The one notable thing missing from the Los Angeles Lakers' memorable season to this point was a victory over the L.A. Clippers.
That changed Sunday.
The Lakers prevailed 112-103 at Staples Center in a potential Western Conference Finals preview with star power galore, giving them their first win in three tries against their city rivals this season. LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Avery Bradley led the way, helping the Purple and Gold improve to 49-13 on the campaign with a fourth win in a row.
The Clippers are still an impressive 43-20 even though their six-game winning streak came to an end.
Notable Player Stats
- LAL F LeBron James: 28 points, nine assists and seven rebounds
- LAL F Anthony Davis: 30 points, eight rebounds and two steals
- LAL G Avery Bradley: 24 points and six three-pointers
- LAC G Paul George: 31 points, six rebounds and three steals
- LAC F Kawhi Leonard: 27 points
- LAC F Montrezl Harrell: 20 points, eight rebounds and two blocks
Avery Bradley Helps Lakers Stars Overcome Clippers Road Bump
In theory, there wasn't much at stake in this contest.
After all, the Lakers were 5.5 games ahead of the Clippers entering play, meaning it would take a completely unexpected collapse from one of the league's best teams to put the No. 1 seed up for grabs. Both teams are in championship-or-bust campaigns, and the playoff games to come will be far more important.
Still, the split crowd reacting to every play like the game was on the line, defensive intensity from the start and multiple technical fouls as players didn't back down from each other gave it a feel of one with far more meaning than a routine regular-season battle. Both teams appeared to have an innate understanding the other side was standing directly in the way of its championship pursuit.
This was particularly important for the Lakers, as confidence could eventually become a question if they didn't get over the Clippers hump before the playoffs.
Part of getting over said hump is someone besides James and Davis playing well since the Clippers are incredibly deep with Marcus Morris Sr., Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams and Reggie Jackson all capable of catching a hot hand and taking over for extended stretches alongside Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Bradley played that role Sunday, setting the tone early by pressing up on Beverley with full-court defense and swarming the Clippers' ball-handlers throughout. He also recognized the open space and consistently flashed to it when multiple defenders collapsed on James and Davis.
LeBron and AD were there for winning time with the former blowing past Leonard for a key and-1 to give the Lakers a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter and the latter overwhelming the Clippers' frontcourt.
James also consistently made the right play, including when he found Bradley for a monster three with less than four minutes remaining when two defenders ran at him.
The Lakers will need plays like that from the supporting cast if they are going to prevail in a best-of-seven series against their Los Angeles counterparts, and Sunday's showing from the guard was a welcome development.
Paul George Provides Silver Lining for Clippers in Defeat
The primary reason the Clippers are on the short list of realistic title contenders is the pairing of Leonard and George, but the latter has dealt with injuries and some inconsistency this season.
The last time he scored more than 25 points was Jan. 5, and he hasn't quite been the version of himself the Clippers figured they were getting when they added the five-time All-NBA selection and four-time All-Defensive selection.
He looked like the George the Clippers will need in May and potentially June for much of Sunday's game on both sides of the floor.
His pressure defense on the wings forced turnovers and opportunities on the other end, and he was dangerous as a scorer both from the outside and attacking the basket. He drilled back-to-back triples to give his side the lead in the third quarter of the back-to-back game and appeared to be rounding into playoff form after an up-and-down campaign.
George entered play averaging 20.9 points and 5.9 rebounds a night this season after tallying 28.0 points and 8.2 boards per game in 2018-19, but he looked healthy and ready for the challenge against the Western Conference's top team.
That is more important in the long run than a single defeat.
Both teams are in action Tuesday when the Lakers host the Brooklyn Nets and the Clippers are at the Golden State Warriors.