On Tap: The Los Angeles Clippers

 —  January 26, 2005

Traditionally in these previews, the focus is on the other team, its strengths and weaknesses, and how the Lakers match up. Today I’m taking a different tack — I plan to focus almost exclusively on the Lakers and life without Kobe, because if things aren’t going right in your own house it doesn’t matter who the opponent is.

And, while the Lakers are 4-2 since Kobe went down, that has been in spite of their defense. In the first four games without Kobe, the Lakers gave up 104.4 points per 100 possessions, up from 103.7 previously this season (thanks to Kevin Pelton for those numbers).

Last night, against a good perimeter team, things got worse. The Lakers not only lost, they allowed the Sonics to get to 114.2 points per 100 possessions, well above that team’s already second-best-in-the-NBA average (109.7). I hate to say a team just isn’t hustling on defense, but that’s how it appeared for stretches against Seattle. Why did Radmanovic get so many good looks when it became clear he was the hottest shooter in the building? Even after he hit a few threes Laker players were still insanely late on their rotations out to him.

Other key factors in the loss are the Lakers gave up 20 offensive rebounds (grabbing nine) and had three more turnovers than Seattle, which contributed to Seattle taking 19 more shots than the Lakers. When a team shooting 50.7% eFG% on the season takes 19 more shots than you, you’ve got a huge hole to climb out of. That problem is not new, it been a Laker pattern all season that has worsened with Kobe gone.

The Laker team and coaching staff need to find some defensive answers tonight.

Rudy T. appeared to be looking for answers everywhere and anywhere last night. Luke Walton stepped up and took advantage of his turn, earning himself a little more run with scoring and decent defense. (Luke’s bigger problem really is with Mitch K. and not Rudy T. — when Kobe returns Luke will be fighting for playing time with Caron Butler, Jumaine Jones and Devean George. We are so overloaded at the three it’s actually a little sad.)

After facing the best perimeter team in the league, tonight the Lakers get a team that gets its points inside. Elton Brand is the driving force behind the Clippers with a PER of 21.8, considerably better than any of his teammates. He missed the last game and tonight should draw the attention of Odom, Chris Mihm and Brian Grant. When he was out last game Corey Maggette stepped up with 27 points, but he may not play tonight due to a sore left foot. Also, Chris Kaman has had some good nights recently and can’t be ignored. Tonight should be a good game for Chucky Atkins to bounce back, the Sonics are weakest at the point defensively.

Despite what Marco Jaric thinks, the Lakers should be able to beat the Clippers. That said, to do so they need to play defense, keep Brand (and Simmons and Wilcox if he plays) off the offensive glass, and get the offense back to the move-the-ball system we saw last week and not last night.

Will the Lakers do that? You think I can predict what Laker team will show up night-to-night?