LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (0-0)
at LOS ANGELES LAKERS (0-0)
Tip-off: Thursday, 10:30 p.m. ET
Line: N/A, Total: N/A
Lonzo Ball and the Lakers take on the crosstown rival Clippers on Thursday night.
When Chris Paul first became a Clipper in the summer of 2011, his arrival signaled a new era of Los Angeles basketball, one that would come to be known as "Lob City." And while the next few years were marked by playoff disappointments to difficult Western Conference competition, it easily marked the most successful stretch in franchise history. But Paul's time with the organization has come to an end, after the team traded him to Houston for a long list of role players and a draft pick. The team now belongs to PF Blake Griffin, and will need him to step up after years of injuries and off-the-court distractions. It's also a new era for the Clippers' crosstown rival, as the Lakers welcome rookie PG Lonzo Ball to town. The second overall pick in this past summer's draft, Ball brings a combination of size, deadly shooting and flashy passing to the point guard position, and all eyes will be on his regular season debut after impressive runs in Summer League and the preseason. For the Lakers, newly acquired SG Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will begin a two-game suspension to start the season and C Andrew Bogut is out for the opener with a groin injury. PF Julius Randle is listed as probable, as is Ball. For the Clippers, Houston transplants PG Patrick Beverley and SF Sam Dekker are questionable to play, as is second round draft pick SG Sindarius Thornwell.
For the Clippers, the offense that was once dictated entirely through Paul will now shift to something in which the ball will move more freely between all five players. The player through which it will run most frequently could be Griffin, who has shown an ability to make plays from the forward position throughout his career. He's an excellent passer, and has enough of a jumper to draw defenders on the perimeter. SF Danilo Gallinari, who arrived in LA via a three-team trade, brings the kind of scoring presence at the three-spot that Clippers fans begged for during Paul's time in the city. He'll help make up for some of the perimeter shooting lost in the departures of JJ Redick and Jamal Crawford. So will SG Lou Williams, who had the best season of his career last year as both a Laker and a Rocket. He'll look to fill the Crawford role for the Clips. Beverley is one of the league's most aggressive perimeter defenders, and an underrated offensive player. Also at point guard are Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic, the latter of whom enters the league at age 30 with some of the flashiest passes you'll ever see. Star C DeAndre Jordan has already been the beneficiary of several alley-oops from him in the preseason.
On the other side of town—on the same side, actually, as both teams play in Staples Center—Ball figures to be running the show from now on in Luke Walton's offense. There's been much speculation regarding whether his unconventional but heretofore deadly jumpshot will translate to the NBA, and that will be something to watch closely in his regular season debut. Less of a concern is his passing, which figures to dazzle night in and night out. But there is actually, for a certain sect of NBA nerd, another Laker rookie whose debut is even more anticipated. That would be PF Kyle Kuzma, a mid-draft pick out of Utah who has been thrilling in Summer League and the preseason. He has looked explosive and surprisingly accurate from the outside. While D'Angelo Russell has left town, two shockingly young members of the Lakers core remain: 22-year-old PF Julius Randle and 20-year-old SF Brandon Ingram. Ingram is of particular interest—he was always expected to be something of a project in his early years in the league, but he showed growth in the second half of last season. Playing with Ball could help him find easier scoring opportunities. C Brook Lopez comes to LA via the trade that sent Russell to Brooklyn, and figures to get plenty of touches as one of the few veterans on this team that has two legs to stand on.