonetheless an extended technique to go in the event that they hope to win the championship, they’ll at the very least pursue that aim with none baggage. This season is not about their rivalry with the Clippers or LeBron’s battle for the MVP with Giannis Antetokounmpo. It is solely about holding that trophy on the finish, the very last thing left for this Lakers workforce to attain.

With that in thoughts, listed here are the largest takeaways from at the moment’s huge Lakers win.

No, Kawhi just isn’t LeBron’s kryptonite

Kawhi Leonard could be the perfect defensive participant within the NBA. In the primary two rounds between these groups, he was so good that he managed to make LeBron James look mortal. He averaged solely a paltry 20.5 factors on 37 p.c taking pictures of their first two battles this season, main many to conclude that James’ athletic presents had declined to the purpose that he may not rating in opposition to such a powerful defender.

Sunday ought to have resolved these fears. LeBron attacked the basket with reckless abandon, and whereas his 30 factors have been spectacular, the much more essential determine was his 14 free-throw makes an attempt. For the season, he’s averaging a career-low 5.6 per recreation, however when he wanted to attract contact and get to the road for straightforward factors at the moment, he managed to take action. The Clippers’ lack of rim-protection performed an enormous half in that, however with the commerce deadline previous, the onus now falls totally on Kawhi. Either hold LeBron from the bucket altogether, or he’ll get to the road.

Defense goes to win the day when these groups meet within the playoffs

While the third quarter inflated the numbers barely, this was finally a recreation outlined by protection. Neither workforce had a constant methodology of producing good pictures in opposition to the opposite’s unbelievable protection, so at any time when a possible legal responsibility stepped on the ground, they have been examined. Kyle Kuzma handed the check. Montrezl Harrell largely did as properly. These are gamers that may get hunted in the fitting circumstances, however they greater than held their very own.

Various gamers did not, although. Rajon Rondo bought roasted in his 22 minutes. Landry Shamet solely performed eight due to his personal shortcomings. The worst by far, although, was Lou Williams. The Clippers left him on the ground for offense down the stretch, and the consequence was the Lakers looking him in pick-and-roll on nearly each play down the stretch. He could not successfully swap onto James and was largely ineffective as a hedge defender, failing to rotate again into place shortly sufficient.

If these groups meet once more within the spring, these sorts of defensive exit valves are going to be the important thing to discovering good pictures. Sunday proved a wonderful litmus check for who can keep on the ground on this caliber of recreation and who can’t. When the rotations tighten, each groups will shift increasingly more minutes to the defenders that proved they might survive a two-superstar onslaught at the moment.

These groups are basically even

The Lakers and Clippers have now performed thrice. They have been tied after three quarters within the first two. The Lakers led by 4 after three at the moment. The Clippers misplaced at the moment’s recreation by 9 factors. They additionally missed 9 free throws. The Lakers misplaced the Christmas recreation by a literal fingernail because of prompt replay.

The message right here is that betting on both facet in a playoff sequence at this level could be silly. When you issue of their shared enviornment and the misplaced home-court benefit that comes with it, these could be the 2 most evenly matched groups to ever meet up in a playoff sequence. Barring excessive taking pictures variance, most of their video games are going to be shut and are available down to a couple performs on the finish

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