By Don Wanlass
It’s a long, grueling season and the Lakers and Clippers aren’t even at the halfway point, so there is no reason to panic.
Both teams are slumping as the all-star break approaches with injuries and COVID-19 protocols starting to take their toll on the teams that most NBA experts still expect to be competing into late June this year.
But neither team has looked like championship material lately.
On a night the Lakers lost to the Phoenix Suns, 114-104, the Clippers lost to the Boston Celtics, 117-112. The March 2 losses dropped the Lakers to third and the Clippers to fourth in the NBA Western Conference standings as the Suns eased into second place behind the Utah Jazz, who are starting to look like the real deal at the top of the standings.
The Lakers are still missing all-star Anthony Davis, who is nursing an Achilles injury and is not expected back this month.
In the loss to Phoenix, they were also without starting center Marc Gasol and key substitute Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma has a bruised heel. Gasol was benched due to COVID-19 protocols a week after starting point guard Dennis Schroder missed time for the same reason.
With Davis, Gasol and Kuzma out, the Lakers were short of big men. It forced Montrezl Harrell into the starting lineup and he was outscored by Suns center Deandre Ayton, 17-6.
James scored 38 points but it wasn’t enough for the Lakers. It did show the Lakers may need to make a move before the upcoming trade deadline.
They are woefully short of big men. Gasol is starting to look his age and Harrell is too short to play center for 30 minutes a game.
The Lakers recently signed 6-10 Damian Jones to a 10-day contract. Jones is in his fifth season in the league, but has never played much anywhere since his collegiate days at Vanderbilt.
The team is waiting to see if Cleveland releases Andre Drummond or Detroit cuts Blake Griffin for extra depth at center.
Of course, the best solution to improve the Lakers front court is a healthy Davis. The Lakers don’t need him now, but they will in May, June and July. Hopefully, rest is all his sore Achilles needs.
The Clippers biggest need is someone to run the offense. That’s not a problem that’s easy to solve when you consider their two top scorers, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, both need the ball in their hands to be successful.
The problem is Leonard and George tend to isolate once they get the ball and, come crunch time late in the game, they are prone to turn the ball over. Reggie Jackson and Patrick Beverly can both play the point, but neither is a Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo when it comes to getting the ball to shooters who are ready to shoot.
The Clippers’ weaknesses can be solved just like the Lakers’. Nobody thought the two local teams would sail through an 82-game schedule without a slump or two.
It’s just that both teams have hit the skids at about the same time.
The all-star break and upcoming trade deadline may provide solutions to their problems.
TIGER SALUTE: Several golfers on the PGA Tour saluted Tiger Woods, recovering from a serious car accident in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, at last weekend’s tournament by wearing Tiger’s trademark red and black on Sunday.
Woods has always worn his winning colors — red shirt and black slacks — on Sundays and several golfers emulated him, including Tony Finau and Rory McIlroy.
Even Anika Sorenstam, back on the women’s tour, wore a red top and black skirt in Tiger’s honor.
Woods has made a lot of golfers rich over the years. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were the first golfing stars to earn more money off the course than on the course, but Woods has surged past them.
How have the purses changed in the last 50 years? Palmer won 62 PGA tournaments during his career for $3.6 million in earnings.
Collin Morikawa, who won the WGC-Workday Championship in Bradenton, Florida, Feb. 28, won half that ($1.8 million), just for winning last week’s tournament.
Justin Spieth, 28, and Rory McIlroy, 31, are already in the top 10 of golf’s all-time earners thanks to the prize money current players receive.
And they all can thank Tiger Woods.
MARCH MADNESS: The Pac 12 Conference Tournament begins next week, which means its time to start getting interested in college basketball.
The USC Trojans were cruising along leading the conference and moving into the top 15 in the country until they lost three out of four recently.
The Trojans rely too heavily on freshman center Evan Mobley, who is expected to be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft later this year. Mobley is spectacular at times but he has disappeared for long stretches recently and no one else has proven to be a consistent scorer.
UCLA currently sits atop the conference standings, a half-game ahead of Oregon. The Bruins don’t have a go-to player, but they play hard for coach Mick Cronin, who has convinced the Bruins that playing solid defense is essential to winning.
Both the Bruins and Trojans have a shot to advance to the NCAA Tournament, where they might be able to sneak up on teams that don’t realize how good the Pac 12 is.
FALL MADNESS: Speaking of USC and UCLA, both teams released their 2021 football schedule this week, a sure sign that the coronavirus pandemic is starting to wind down. Who knows, we might have fans in the seats next fall.
The Trojans open with San Jose State in the Coliseum Sept. 4 and then play five Pac 12 games before facing Notre Dame in South Bend in October.
They end the season with the Arizona schools, California and UCLA before ending the season against BYU.
UCLA gets all of its non-conference games out of the way early, opening with Hawaii Aug. 28, hosting Louisiana State Sept. 4 (women and young children may not be allowed to watch that) and then facing Fresno State Sept. 18. They then face nine straight Pac 12 opponents in 10 weeks, with a bye Nov. 7.
The Bruins face USC at the Coliseum Nov. 20 and close out the season against California Nov. 27.