Still searching for the success that would match the optimism they possessed heading into the season, the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers meet again Tuesday amid the same old refrain: Better days are ahead.
When the teams met in the first week of the season, the Clippers earned a 103-97 victory in Kawhi Leonard's return after missing last season because of knee surgery.
The Clippers downed the Lakers again on Nov. 9, prevailing 114-101 as Leonard was in the midst of a 12-game absence caused by residual knee soreness and the Lakers were nearing the end of a gloomy 2-10 start to the season.
When the teams meet Tuesday, the Clippers are expected to have their stars on the court, with some other key pieces close to a return for their injury-plagued roster. For the Lakers, Anthony Davis is showing signs he should be able to return this week from his current 19-game absence.
The Lakers struggled when Davis went down with a foot injury, before LeBron James led a resurgence by averaging 35.1 points over his past 10 games. The Lakers have played 12 total games in that stretch and have shown their improvement by producing an 8-4 record.
The Lakers not only ended the Memphis Grizzlies' 11-game winning streak at home Friday, but they followed that with a 121-112 road victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday when James scored 37 points and they came back from a 25-point halftime deficit.
James hopes for bigger and better things when Davis hits the court again.
"I don't want to get too excited, because I know what he brings to our ballclub," James said. "Right now, I'm locked in on this ballclub and putting them in position to be successful every night."
On Monday, the Lakers added Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura to the roster in a move that cost them guard Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks.
Not only have the Clippers been playing it safe with Leonard, using frequent load-management of days, but Paul George has missed six games this month because of a hamstring issue. George finally played in consecutive games this weekend for the first time since the injury surfaced, and the Clippers won both.
The pair of road victories came against the San Antonio Spurs, 131-126 on Friday, and the Dallas Mavericks, 112-98 on Sunday. Leonard scored 36 and 30 points, respectively, and his 39 minutes on Sunday represented a season high.
George had 21 points on Sunday as the Clippers defeated the Mavericks for the second time in two weeks, although the Clippers are just 4-9 since Dec. 29.
With the Clippers in search of a point guard they can trust, George has been thrust into the role as of late as John Wall deals with an abdominal injury and Reggie Jackson works to regain the trust of the coaching staff.
"He's been doing a good job of just trying to make the right play, the right pass, but you've got to be aggressive," Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said, according to the Los Angeles Times, about having George balance point guard duties with finding his own scoring opportunities. "He's doing a good job of just understanding what we want to run and how we want to run it."
--Field Level Media