Game Preview & Chat: The Los Angeles Clippers

Kurt —  December 16, 2007

Records: Lakers 13-9; Clippers 9-13
Offensive ratings: Lakers 110.8 (8th); Clippers 101.1 (28th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.2 (13th); Clippers 104.9 (9th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Clippers: Brevin Knight, Cuttino Mobley, Corey Maggette, Tim Thomas, Chris “what hair?” Kaman.

Lakers Notes:Kobe Bryant is a game-time decision with a strained (or slightly torn, depending on the report) quadricep. Regular readers here know my feeling on these things — this early in the season you rest those injuries. You don’t want some nagging injury that hurts the team over months rather than Kobe just missing a game or three.

If Kobe sits, and frankly even if he plays as he won’t be 100%, somebody is going to have to step up and be the key focus on the offense. There are two candidates here: Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Bynum will face some challenges tonight as Kaman is a big, strong body in the paint that will make it hard for Bynum to consistently get that deep position he likes, and (at times) Kaman shows nifty footwork and good quickness on the defensive end. The other problem for Bynum: He has been getting poor post feeds from Odom and Fisher, making it harder for him to get the ball where he wants it.

Odom, who has born the brunt of some Lakers fans frustration of late, is capable of putting up a great game. The problem is I’m not sure we’ve seen that kind of smart and consistent play since his first game back from the injury. If Kobe sits the Lakers need more than just the usual 13 and 8 from him tonight, he needs to step up.

One other guy who could have a big night — Derek Fisher. He will have a lesser PG on him and this could be a night he steps up big.

And we’ll finish with one interesting stat: Since the trade, Trevor Ariza’s PER is 22.1, which would be second best on the team behind Kobe. Hopefully Phil will start to show more faith in him at key times.

The Clippers Coming In: UPDATED: Kevin at the brilliantClipperblog, who is the best X’s and O’s blogger out there, was kind enough to answer a couple of questions about the two key offensive cogs for the Clips, and so I’ve included those in this preview now:

The Clippers have been without their best player for the entire season (and maybe their second best, Sam Cassell, for weeks). That said the Clippers have been respectable this year because they are playing good team defense.

Two guys have really stepped up on offense — Chris Kaman and Corry Maggette.

Kaman has become a force in the paint, making up somewhat for the loss of Brand. He is shooting 50%, using 20% of the offense when he’s on the floor (up from 17% the season before), and scoring 19 points per 40 minutes. He gets most of his shots right at the basket, using his big body to get position or rebound putbacks (he is grabbing 19% of the available rebounds on the floor, near the top of the league), but he can hit a 12 to 15-footer if open, particularly straight on (he is solid in the high post).

I asked Kevin: Is Kaman playing better because of changes in his game, because of the absence of Brand or some combination?

As Brand did in the summer of 2005, Kaman whipped himself into shape. Whether it’s conditioning, or just mental focus, Kaman is considerably more agile. Where he’d bring the ball down toward the floor last season or take a tentative quasi-jab step, this season he’s considerably more decisive moving toward the hoop. Having said that, I think Chris is much more comfortable on the strong side. And Elton’s absence on the block is one less thing for Chris to worry about as he sets up low.

Maggette has always been able to get to the hole and he shoots well there and gets to the line a lot — he is averaging 9.1 free throw attempts per game, which is more than Kobe. He can shoot the corner three if you leave him open, but the book on him has always been to turn him into a midrange shooter.

I asked Kevin: What about Corey Maggette, who is playing well this season. A matter of opportunity or is he doing something he didn’t do before?

To some extent, Corey’s improvement started toward the end of last season. He’s making better decision and is working a little harder off the ball. As an example, Corey [via Dunleavy?] recognized the other night against Miami that he could handle Dorell Wright in the post. Now, Corey’s inclination is to receive the ball out on the wing. But he understood that the mismatch was low…so that’s where he went and it paid off. That aside, I think Corey’s most profound improvement has been defensively.

Also, the Clippers have got someone with some promise in Al Thorton. He’s still trying to find his shot at the NBA level (shooting 40.3% eFG%) but he is grabbing 11.9% of the available rebounds. He’s going to be a quality NBA player.

Quote I found interesting: From Phil Jackson, in today’s OC Register, talking about the steroid issue in baseball:

“It’s not been known in our game,” he said. “But I’ve been aware of human growth hormone for 15 years and that’s the biggest rage now.”

Keys To The Game: The Kaman/Bynum battle should be an interesting one, Kaman has given the Lakers problems the last couple of years but if Bynum puts out the kind of effort on defense he did on Dwight Howard he can have a big impact. He’ll also get help, Phil said the Lakers would double Kaman in the post, and basically dare the Clippers to beat the Lakers from the outside.

On defense, the Lakers (without Kobe or even with the injured version) don’t have anyone who can play Maggette well on the perimeter, but I’d put Odom on him and have him play off him some, daring him to take the outside shot (please, Phil, no Walton on Maggette). On the whole I’d pack the defense in some against a team shooting just 45.9% (eFG%) this season, 28th in the league.

This is also a game the Lakers bench could be key — Farmar is going to have Dan Dickau on him and should be able to have a good night. Radmanovic and the rest of the guys off the bench should be able to give the Lakers a boost against a weaker Clips second unit.

Tonight’s Game: Where Rivalry Happens: Some Lakers fans don’t think of the Clippers as a rival, but the Clips see it that way and they really have been the better team the last three years. It will be interesting to see how the Lakers play without or with a hobbled Kobe, but good teams step up and win these games.

Where you can watch: Game time is 6:30 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KTLA (5) the Clippers broadcast team (who I think are better) or tune into Fox Sports to catch the Lakers broadcasters. Or, on a controversial foul, flip between the two and watch two semi-homer broadcasters have completely different takes.