LOS ANGELES — More often than not, the nomadic lifestyle of the NBA will distance players from their loved ones on holidays.
This Easter, the league’s schedule brought the Morris twins together at Staples Center for a nationally televised duel between their respective teams, as the Lakers and Clippers met for the first time since the season opener in December.
The black headband won this round: Marcus Morris Sr.’s game-high 22 points helped lead the Clippers to a 104-86 victory over the short-handed Lakers, who continued to struggle to score without their superstars LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (Achilles) available. On Sunday, they put up their fewest points all season.
The Clippers’ big guns, meanwhile, helped Morris do much of the heavy lifting: Kawhi Leonard flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 19 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. The Moreno Valley native scored or assisted on 38 points in 34 minutes, nearly matching the Lakers starters, who put up 42 points total, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
And Paul George, the Palmdale product, added 16 points and nine rebounds for Clippers, for whom Rajon Rondo made his debut Sunday. A member of last season’s Lakers championship squad, the veteran point guard played 13 minutes, coming off the bench for two points, three assists, two steals, a rebound and four turnovers.
It was Marcus Morris who really got the Clippers cooking Sunday, when he and his brother were assigned to guard each other as starters for the first time.
“It’s always a pleasure going against my brother,” an appreciative Morris said via Zoom video conference after he shot 9 of 13 from the field and 4 for 5 from deep, and grabbed seven rebounds.
“We’ve fought our way through this league for 11 years and been on one of the biggest stages in the same city on two great teams, it’s a blessing for both of us, and it just shows how hard we worked and we both just tremendously happy for each other. It’s just special for our family to be able to enjoy Easter and be all together, be able to watch me and him go against each other.”
In a white headband, Markieff Morris — who re-signed with the Lakers in free agency after contributing to their title run last season in the bubble — couldn’t do much to slow his bro in their 17th NBA game facing off.
His nine points (all of which came in the first half, when he shot 4 for 7) were a small dent in making up the difference, as Marcus — who signed a four-year, $64 million deal to return to the Clippers — improved his record against his twin to 6-11, and 2-2 as members of the L.A.’s rival teams.
“We gave him stuff yesterday about if he did not want to start on his brother, if he didn’t want to do it, let us know now,” Clippers Coach Tyronn Lue said. “He said, ‘Whatever we got to do to win.’ He came out and in that first half really set a tone for us offensively.”
Marcus Morris made his first four shots to chart a path for the Clippers, who wound up tallying their 11th-lowest scoring total but nonetheless led by as many as 24 points without ever trailing.
The Clippers snapped a two-game skid and improved to 33-18, holding onto the third seed and extending their slim lead over the fourth-seeded Lakers to 1 ½ games in the Western Conference standings.
“I know we had an opportunity to get past the Clippers today,” Lakers Coach Frank Vogel said. “Disappointed we didn’t get that done. But other than that, we’re not looking at standings at all. Just looking at winning the next game.”
That will be Tuesday against Toronto in Tampa, Florida, where the Lakers will try to bounce back after falling to 31-19 overall and losing for the sixth time in nine games.
On Sunday, former Clipper Montrezl Harrell’s 19 points off the bench led the Lakers, who shot just 40.5% (32 for 79), their third-lowest percentage of the season. Talen Horton-Tucker added 16 points and Marc Gasol was the only other Laker to score in double figures, with 11.
The Lakers’ previous lowest scoring output this season was 89 points, in a loss at Utah in February.
They had just 38 points by halftime Sunday, when news broke — via The Athletic’s Shams Charania and confirmed by a league source — that the Clippers are set to sign center DeMarcus Cousins, whom the Lakers waived last season so they could sign Markieff Morris, once he clears the league’s coronavirus health and safety protocols in the coming days.
Cousins will give the Clippers some added depth at center, reinforcement that could prove important with Serge Ibaka having missed his 10th consecutive game and unable yet to play five-on-five as he works his way back from what the team is calling lower back tightness.
The Lakers and the Clippers are scheduled to meet once more in the regular season, on May 6, in what will be another “home” game for the Clippers.