Preview & Chat: The Los Angeles Clippers

Kurt —  April 5, 2009

Records: Lakers 60-16 (1st in West) Clippers 18-58 (14th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.5 (3rd in league) Clippers 102.9 (30th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.6 (6th in league) Clippers 112.2 (27th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Clippers Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Fred Jones, Brian Skinner, Zach Randolph

The Lakers coming in Cleveland has come back to the pack, and with the Lakers just one game back now of having home court throughout the playoffs, the Lakers will be slower to take their foot off the gas and rest Kobe and Gasol.

But Phil Jackson may not want to rest Gasol, like all of us have been calling for. Gatinho brought this up in the comments and used a Phil Jackson quote after the last game to make his point.

“But he knows he has to step it up and he’s done a terrific job of playing the kind of minutes that are really a compliment to him, to be able to take care of his body and compete at this level.”

This Phil Jackson quote confirms suspicions I have had as to why he’s playing Pau such heavy minutes. I think Phil believes (And we all saw it) that Pau’s conditioning was a factor in the playoffs last year. He ’s playing him so many minutes to keep him in good condition. I don’t know what kind of worker he is off the court, but a lot of “burn” will put you into a shape that conditioning can’t. So what to us may be perceived as borderline abuse , Jackson sees as a tangible means to toughen/strengthen Pau up for the playoff run, which as Kurt frequently mentions, allows for plenty of rest between games once they begin.

Also, I was at the last game (working for the other place) and was down on the floor watching Andrew Bynum work out before the game. He is moving pretty well, laterally and pivoting on his foot. He was working on plays out of the triangle, and he put away one dunk. On Saturday he apparently ran some 5 on 5. All in all, we should be optimistic. Understand that he is not explosive again yet, he is still recovering, but he is getting there and looks pretty good.

The Clippers Coming In: The Clippers are in the second game of a back-to-back, having played in Denver last night. And they are depleted. Missing in action last night was Marcus Camby (ankle), Mardy Collins (foot), Ricky Davis (knee), Al Thornton (foot), and Chris Kaman (flu),

Off the court, the Clippers are a mess. Looking for a GM to be the boss of the coach that ran the last GM off, that has disaster written all over it.

But in spite of that, on the court there are some pieces that can work. And the rash of injuries to the Clippers stars this year has brought forward a couple young talents that have jumped forward. DeAndre Jordan can leap out of the building and has moments of brilliance.

When I saw the Clippers a month ago, the guy who impressed me with his speed and effort (in contrast to Davis) was Mike Taylor. He is a guy out of the D-League last year who has made the most of his chance. I asked . Kevin Arnovitz (he of Clipperblog and TrueHoop network) his thoughts on Taylor and where he needs to improve to take the next step.

He’s a rabbit. Devastating in transition. Aggressive, lightning quick, can cut through defenses with ease, and has the springs to finish at the rim. Also has a very nice floater, if he needs to pull up.

Though he’s had a torrid streak of late, his jumper isn’t consistent. In the halfcourt, his playmaking abilities are limited — but he’s shown signs of improvement, even in the last three weeks. He’s starting to make passes and find shooters much more effectively than he did earlier in the season before he went out with a hand injury.

Add that to Al Thorton and Eric Gordon and there are some young guys the Clippers can really start to make part of the future. If the GM wants to.

Keys To The Game: One of the first things Phil Jackson said in his post-game press conference is that he told the team that they cannot let up in the next two games, against the Clippers and Sacramento. These are teams that will get up for the game and have some athletes — look past them and they will jump up and bite you. Ask Cleveland about looking past Washington.

Zach Randolph will be “covering” Pau Gasol. Anyone who has watched Randolph play defense knows why that is in quotes. Denver manhandled the Clippers in the paint last night and the Lakers should be able to do the same. (Remember last meeting with the Clips Bynum dropped 42 on them.) The Lakers should be able to get offensive boards and putbacks. They Clips do not have anyone who can cover Odom.

That said, smart defense and help is needed on Randolph, who is a great low-block scorer. The Lakers need to throw a variety of looks at him, and more importantly deny entry passes and force other Clippers to beat them.

In general you want these Clippers to be jump shooters, but not catch and shoots off drive and kicks. Bottom line, when the Clippers get penetration, they become a lot more dangerous. And that is in part due to the fact they have guys who can hit the three. Such as Steve Novak. Do not leave him at the three point line. He is shooting 48.9% from there in the last 10 games. Eric Gordon and Baron Davis also are shooting well from three lately, the Lakers need to try to force more midrange and not give up a lot of open threes.

More Banging with Mbenga, please. He earned the minutes. It should be noted that Phil has been a little less about the steady rotation and more about going with the guys getting it done in that game lately. Play well, Jordan and Sasha, and you get more minutes. That simple.

Where you can watch: 6:30 start here in Los Angeles, the game is on Fox Sports with the Lakers guys or KTLA 5 with Lawler and the Clippers guys.