For the first time since 2005, the Lakers and Clippers took the floor in April knowing it would be their last time doing so of the season, as both teams fell short of making the playoffs during a year where Los Angeles basketball looked to be promising.
For the team in purple-and-gold, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball were all injured in the final game of the season, but that only allowed rookie guard Josh Hart to score a career-high 30 points for the Lakers, in route to their 115-100 win over the LA Clippers Wednesday night at Staples Center.
“You don’t always get a lot of opportunities, but when they come you’ve got to be ready,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “And Josh was ready all season long, including this last stretch. It should motivate him to really work this offseason.”
Hart capped of his rookie campaign on a hot-streak, scoring 20-plus points for the Lakers Final four games of the season and took advantage of key players being out of the lineup [Ball, Kuzma and Ingram].
“I told y’all cause Kuz wasn’t in the game, “said Hart sarcastically. “Kuz wants to jack (up shots) all the time.”
“The biggest thing for us is getting the experience and we did that. We all want each other to succeed. We were eliminated from playoff contention and no one went out on their own. Every game until the end of the season, we played hard, competed and played for each other.”
Two-way player Gary Payton II added a career-best 25 points off the bench, as he looked to grab the attention of any possible teams looking to sign an explosive-young guard.
“He was really good,” said Walton. “I told him the shots aren’t always gonna drop, but that’s how aggressive you have to play… he was making plays on defense, getting in the paint, that’s just how he has to play all the time in that attack mode.”
Dreams lived on for 32-year-old Andre Ingram Wednesday night, as he made his special NBA debut following a decade of playing in the G League. He scored 19 points Tuesday night against the Houston Rockets, and showed just how versatile he could be against the Clippers, adding five points, along with a game-high six assists.
“To think I wasn’t even going to be here,” Ingram said. “To think I was going to be on a plane home to Virginia. Instead to be here living out a dream. It was amazing. … To cap it off with a win, to have the special night last night… What more could I ask for?”
Julius Randle played in all 82 games of the season for the first time in his young career and averaged 16.1 points per game and eight rebounds, as the Lakers will have a huge decision to make on retaining him once he becomes a restricted free agent this summer.
“That’s incredible, that’s a badge to honor in this league,” added Walton on Randle playing all 82 games. “When you play as hard as [Julius] plays night end and night out, he should get a lot of praise and love for that.”
For the Los Angeles Clippers, there is much uncertainty on who will be returning to the team next season, as management will have many decisions to make after an injury-rattled season.
Just to start off, Clippers coach Doc Rivers has one year left on his contract for about $10 million and was asked about his thoughts on his future in Los Angeles.
“I don’t know, I don’t even know like to answer it right now,” Rivers said. “I understand the question. I love what I do, but that doesn’t mean you keep doing it every year, you know what I mean?”
DeAndre Jordan, who has been one of the Clippers key cornerstones for years now, has a player-option for next season that will pay him $24 million if he decides to opt-in on the deal, but he truly seeks loyalty from the franchise going forward.
“I want to be where I’m wanted,” Jordan said. “I want to continue my career and have the chance to contend and be winning. So, that’s what I’m really looking at.”
The Los Angeles Clippers finished the season 42-40 along with a four-game losing streak and missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
“I don’t even know what to do tomorrow,” added Rivers, as he it will be only his fourth time missing the playoffs in 19 years of coaching.
For the Lakers, they finished with 35 wins, which is the their most since the 2012-13 season, as will heavily lean on the progression of their young talent, along with a huge agency class that may feature LeBron James and Paul George.