Jeff Sherman, the vice president of risk management for the Race & Sports SuperBook at the Westgate in Las Vegas, flipped through the Lakers’ schedule, looking for the next time he thought the Lakers would be favored again.
He looked. And looked. And looked. And looked.
“April 26 at Orlando.”
The Lakers won as an underdog Friday in Sacramento. They’re underdogs Sunday against the Clippers. With Anthony Davis and LeBron James on the court only in the new “Space Jam” trailer, the Lakers are going to be underdogs for their upcoming trip — at least as of now. Sherman said the Lakers would be favored in Charlotte if it weren’t the second night of back-to-back games.
The Clippers’ position is slightly more stable.
Paul George is dealing with an injury that can best be described as “nagging.” Two other starters — center Serge Ibaka and guard Patrick Beverley — are out of the lineup and not on the cusp of returns. And the problems that dogged them last year, have they really been fixed?
Sunday when the Clippers and the Lakers meet for the first time since opening night, nothing of substance can be determined from the outcome. For both teams, their best is still an idea — not a reality.
With that in mind, we asked scouts and executives around the NBA to answer five big-picture questions about L.A.’s two contenders. Here’s what they had to say:
Which move will matter more, the Lakers adding Andre Drummond or the Clippers adding Rajon Rondo?
The Clippers flipped former sixth man of the year Lou Williams for Rondo at the deadline, a move that had a lot of fans wondering what the Clippers were doing. Rondo will debut against the Lakers, Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said.
Drummond’s addition was less of a shock, the Lakers linked to him since Cleveland made it clear it would release him if it couldn’t find a trade partner.
“Initially, I thought Rondo” would make the bigger difference “but now I’m thinking Drummond,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “I still wonder if Davis will be fully healthy down the stretch. That short offseason wasn’t good for him.”
“Drummond will make more of a difference,” another Eastern Conference exec said. “They already had a size advantage. Adding more won’t hurt.”
A Western Conference scout said he thought Drummond would be better in the regular season, but “Rondo in the playoffs” would have the greater impact.
A West executive said Rondo because he’s not a believer in Drummond.
“I’d say Rondo has the higher expected impact because of team need, and because I still think Rondo can help a good team in a playoff series,” the executive said. “Andre is higher variance. If you can get 10 good games where he plays his role and doesn’t try to do too much, he’s a better player than Rondo.
“But I don’t know if you can count on him to do that.”
Who would you rather have, Terance Mann or Talen Horton-Tucker?
The two former second-round draft picks have developed into critical rotation players for their teams.
Surprisingly all four executives said they’d rather have the Clippers’ Mann, though there was plenty of love for Horton-Tucker.
“I’d rather have Mann right now for this playoff run,” an Eastern Conference executive said, “but [I’d take] THT as a long-term piece.”
One Western Conference scout said that while he likes Horton-Tucker, he viewed Mann as the stronger complementary piece.
Two other evaluators shared nearly identical sentiments, with another taking Mann outright.
“Everyone is high on THT, but it could just be a phase,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “I think Mann will end up being better overall, and I think his ceiling in higher.”
What concerns you most with each team?
When it came to the Lakers, everyone answered the same — “health.”
For the Clippers, it’s more complicated, people waiting for them to prove that they won’t crumble again if under severe playoff pressure.
“What happens when they are down in a series or a game?” a Western Conference scout asked.
“The Clippers’ lack of consistency and sense of urgency is concerning,” an East executive said. “They should be so much better in all areas, so I wonder how mentally tough they are. They needed Rondo Day 1, so it will be interesting to see how much of a difference he can make.”
If you could change one thing about either team, what would it be?
One Western Conference scout said he thinks the Clippers should keep Ivica Zubac in the starting lineup, even when Ibaka comes back. A West executive said the Clippers should take the reins off Luke Kennard to see what he can do as the primary second-unit point guard.
And then there’s the mental challenge.
“I would make sure they want it more than everyone else wants it for them,” an Eastern Conference executive said.
For the Lakers, the team could use more shooting, with the West executive saying the team should stick with Marc Gasol at center.
“Andre has physical tools he doesn’t appreciate enough,” the exec said. “And Marc is a great player. I’d love to see him have one last playoff run.”
Which team do you believe in more, the Lakers or the Clippers?
Ultimately, this is what matters most. Even though the Lakers are underdogs, everyone who was asked picked them.
“They have LeBron,” one Eastern executive said flatly.
“I believe in the Lakers more because they have LeBron and he’s still the best player in the world,” a Western executive said. “And he can, single-handedly lead a team to a ring. I can’t say the same for Kawhi Leonard or Paul George.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.