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Swanson: Clippers, Lakers heading in different directions

The Lakers are short on size on the wings and shooting, must-haves in the modern NBA and two things the Clippers have throughout their deep, self-less roster

Lakers forward LeBron James controls the ball as Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. defends during the first half on Thursday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-ɫ̳/SCNG)
Lakers forward LeBron James controls the ball as Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. defends during the first half on Thursday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-ɫ̳/SCNG)
Mirjam Swanson, NBA reporter for SCNG, in Monrovia on Friday, August 17, 2018. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-ɫ̳/SCNG)

LOS ANGELES — The Lakers made it interesting, made the Clippers work for their season-opening 103-97 victory, but the fact remains: These teams are like ships passing in the night, without a whole lot in common.

One of them is headed for port at a quick clip, a merchant vessel stocked with the necessary supplies to flourish. Its crew talks often of sacrifice, and its leader exemplified it Thursday in their season opener.

The other is listing and taking on water as its navigation malfunctions, sinking into the expanse. One of the key members of this crew isn’t nearly so comfortable making the same sacrifice (read: coming off the bench).

Despite Thursday’s taut contest – typical of two teams whose first three games last season were decided by a combined eight points – you know which is which.

With LeBron James, Anthony Davis and still-starting point guard Russell Westbrook (who shot 0 for 11 on Thursday), the Lakers are well stocked with superstars – but they’ve got no gauge on the North Star.

No clear path to a championship, nor much inspiration or hope that they’ll find their way this year, though Patrick Beverley implored fans before tipoff Thursday: “Stick with us, we’re gonna try to make some good (stuff) happen.”

They’re short on shooting, one of the things that helps a team win in the modern NBA.

On Tuesday, they went 10 for 40 from 3-point range. On Thursday, they shot worse: 9 for 45. Regression after they shot 34.7% from deep last season, worse than all but seven teams.

Honest LeBron, with his Abe Lincoln beard, told no lies after the Lakers’ season-opening loss at Golden State: “It’s not like we’re sitting here with a lot of lasers on our team.”

The Lakers are also short, basically devoid of big wings who can defend the perimeter – the other thing that helps win in the modern NBA.

They’re starting three guards who are 6-foot-4 or shorter alongside the 6-9 James and 6-10 Davis. Off the bench will come 6-1 Dennis Schröder and 6-2 Kendrick Nunn.

That, at least, sets up a good story: Undrafted forward Matt Ryan, a dude who was driving for DoorDash a year ago, came off the bench and played 18 minutes in Tuesday’s opener because the Lakers were so desperate for shooting and a 6-7 someone to play on the wing. On Thursday, he logged 13 minutes, including nine in the first half.

Conversely, the Clippers have so much shooting and so much size on the wing that their biggest question entering the season was whether you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing.

The Clippers think not. Coach Tyronn Lue has 11 guys who deserve to play. So much firepower they brought Kawhi Leonard off the bench Thursday in his first game after a year away, spent recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

The Clippers had a 48-36 lead when he finally checked in with 6:25 to play in what was an underwhelming first half in a game with plenty of opening-night bugs. At the outset, Leonard looked like he’d been shot out of a canon, grabbing a pair of rebounds and hitting his first two shots in fewer than 30 seconds – exertion that cost him in the minutes that followed.

The Clippers have compiled their surplus of size and skill around Leonard and Paul George because, for years, they’ve operated with a clear vision: Load up on length, overstock on interchangeable, switchable wings. Value shooting. Develop the depth.

Except for point guards Reggie Jackson (6-2) and John Wall (6-3) – and guard Norman Powell, who is 6-3 but has a 6-11 wingspan – the Clippers’ other contributors are all at least 6-5.

And one of those 6-5 guys is Luke Kennard, who finished second last season in the 3-point shootout at the All-Star Weekend – and first in the NBA for 3-point shooting percentage for the season (44.9%). That buoyed a Clippers team whose 37.4% mark from deep was tied for the second best league-wide. He hit all three of his 3-point attempts Thursday.

I know someone who might say the Clippers are sitting pretty with “a lot of lasers.”

They have something else the Lakers don’t – continuity.

The Lakers’ roster has been disassembled and reassembled so many times only James and Davis remain from the team that won the 2020 NBA championship.

The Clippers suffered through an epic postseason collapse that season, the bubble and the Denver Nuggets proving too much as they coughed up a 3-1 second-round series lead. In the aftermath, they parted ways with Coach Doc Rivers and traded away fan favorites Beverley and Lou Williams.

Otherwise, they stayed the course.

Seven players who endured that ignominy remain on the roster. Even Tyronn Lue, who replaced Rivers, was there for it, as an assistant coach. Now, Lue is entering his third season at the helm for the Clippers, still hasn’t lost to the Lakers (he’s now 8-0 against them) and enters 2022-23 with a team that’s healthy, familiar and with the wind at its back.

Meanwhile, headwinds and hard times appear on the horizon for the Lakers; “some ups and downs” as Beverley, the former Clipper, predicted. The second-toughest schedule in the league in October, per , will make it only tougher to patch their holes or find their sea legs. They’re going to try, though, to change their trajectory. Coming back Thursday from a 16-point deficit against the well-constructed Clippers proved that much.

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