LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers visit the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
For the first time since the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers completed a major trade last month, they'll meet up at Staples Center on Sunday.
The Lakers sent shooting guard Jordan Clarkson and power forward Larry Nance Jr. to the Cavaliers on Feb. 8 in exchange for point guard Isaiah Thomas, stretch forward Channing Frye and Cleveland's first-round draft pick this year.
The game against the Lakers (29-36) will be the halfway point of a season-long six-game road trip for the Cavaliers, who are in a three-team battle for third place in the Eastern Conference with the Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers.
Lakers center Brook Lopez and point guard Lonzo Ball are the lone players who started against the Cavaliers in a 121-112 loss in Cleveland on Dec. 14 and should also start in the rematch. Lopez has scored 27 and 29 points in the past two games to bump his season average to 12.3.
"The past two games, he's kind of looked like the Brook from Brooklyn, getting in that paint, posting up," Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma said. "When he does that, he's one of the best back-to-the-basket bigs in the league."
Clarkson is averaging 13.3 points and shooting 42.2 percent from 3-point range in 11 games with Cleveland (38-27). He continues to come off the bench, a role he occupied in 51 of 53 games with the Lakers this season, averaging 14.5 points and shooting 32.4 percent from 3-point distance.
Nance is averaging 11.9 points and 8.5 rebounds in 11 games with Cleveland. He moved into the starting lineup alongside LeBron James on Monday against the Detroit Pistons, and is averaging 18.3 points and 13.3 rebounds in three games as a starter.
Though Clarkson and Nance should look familiar to the hometown fans, the Cavaliers will also feature a considerably different lineup than the one that took the floor against Los Angeles in December.
Cleveland forward Kevin Love fractured a bone in his left hand in late January. Though he's ahead of schedule in his eight-week recovery time, the former UCLA star won't be available against the Lakers.
Love's absence has been felt particularly on the boards. The Cavaliers were outrebounded 52-40 in a 116-102 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night.
"Everybody has to step up," James told reporters in the locker room afterward. "We know it's a challenge for us to rebound."
Jae Crowder was traded to the Utah Jazz last month, and Jose Calderon has fallen out of the rotation, though he could see more minutes against the Lakers after Rodney Hood was limited against the Clippers because of a lower-back strain and Cedi Osman left midway through the third quarter with a left hip strain.
The Lakers replaced Nance in the starting lineup with Julius Randle about three weeks before the trade, and Randle has been one of their most consistent players. He's scored in double figures in every game since becoming a starter on Jan. 17, and has elevated his scoring average each month this season.
Kuzma scored 20 points off the bench in the loss to the Cavaliers earlier this season, but he also starts now. Brandon Ingram, who scored a team-high 26 points in that game, is out at least another game with a strained groin.
Josh Hart, another starter against the Cavaliers in December, had surgery on his fractured hand last week and is out indefinitely. Hart has been replaced in the starting lineup by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.