Preview & Chat: The Los Angeles Clippers

Kurt —  October 27, 2009

NBA 2009 - Lakers Beat Clippers 88-85
Records: Lakers 0-0 Clippers 0-0
Offensive ratings: Lakers NA Clippers NA
Defensive ratings: Lakers NA Clippers NA
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Clippers: Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Al Thornton, Craig Smith, Chris Kaman

Going For The Game One Overload: In addition to the flowing comments here, I’ll be taking part in a live chat tonight at the NBA page. There will be some NBA writers, a few of us bloggers and whoever else wanders in. When I have the link I’ll post it, but come on by there (I’ll be bouncing between here and there like a Forest Gump ping-pong match).

The Lakers Coming in: First the injury news: Gasol is a game-time decision but I expect the Lakers to err on the side of caution and he will sit. Kobe has a sore foot, but frankly if you amputated his foot this afternoon he would still play. Also, DJ Mbenga is your inactive tonight.

Tonight first is a chance to celebrate last season — and we should revel in that one more time. Championships are precious things to be savored. Enjoy the ring ceremony, enjoy the banner being unveiled. Soak it in.

Then the players need to forget and move on.

After a preseason of “Phil Jackson’s Experimental Kitchen” tonight we start to get a feel for his rotations. Well, a little bit. Obviously no Gasol means no early Odom and probably some time for Josh Powell. I am curious to see the guard order off the bench (Farmar, Sasha, then Brown is my guess). I’ll add I think Brown gets more minutes tonight because the Clippers backcourt of Davis and Gordon are physically strong — that suits Brown’s defense better. Jordan may get some time on the ultra-quick Telfair.

The Clippers Coming in: Again? Already the injury bug has bitten the Clippers — Blake Griffin is out six weeks with a stress fracture. It really does suck, he won me over with his play at Summer League and just came off as a down-to-earth guy when you spoke with him. Fortunately it’s not career threatening. In addition to the headline injury, Baron Davis and Marcus Camby are slowed, but expected to play tonight.

Still, there is hope in Clippers land. And — on paper — there should be. Kevin at Clipperblog explains:

Griffin and Gordon may not be saviors, but they’re something. Griffin’s skills and his tenacious work ethic (the guy runs up sand dunes in his free time) will be a boon to a team desperate for cultural overhaul. Gordon offers an enticing combination of spot-up shooting and forays into the paint. He finished third in true shooting percentage among starting off guards in his rookie campaign, something that can only help a team that ranked dead last in offensive efficiency last season.

Both Griffin and Gordon are 20 years old, and it’s unreasonable to expect them to make the Clippers a playoff team by themselves. Fortunately, the Clips have surrounded the duo with a decent collection of veterans. The list starts at center, where Marcus Camby is in the twilight of his career at 35, but remains a formidable defensive rover and rebounder. A healthy Chris Kaman commands serious defensive attention in the post and can block shots in bundles.

But there is really one big question looming over the Clippers season: Can Baron Davis and Mike Dunleavy share the sandbox? Their clash of styles last year — Davis thinking he was still with Golden State while Dunleavy wanted to play slower than the Spurs — was the millstone around the Clippers neck. This year, Davis has come in promising to do what his coach asks (plus he looks fit). Dunleavy, with a team full of young guys that can run, would be a fool not to let them. Maybe they should try a little of what Phil Jackson has done with the Lakers — the first seven seconds of the shot clock run and freelance, but after that run the offense. We will see.

Blogs/Links to check out: In addition to the previously mentioned ClipperBlog — just one of the best team blogs out there in the NBA — check out ClipsNation.

Also, check out ESPN’s E:60 for a feature on Ron Artest today. (Starts at 4 Pacific on the big network.)

On a separate note, great piece in the New York Times Sunday on the history of basketball and James Naismith.

Keys to game: This will be the first test of one of the big concerns about the Lakers this season — focus. Plenty of teams get wrapped up in the rings and the banner and the celebration and forget about the game at hand. Meanwhile, the other team sits there and watches the rings and the banners and just gets ticked, then comes out focused. Darius notes that during the preseason, energy was not the issue.

I love the mentality of this team; I love what this team is projecting when they’re on the court. They look loose, they look like they’re having fun, and best of all they look like they’re competing and still hungry. People have had complacency concerns with this team and that is understandable. But I think back to the weeks right after the season and hearing Fish and Kobe talk about the mindset of a repeating champion. How the goals for this team aren’t limited to winning one title, but in extending their run to put their stamp on the league. This is where having the Phil/Kobe/Fisher triumvirate is meaningful to long-term success. These guys have all been through successful 3-peats and they *know* what it takes. With these guys steering the ship I’m positive we’ll put forth our best effort in driving for the ultimate goal. That doesn’t mean we won’t have some lackluster nights or lose games against bad teams. But it does mean that this team will play their best ball when it matters most.

On offense the Lakers will stay with the pattern seen in the preseason — they will go in to the post early and often. Bynum will get touches, and Odom may as well. One matchup I’d like to see the Lakers exploit is Ron Artest covered by Al Thornton — because Thornton and defense are like oil and water. Look for Rasual Butler to get the majority of the time at the three, he plays defense, and Thornton should get some time at the four with Butler. Of course, Kobe should be able to get his as always. Scoring is not the concern tonight.

On defense, the Lakers need to cut off the head — focus on Baron Davis. That starts with Fisher (and Brown and Farmar) but it is going to take smart rotations from Bynum and Odom as well. Next, the Lakers need to not let Craig Smith eat them up inside like he did in preseason. Granted, that was preseason, but the Lakers need to make sure he doesn’t drop 20+.

Without Griffin, the Clippers will be more of a perimeter team. As Darius noted in the comments, Kobe likes to play free safety and has wandered away from Eric Gordon in the past — do that tonight and he will have a big game. No need to collapse inside, the bigs got it. Stay at home.

Finally, the Lakers need to get back in transition — the Clippers have a lot of guys who can run. Gordon, DeAndre Jordan (who I like a lot, he could have a big year) and Griffin when healthy all can get out and go, and with Telfair running the second unit they could get good looks in transition. The Lakers need to get back.

Where you can watch: TNT has the game, with a 7:30 tip off after what should be an entertaining Celtics/Cavaliers tilt. (The best part of the first game will be watching some columnist from the losing city virtually write their city’s team off after a loss in the first game of a long season.) Hopefully TNT will give us a lot of ring ceremony, which starts at 7 (if TNT runs long is supposed to have a stream of the ceremony).