Clippers out-Classed the Rival Lakers by Proving Injuries Are No Excuse

Sports doctors in the greater Los Angeles area have been particularly busy this year. The LA Clippers and LA Lakers have each been repeatedly bit by the injury bug throughout the 2021-22 campaign. Yet one team will have a shot at making the playoffs, while the other will be lucky to sneak into the 10-seed.

Despite their best player sitting out all season, the Clippers have officially clinched a spot in the play-in round. Meanwhile, the Lakers haven’t been able to prevail through a lengthy injury list of their own.

If this year has taught us anything, it’s that few teams are able to stay healthy for a full season. But only good, well-coached teams can overcome the obstacles thrown in front of them.

Both the Clippers and Lakers have been crushed by injuries in 2021-22

It’s hard to remember the last time each LA club had its best players on the court at the same time.

The Clippers made their first Western Conference Finals last season without star Kawhi Leonard. The two-time Finals MVP suffered a partial ACL tear in the second round of the playoffs that has kept him sidelined for the entire season. However, there is optimism that a win in the play-in round will result in Leonard’s long-awaited return to action.

Kawhi isn’t the only star who watched plenty of Clippers games in street clothes. His All-Star sidekick Paul George tore the UCL in his right shooting elbow, causing him to miss just over three months. The 31-year-old has appeared in just 29 games for the 39-40 Clippers.

Three players have been able to stay relatively healthy for LA this season: Terance Mann, Reggie Jackson, and Ivica Zubac. But other role players have followed Kawhi and PG’s lead by missing considerable time, including Nicolas Batum (22 games missed), Marcus Morris (27 games), and Norman Powell (22 of 25 since being acquired before the trade deadline).

As for the Lakers, the only player who’s missed the whole season is third-year guard Kendrick Nunn. But both LeBron James and Anthony Davis haven’t been able to suit up regularly for the Purple and Gold.

AD has been knocked out for half the Lakers’ 78-game season due to a sprained MCL and mid-foot sprain. Meanwhile, the King has missed 22 games and counting thanks to various ailments like an abdominal strain, knee soreness, and a bum ankle.

Similar to their Crypto.com Arena roommates, the 31-47 Lakers only have two players — Russell Westbrook and Malik Monk — who have given them 70+ games. But many others have sat out for long stretches like Austin Reaves (21 games) and Talen Horton-Tucker (22 games).

The Clippers proved that injuries aren’t an excuse for missing the play-in round

The second it became obvious that Leonard was going to contribute very little if anything this season, nobody would have blamed the Clippers for falling well short of the playoffs. Once George went down in December, the idea of them punting on the season became more and more fathomable.

Yet after Sunday’s 119-100 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, their third in four games, the Clippers officially clinched a spot in the play-in round.

LA has stayed competitive the entire season, most of which was played without either of their two All-Stars. Instead, it relied on contributions from Jackson, who led all team qualifiers with 17.1 points per game, as well as guys like Luke Kennard and Robert Covington.

With a championship-winning coach in Tyronn Lue leading the way, the Clippers can still finish above .500 and have Kawhi back for the playoffs. As for the Lakers? Things aren’t as pretty.

The Purple and Gold were never able to move past any of their season-long hardships. Their records have tanked in each of the last two seasons when James and Davis missed considerable time. But even when the superstars were healthy, LA was no better than a .500 team.

Far too often, Frank Vogel’s squad played with zero effort or energy. Their play coming out of halftime was jaw-droppingly bad. And over the last few weeks, as their playoff hopes slipped further away by the day, the Lakers continued to get blown out on a semi-regular basis.

After building around three max contracts, the Lakers’ depth is understandably worse than the Clippers’. But the former also had the benefit of an MVP-level LeBron and 77 games of Russell Westbrook, a bad fit admittedly but an All-Star talent nevertheless. Yet there’s a chance they’ll lose 50 games before the year ends.

At the end of the day, the Clippers aren’t drastically better than the Lakers from an overall talent standpoint. But when comparing effort and chemistry, the difference can’t be overstated.

LA’s “other” team has a brighter future ahead

When the Clippers went all in to sign Leonard and trade for George in 2019, they mortgaged their future in an effort to win now. Their plan backfired when it was the Lakers who added yet another championship to the rafters that same season.

However, when assessing each SoCal franchise now, it’s much easier to find hope with the Blue and Red.

Even if they don’t make it far this postseason, the Clips will have Kawhi, PG, Powell, and Jackson to build around next season. They’ll also have a high-end coach in Lue as well as a few younger players they’ve managed to acquire in recent years like Mann and Amir Coffey.

The Lakers, on the other hand, have LeBron. And while that’s usually been enough to contend for a title, this year proved that the rest of the roster must be up to snuff.

LA is hoping that Davis can put together a healthy season, although that’s highly unlikely given his injury history. We know the club would love to get rid of Westbrook, but the chances of a team taking on his $47 million price tag seem improbable. Beyond that, the Purple and Gold will need to rebuild the bulk of their supporting cast without any significant money or draft picks.

Not to mention, Vogel looks like he’s on the way out after this season, fairly or not.

The Lakers have long been the staple of excellence in Los Angeles. But while the Clippers won’t ever be as popular, they’ve proven themselves this season as the smarter and more well-equipped franchise in the City of Angels.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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