Los Angeles Lakers: Are they better than the Clippers past the halfway point?

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /

Which squad is better?

The Clippers have approached the regular season like a class of high school students forced to take a practice quiz before the real test. The Clippers are in third place in the West, so it would be ridiculous to say they don’t care about the regular season. Still, they’re just going through the motions, waiting for the postseason.

Kawhi takes games off when he wants to, and the Clippers have lost several winnable games. It feels like the players on the Clippers believe they’re the most talented squad in the league, so they can coast now and turn it on once the playoffs start.

The Lakers have approached the grueling regular season as a time to gel. They’ve laid a couple of eggs, but for the most part, the Purple and Gold have played every game with a purpose. The Lakers are trying to build something special during the regular season that will amalgamate into something extraordinary during the playoffs, eventually leading to a chip.

The Lakers have been the superior squad this year. Yes, the Clippers have beat the Purple and Gold both times they’ve met, but their first win was six months ago, and the other victory was a tightly contested battle that the Lakers should have won. Past research also tells us that when one squad wins the regular season series against another team, it doesn’t mean that they will fare better throughout the postseason.

Net rating and playoff seeding are both much better indicators of how a team will progress through the playoffs. The Lakers crush the Clippers in both areas.

The Clippers vaunted depth is the toast of the league, but the Lakers also boast a roster loaded with quality players. The Lakers have more playoff-tested depth than the Clippers. LeBron James, Danny Green, JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, and Quinn Cook all have at least one chip in their pockets. Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley have been to the finals.

The spotlight shines brightest during the postseason, which creates tension. Having players with deep playoff experience is incredibly important.

If you favor the Clippers over the Lakers in a seven-game playoffs series, it’s because of Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard made the term “load management” a recognizable expression last season on a Raptors squad that won the title. Most experts believe he’ll win another championship this year with a deeper and more talented Clippers squad.

The experts quickly forget how perilous Kawhi’s title run was last year.

The Raptors beat the 76ers in the final seconds of the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on a miracle heave from Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi’s now-famous final shot bounced on the rim five times before nestling through the net. One inch to the left or the right, and the 76ers could have won. Then, all the NBA analysts would have questioned Kawhi’s heart. Many would have blasted him for his load management strategy. Those same analysts would be arguing that the Clippers can’t win the penultimate prize this year because their best player misses too much time—one tiny inch to the left or right changes everything.

During the first six games of the NBA finals, the Raptors struggled to win games against a Warriors squad lacking its best player, Kevin Durant. The Warriors were pushing a fully healthy Raptors squad toward a Game 7 showdown when All-Star, Klay Thompson went down with a devastating knee injury. Only then did Toronto take control and win a championship.

Kawhi Leonard’s a top-five player, but his presence doesn’t guarantee the Clippers a championship as most experts believe. In the end, a Lakers/Clippers series will go down to the wire. During the late stages of the game, both squads will run the same play. Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James will each dribble the ball at the top of the court while one of their teammates sets a pick.

The pick will force a switch, which will lead to a mismatch. Then Leonard and James will go to work. Kawhi will look for his own shot out of the mid-range, and LeBron will look to set up a teammate. Who has the advantage? Kawhi Leonard, the best one-on-one player in the NBA? Or LeBron James, the best facilitator in the association? Both are champions. Both are clutch players.

A Lakers/Clippers Western Conference Finals seems inevitable, and the truth is, it could go either way. With that said, championships squads are built during the regular season. The Lakers have worked hard to build chemistry and to define every player’s role clearly.

Next. 3 Must-win games for the Lakers for the rest of the year. dark

During the closing seconds of Game 7 versus the Clippers, LeBron will throw a pinpoint pass to the open man for the game-winning shot. He’ll do that because he’s LeBron James, but also because of the chemistry the Lakers have built. LBJ knows precisely where his teammates are going before they even get to their spot. That’s what grinding during the regular season does for you.