Make no mistake, this is the main event of the Christmas Day NBA card. The Lakers have for the most part been as good as advertised this season. A healthy LeBron James is clearly going to be a dominant force but the surprise for the Purple and Gold has been the play of Anthony Davis. He’s always had talent and the expectation was that a change of scenery would do him so good. What no one really expected was that Davis would be playing like a MVP candidate. Davis enters Christmas Day with a ridiculous statline: 27.9 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.4 steals per game, 2.7 blocks per game and 3.3 assists per game. Davis has also been consistent and dependable missing only one game this season. There was some concern on Tuesday after Davis appeared to hyperextend his knee though the initial diagnosis is favorable and he’s expected to play here.
The Clippers have taken a different approach to the regular season. Doc Rivers has been managing Kawhi Leonard’s workload this year which has included not playing him in both games of back to back spots. Paul George missed the first 11 games of the year after surgery to repair a small labrum tear in his left shoulder in the offseason. Rivers has also gone out of his way to limit both players’ minutes whenever the opportunity presents itself. To some extent, this strategy is understandable and could have considerable upside. It does have some risk, however, as it could cost the Clippers home court advantage during the playoffs. To date, the LAC are just 8-8 SU/7-9 on the road with a 14-2 SU/10-5-1 ATS record at home. Of course, the Clips *will* be playing on their home floor at the Staples Center against the Lakers on Xmas Day though they are listed as the road team.
More concern for the Clippers–they haven’t fared particularly well when stepping up in class. They’ve been an underdog just 7 times this season but they’re 2-5 SU/3-4 ATS in those games. And to return to the concept discussed in the previous paragraph they’re 1-4 SU/ATS as a road underdog. The Lakers, on the other hand, have been a solid underdog in their four spots in the role this season going 3-1 SU/ATS all on the road winning outright by an average margin of 9 PPG. They’re just hitting 50% ATS as a chalk (13-13) despite a 21-5 SU record as a favorite. That’s not particularly surprising given their status as a huge ‘public’ team. The Lakers have been a much better road team going 14-3 SU away from the Staples Center.
The Lakers enter this contest having lost 3 games SU and 5 straight against the spread. This came after a downright dominating 2 1/2 month stretch, however, and both LeBron James and Anthony Davis missed time during the last three. Following the Lakers opening night loss to the Clippers they went on a 24-2 SU/16-10 ATS run. The need to get back on the winning track and the Lakers’ opening night loss to their rivals make this a virtual ‘must win’ spot for the purple and gold. Both teams have tricky games on deck with the Lakers playing at Portland and the Clippers hosting the Utah Jazz.
So far this season, the Lakers have played very nasty team defense. They’ve been in the top 3 in team defense for most of the season and are currently in a three way tie for the spot with the Magic and 76ers allowing 104.9 PPG. The Clippers are #14 in opponent points against and allow nearly 4 PPG more than the Lakers (108.6). The Clippers have better offensive numbers than the Lakers but not by much–they’re #5 in scoring offense (115.7 PPG) with the Lakers at #10 (112.3 PPG). The thinking is that the Clippers will be able to play tough defense when called upon and they’ll likely be fine during the playoffs. Kawhi Leonard is a two time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and Paul George was a finalist for the award last year. In the short term, however, commitment to defense is something a team can’t ‘turn on and off’. Bigger game for the Lakers and they’ve got more ability to clamp down on the defensive end.