Beating city rivals the Clippers on the opening night of the NBA restart has given Los Angeles Lakers what could prove a crucial playoff advantage, says BBL legend Mike Tuck.
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‘Advantage Lakers, definitely’
The Lakers and Clippers gave us the best possible outcome for a first night back. This was the game everybody wanted to see and it is a possible Western Conference Finals match-up. We got to see a late game-winner from LeBron James and the Clippers missing a three to win it at the buzzer. You couldn’t ask for a better finish.
It was a statement game for LeBron: ‘Who is the best team in LA?’ LeBron and Anthony Davis looked like they were on a mission and on the same page, especially early on.
Jeez, how well is ‘AD’ playing? I love that he is catching and shooting on the three-point line and not hesitating anymore. The Lakers have done a great job feeding him confidence. He is so solid, knocking down threes, doing work in the paint, getting to the free throw line and knocking down almost every free throw.
Davis, for me, was the player of the game. The Lakers looked for him early and he had 14 points in the first quarter alone. He took advantage of the mis-matches he had on the offensive end.
Were the Lakers able to get easier baskets than the Clippers? I agree with that. The offensive roles are much more defined on the Lakers. Everyone knows where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing.
Whereas the Clippers have had a strange season. There have been so many injuries and the starting line-up has changed so many times. You also have the weird angle who closes out games for them. Paul George was hot against the Lakers so Doc Rivers gave him the ball to close the game. He hit a big three with 30 seconds left but missed the one at the buzzer to win it.
I think they should have gone to Kawhi Leonard on that last possession because he was being guarded one-on-one and that would have been perfect for him. So there’s a little bit of confusion there and overall they looked very one-dimensional as well, just chucking up threes which is so much easier to guard.
It looked like the Lakers were playing harder. The effort was there. They were diving on loose balls and saving balls going out of bounds.
This game wasn’t just important psychologically, it was important seeding-wise, too. The victory brings the Lakers within one win of sealing the No 1 seed and being in a position to rest their big stars before the playoffs or load manage their minutes and keep them ready for the playoffs. That will really help them down the stretch.
Sealing the one seed also means the Lakers will play an eighth seed in the opening round of the playoffs. That spot is currently held by the Memphis Grizzlies with the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers and others looking to catch them.
For the Clippers, if they finish as the two seed, they will face much stiffer opposition in that first round, someone like the Houston Rockets, the Dallas Mavericks or the Oklahoma City Thunder. Those aren’t match-ups you want in the first round!
This opening game was important and the Clippers weren’t fully there. Saying that. George had 30 and Leonard had 28 so they showed up, they just didn’t show up when the big moment came. They need to show up when it truly counts or this season will not be as long as they want it to be.
Advantage Lakers, right now, definitely.
‘Pelicans defense let them down late on’
We saw the value of the pre-restart scrimmage games in the way all four teams played on opening night.
Given the amount of time the players have been off, I thought we were going to see a lot more sloppy play as the season resumed. There were some sloppy moments and some careless turnovers, but I was surprised how sharp the teams looked. Overall, we saw a decent standard of basketball.
In the opening Jazz-Pelicans game, it was good to see Jordan Clarkson coming off the Utah bench and bringing a lot of energy. He looks very poised and played super-aggressive. Clarkson looks like he has a lot of momentum right now. It was interesting to watch Clarkson and Donovan Mitchell on the floor at the same time. It seemed there wasn’t a shot that Clarkson didn’t like but Mitchell was making really good decisions out there. The Jazz are his team now.
Rudy Gobert was great. They went to him early and then down the stretch they threw him a few lobs in the middle and dish passes. He then hit those two key free throws at the end to win the game.
The Pelicans looked good. They closed the gap the Jazz built in the first quarter and JJ Redick was a big part of that. He looked very ‘high-energy’, like a guy who had been locked in the house for five months! He was raring to go and had some great passes and finishes.
It was good to see Zion Williamson on the floor. We only got to see him for 15 minutes but he was very effective. He is building some really good chemistry with Lonzo Ball. There were the usual Lonzo lobs for Zion to dunk but we also saw a nice behind-the-back pass from Zion to ‘Zo. That’s going to be a great one-two punch for the Pelicans moving forward.
Down the stretch, the Pelicans’ defense let them down and the Jazz looked a much more mature and deeper team. It’s a game of runs and Utah went on a huge third-quarter run that extended into the fourth after being down by double digits at the start of the second half. The Pels’ defense wasn’t there down the stretch and it really looked like they ran out of gas.