Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers: The closing lineups

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

The Los Angeles Lakers forwards vs. the Los Angeles Clippers forwards

The Los Angeles Lakers closing forwards:

  • SF: LeBron James
  • PF: Montrezl Harrell

The Los Angeles Clippers closing forwards:

  • SF: Kawhi Leonard
  • PF: Marcus Morris

What a difference a year makes in the NBA. Two seasons ago, the Lakers missed the playoffs, and many people washed (pun intended) LeBron James down the toilet proclaiming his career was over. At the same time, Kawhi Leonard was busy claiming the Finals MVP trophy as he helped the Toronto Raptors reach the promised land for the first time.

Fast forward a year, and the narrative has changed. LeBron James has rightfully regained his seat at the top of the NBA, and Kawhi Leonard watched helplessly as a less talented Denver Nuggets squad took down his Clippers in the second round of the playoffs.

The Clippers’ struggles during the 2020 playoffs don’t drop Kawhi Leonard from the top-5 in the NBA, just like LeBron James’s struggles after he came back from injury in 2019 shouldn’t have knocked him off his throne.

Something beyond conditioning problems condemned the Clippers during the bubble. They had too many talented players (Harrell, Williams, George, and Morris) flop for there not to be more behind their struggles.

We’ll probably never know what really happened (I like to think that Lou Williams snuck out of the bubble to hook up with Montrezl Harrell’s girlfriend, and he got caught, fracturing the locker room).

Kawhi Leonard’s still almost a perfect player, a cyborg made to dominate basketball games. Leonard’s a lockdown defender with the ideal blend of strength and agility to slow down the most gifted offensive wings in the world. On offense, he’s a great one-on-one player who can score beyond the arc, in the midrange, and at the rim.

If Kawhi Leonard’s a cyborg, then LeBron James is an alien. While Kawhi Leonard’s almost a perfect player, LeBron James comes as close to perfection as possible. LeBron James checks all the boxes that Kawhi Leonard does, but James is also the NBA’s best passer.

James’s playmaking ability makes all the difference in the world during a closely contested contest. Opposing defenses can’t load up on him the way they can with Leonard. If you send help towards James, he’ll make the perfect dish to an open teammate. Leonard’s a decent passer during the first three quarters of a game.

Still, we saw last year during the playoffs that when Kawhi Leonard didn’t have another playmaker like Kyle Lowry running next to him, he couldn’t get it done in the fourth quarter when the Nuggets ratcheted up their defensive intensity.

Marcus Morris averaged 10 points per game off of 31 percent shooting from deep after the Clippers traded for him. Clippers management rewarded that type of production by handing Morris a four-year, $64 million deal.

It feels like this year, the Clippers have gotten a national media pass for all of the bad deals they’ve made. Morris is a 31-year-old mediocre defender who struggles to create his own shot.

When you couple the Clippers’ ridiculous Morris contract with their inability to add a much-needed playmaker, LA’s other squad didn’t have a great offseason. However, the pundits pretty much ignored the Clippers’ blunders.

After that little rant, it’s not hard to see who wins the matchup between Marcus Morris Sr. and Montrezl Harrell.

The Lakers signed Harrell to a two-year, $19 million contract. Harrell should have gotten Marcus Morris’s deal, but he had a lousy bubble, so he wound up taking much less. Do you think Harrell’s mad he didn’t ink a bigger contract? He’s steaming mad.

Montrezl Harrell was already the most physical player in the NBA, and that’s before the Clippers put a giant chip on his shoulder. Look for Harrell to come out next season and try to obliterate people.

On defense, Harrell is too short to be a reliable defensive center. It makes more sense to play him at the power forward position where he doesn’t have to guard massive 5’s like Nikola Jokić in the post. Harrell is more than capable of staying in front of opposing 4’s on the perimeter, and he can switch onto smaller wings as well.

On offense, it’s going to be a joy to watch Harrell and James, the two strongest players in the NBA, run pick and rolls together. Last year LeBron James was in the 84th percentile as the pick and roll ball handler, while Montrezl Harrell was in the 81st percentile as a roll man. LBJ+ Trez= pain.

Advantage: Lakers 

LeBron James wins the matchup with Kawhi Leonard while Montrezl Harrell dominates the matchup against Marcus Morris. Going beyond head-to-head matchups, LBJ and Trez should form instant synergy playing with each other, morphing them into one of the most feared twosomes in the NBA.