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Lakers, Clippers end season the way they started it
LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers and Clippers will end the season just how it began -- with a crosstown matchup at the Staples Center -- but this duel comes with six months' worth of perspective.
When the Clippers topped the Lakers in the season opener in October, there was plenty of optimism on both sides. The Lakers had just added point guard Lonzo Ball to run the show, while the Clippers rebuilt a roster around Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
The biggest sign that it didn't quite work according to plan for both teams is that Griffin was traded by the end of January and the Lakers shipped out Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. just over a week later at the trade deadline.
Both moves were made with the future in mind, and since future means seasons beyond this one, Tuesday's all-Los Angeles matchup will close the door on unfulfilled expectations in Southern California for 2017-18.
Win or lose Tuesday, though, both teams already are optimistic about the future.
The Clippers remained in playoff contention deep into the season before succumbing under the weight of injuries and a daunting schedule. At 42-39, they have the security of knowing they will finish the season above .500 despite those injuries that affected all areas of the roster.
"I think our fans kind of connected with this group more than any group since I have been here," coach Doc Rivers told the media after Monday's defeat to the Pelicans. "I think our team and our crowd kind of identified with each other this year."
The Lakers will not see the .500 mark, since they head into the final contest at 34-47. But a renewed commitment to defense helped them go on a 16-7 run at one stretch after the new year, and a sense of unity surfaced in the second half.
Not only did Julius Randle blossom under coach Luke Walton, so did rookie Kyle Kuzma, who is now expected to weigh heavily in the plans moving forward, along with fellow youngsters Ball and Josh Hart.
"I think we all kind of know that can happen (with) the success we've had this year, growing and being a young core," Kuzma said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
After moving on from Griffin, the Clippers signed a multi-year deal with scoring machine Lou Williams, who is the team's leading scorer at 22.6 points per game. Williams will become the second player in NBA history to set a career high in scoring in his 13th season or later (Chauncy Billups).
Williams will also become the first player in NBA history to average more than 20 points for the first time in his career in his 13th season or later. And with a double-double in the finale, Jordan will tie Elton Brand for most double-doubles in team history at 265.
But in a sign of just how prevalent injuries were for the Clippers, they will finish the season with four point guards out of action: Patrick Beverley (knee), Avery Bradley (groin), Milos Teodosic (foot) and Jawun Evans (abdomen). Also out Tuesday is Danilo Gallinari (hand), who missed most of the year with multiple injuries.
Williams (ankle) and Austin Rivers (elbow) did not play Monday but are expected to see action Wednesday.
Ball (knee) and Kuzma (ankle) are listed as day-to-day. Isaiah Thomas (hip) is out, while Brandon Ingram (concussion) is day-to-day.
Updated April 11, 2018
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