On Monday, the Los Angeles Lakers return from an elongated Thanksgiving break after last taking the court on Wednesday, giving them a rare stretch of four days without a game.
The LA Clippers, who narrowly edged out Sacramento on Saturday, play host to the the Lakers in the second meeting between the STAPLES Center co-tenants this time around.
On Opening Night, the Clippers routed the Lakers as visitors, 108-92.
On that October night, Blake Griffin led the Clippers with 29 points, while DeAndre Jordan grabbed 24 rebounds in a dominant performance. Griffin, Jordan and company went on to win a handful of games before falling apart at the seams. Entering Monday's contest, the Clippers have lost eight of their last 10 games, and even the win over lowly Sacramento required late heroics from Griffin.
With point guards Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic both out injured, Clippers coach Doc Rivers will likely continue using Lou Williams and Austin Rivers in the backcourt and ask for big minutes from his starters. Regardless, Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball won't have to deal with Beverly's aggressive defense, which held the former UCLA Bruin to only three points in his NBA regular season debut.
In a distant, foreign reality than what the Clippers living, the Lakers expect to enter Monday's contest fully healthy after Larry Nance Jr. recovered from a fracture in his hand ahead of schedule. The forward missed 11 games due to injury but returns well ahead of schedule. According to Lakers coach Luke Walton, Nance's return will likely result in a return to the starting lineup for the former Wyoming Cowboy.
As such, rookie Kyle Kuzma should return to the bench after deputizing admirably and providing an extra offensive punch to the starting unit. Kuzma's anticipated return to the bench has been met with slight surprise considering the 22-year-old is currently the team's leading scorer at 16.8 points per game, and the former University of Utah standout is averaging 18.4 points and 7.1 rebounds for the month of November during which he started 11 of the 12 games. In particular, Kuzma has been shooting 37.0 percent from three-point land in those 12 games.
Over all, the rookie forward leads the team in three-point percentage at 36.6 percent for the season. The three ball is one key difference between Nance and Kuzma at the power forward position in the starting unit and is the shot that separates Kuzma from both Nance and Julius Randle on the roster.
The domino effect of Nance's return is that Randle will again be in a dog fight for minutes, especially at the end of games when Nance starts well. Nance provides more of a presence defensively and on the glass, evidenced by the forward leading the team in rebounding despite only averaging 23.1 minutes per contest before suffering the injury. The Ohio-native also recorded three double-doubles in eight games before sitting out.
On Monday night, the fully healthy Lakers enter their own home as visitors to face the wounded Clippers in a matchup of two teams sitting outside the Western Conference playoff picture with nearly a quarter of the season complete. At 8-11, the Lakers sit half a game ahead of the Clippers (7-11) and half a game back of eighth place in Conference. With a win on Monday, the Clippers can leap frog the Lakers in the standings.
Tip-off at Staples Center is 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time.