One of the Clippers’ brightest stars will remain out, but the Lakers’ biggest superstar will be back when the teams meet Friday night for the first time this season.
The Lakers will be the home team for the game at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The Clippers have been without Kawhi Leonard indefinitely after offseason knee surgery, while the Lakers were without LeBron James most recently on Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings.
James, a 17-time All-Star, was placed in COVID-19 protocol Tuesday after testing positive for the virus the day before, but the NBA on Thursday cleared him to return to action after he subsequently produced two negative tests conducted more than 24 hours apart.
James’ rough season got a little better when he got the OK to play on Thursday.
Before being placed in COVID protocol, he had been suspended for a Nov. 23 game at the New York Knicks for his role in an altercation against the Detroit Pistons two days prior. At that time, he was just two games into a return from an eight-game absence because of an abdominal strain. He was also sidelined two games in October because of a sore right ankle.
Without James on Tuesday for the 12th time in 23 games, the Lakers earned a 117-92 victory at Sacramento, four days after they fell to the Kings 141-137 in triple overtime. Anthony Davis scored 25 points on Tuesday, while Russell Westbrook had 23 and Dwight Howard grabbed 13 rebounds off the bench.
“We still gotta find ways to win,” Davis said about playing without James. “We can’t let that affect us. Obviously, he’s a huge part of our team, but we’ve played a huge amount of games without him, so we kinda know how that is already.”
Davis is averaging 24.3 points with 10.0 rebounds a game this season, while Westbrook has 20.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 8.6 assists, as the Lakers have won three of their past four. But they are just 12-11 in the early going.
As rocky as the Lakers’ road has been, the Clippers’ ride has been just as bumpy without Leonard. They are 11-11 so far behind Paul George, who has averaged 25.9 points with 7.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
While the Lakers defeated the Kings on Tuesday, the Clippers fell to Sacramento 124-115 on Wednesday as George was given a night for rest after playing in each of the first 21 games this season.
George is expected to return Friday as the Clippers try to end a three-game losing streak. They have also dropped six of their past eight, including four defeats on a just-completed six-game homestand.
The Clippers struggled to match the energy of the Kings, who were playing their sixth game under interim head coach Alvin Gentry.
“They were moving way faster than we were, flying around, and we couldn’t keep up in that third quarter,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “So we made some early substitutions, got our younger guys in there. They came in with some fresh legs and played pretty well.”
Terance Mann and Luke Kennard led the Clippers off the bench with 19 points apiece on Wednesday. Jay Scrubb (five points) played 16 minutes in his 11th career game, while Keon Johnson (two points, three rebounds) played 12 minutes in his third career game.
The Clippers on Friday will be without forward Nicolas Batum, who is in COVID-19 protocol.
–Field Level Media