The Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers made history at Staples Center on Sunday night.
Each team was playing without one of their two superstars, yet the results could not have been more drastically different.
First, the Clippers took the court against the Dallas Mavericks at 12:00PM PT without forward Kawhi Leonard, who was still reeling from taking a brutal elbow to the jaw by teammate Serge Ibaka on Christmas Day against the Denver Nuggets.
After the injury, Leonard laid on the ground as a pool of blood formed around him. He left the game and did not return and was listed as day-to-day with a mouth laceration that required eight stitches.
Without Leonard, the Clippers came out flatter than a pancake at breakfast. The Clippers trailed by an NBA record 50 points at halftime, and went on to lose 124-73.
“I take full responsibility,” said Paul George after the loss. “It was a tough game, coming from Christmas. I enjoyed my Christmas Day yesterday, today just popped on me a little too fast. I’ll take full ownership of that, of not coming out and being prepared to play.”
A few hours later, the Lakers played the Minnesota Timberwolves without forward Anthony Davis. That didn’t seem to faze LeBron James and the Lakers as they routed the T-Wolves 127-91, leading by as many as 42 points during the game.
According to STATs, the Mavericks 51-point victory over the Clippers, and the Lakers 36-point win over the Timberwolves was the first time in NBA history that two games were decided by 35 or more points in the same arena on the same day.
Starting in place of Davis, third-year forward Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers with 20 points and nine rebounds. Kuzma hit the court before the game to work on this three-point shot and the momentum carried over into the start of the game.
Similar to the arcade game NBA Jam, Kuzma caught fire from beyond-the-arc, hitting his first four three-pointers. Kuzma scored all 20 points in the first half.
“We have a lot of fire power offensively,” Kuzma said of the blowout victory even without Davis.
In regards to his not taking a shot in the second half, Kuzma said, “I just didn’t have shots. Maybe I could have took one or two, but I just tried to take what the game gave me and I saw a lot of open men, so I used that to my advantage and kept feeding my teammates.”
Kuzma set the tone early for the Lakers in ways that George and others were unable to do for the Clippers. Kuzma had a rebound, an assist, and two blocked shots to go with his 14-point first quarter that helped stake the Lakers out to a 40-23 lead.
“Obviously we have two superstars and when one of those guys are out I get more opportunities,” said Kuzma after the game. “I just tried to seize the moment. It just allows me to have those nights where I’m able to put to life what I work on every day.”
Kuzma’s 14 points outscored the entire Clippers team in the first quarter of their matchup with the Mavericks. The Clippers scored only 13 first quarter points, and 14 points in the second quarter as they trailed 77-27 at the half, as previously mentioned, the largest deficit in NBA history.
So what could have been behind the two lopsided games on Sunday at Staples Center?
To put it simply, travel.
The NBA season is just a few days old and traveling across the country in the era of COVID-19 is still relatively new to NBA teams. The 2020-21 season is not being held in a bubble inside Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida the way the end of the previous season was.
Instead, teams are travelling to empty arenas across the country and having to socially distance on airplanes, hotels, and team busses.
The Lakers began the season at home on December 22nd and have remained in their own homes and their own beds ever since.
Meanwhile, the Timberwolves flew from Minnesota to Utah on Thursday, and from Utah to Los Angeles late Saturday night to play the second of a back-to-back. All of this without All-Star center Karl Anthony Towns who dislocated his wrist late in the team’s victory over the Jazz.
Technically, the Clippers were playing a home game on Sunday, but they too had to travel after flying to Denver on Christmas Day for their game against the Nuggets. The team flew back early in the morning on Saturday, but the early start time did not leave much turnaround for the Clippers, especially without Leonard.
The Mavericks did not have to travel as recently as the Clippers did. Dallas started the season on Wednesday in Phoenix. That night, they made the one-hour flight to Los Angeles where they’ve remained ever since. The additional rest and advantage of staying in Los Angeles proved to be beneficial for the Mavericks on Sunday.
With the shortened NBA season compressed because of the three-month suspension due to the pandemic back in March, it will be interesting to see if travel continues to play a factor in these games moving forward. Most people expect that with COVID-19 cases surging across the country that teams will inevitably have to deal with outbreaks and postponed games, but traveling and playing consecutive games in a row may continue to lead to many more lopsided contests in the foreseeable future.
Source: NBC Los Angeles