Preview & Chat: The Los Angeles Clippers

Kurt —  January 6, 2010

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Records: Lakers 28-6 (1st in West) Clippers 15-18 (12th in West)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.6 (11th in league), Clippers 104.4 (23rd in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 100.6 (2nd in league) Clippers 107.1 (18th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Clippers: Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Rasual Butler, Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman

Site Work Warning: I was just informed by my server host that this site will go down just after 10 p.m. tonight for some server work. I’m not thrilled, and have expressed my displeasure, but it’s going to happen. So know it’s not you, it’s me.

Bring Lawyers, Guns and Money: If there is one thing that will get David Stern to act, it’s when his league becomes the target of late night comedians. Or when, as Tom Ziller put it, you have a gun charge then have “The Finger Shots Heard ‘Round the World.” Stern has made it is mission to change the “NBA players are all thugs” perception and when somebody brings out guns in a locker room, they are in a heap of trouble because of it. You can say that the NFL and MLB deserve the thug reputation more than the NBA all you want, that is not the perception around the nation. So when someone goes and reinforces the stereotype — and breaks gun laws in the city with some of the strictest gun laws in the nation — you had to know the big hit was coming. And I just don’t have a lot of sympathy, guns in the locker room are just a bad idea.

Lakers coming in: If you’re going to have a back-to-back, this no-travel one is about as good as it gets. That said, no Gasol tonight, so expect the same Lakers lineup. Hopefully we can see the same level of defensive effort, because that is what keyed last night.

Stat Heads, you don’t want to miss Kevin Pelton from Basketball Prospectus talking with Mike Trudell on the Lakers podcast.

The Clippers Coming In: This team is playing some of its best basketball of the season, are 5-5 in their last 10 having won four in a row at Staples and notching an impressive win over what’s left of the Portland roster in their last game.

Chris Kaman has become the Clippers offensive focal point — he is averaging 23 points and 10 rebounds a game in the last team’s last 10 games, plus he is pulling down 10 boards per contest. So easy, even a Kaman can do it. Kaman is underrated — he can score with either hand around the basket and has a mid-range face-up game that has become a steady weapon (you know, all the things we want Bynum to do). And, he has stepped up to the challenge of being the offensive focal point.

Baron Davis and Eric Gordon have been each scoring 16.3 per game the last 10, although Gordon is the only one of the two you need to really fear from beyond the arc. Then there is Marcus Camby, giving the Clippers 13 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game in the last 10. He loves to come from the weakside, so any Lakers driving the lane need to be aware.

By the way, I still think three years from now we will think of Blake Griffin as the best out of this draft class. He’ll get a chance to start proving that in about three weeks.

Reading up on the Clippers: Two great Clippers blogs out there: Kevin at Clipperblog (and his team of guys) just continue to amaze, while Steve and the guys at Clips Nation continue to put up great post after great post.

Keys to game: The Clippers are not a team that the Lakers can sleep on and get the win — they have talent and have been putting it together lately. Remember, a couple weeks ago they beat the Celtics. They have won three of four and still harbor dreams of a playoff slot. If the Lakers take this game lightly they will lose.

The marquee matchup tonight will be between two guys who think they should be the backup All Star center in the West — Kaman and Bynum. (Marc Gasol would like to be in this conversation, too, even if he is not playing in this game.) It will be interesting to see if Bynum’s length bothers Kaman, and if Kaman’s size and strength will bother Bynum and not let him make his moves in the post as smoothly. Also, with Camby, the Clippers have the size along the front line to bother the Lakers, and they are one of the few teams that do.

What the Clippers run is not complex, they just rely on execution, particularly from Davis and Gordon. Which is why things can be spotty. They run a lot of the double high post (big at each elbow) where Davis/Gordon can choose their side for the pick-and-roll. The Lakers bigs need to step out and defend the penetration but keep an eye on their man (Camby and Kaman can both pop off the pick and take the midrange shot), the Lakers need to make smart switches. All of which the Lakers did last night, but expecting consistency never seems to go well. Plus, when Davis and Gordon are making good decisions and hitting their shots, the Clippers can be tough to defend.

Last meeting, the Clippers bench dominated the Lakers bench, outscoring them 29-9. If the Lakers are going to win this one, they need to keep that number close.

Especially since running their offense through Kaman, the Clippers play at a slow pace. And their guards can turn the ball over a lot — the Lakers need to force some of these turnovers and convert them into easy baskets the other way.

Both of these teams defend the three point line and at the rim well, which keys their defenses. If one team lapses in those areas tonight, it will be a big swing.

Where you can watch: 7:30 p.m. start on KCAL 9 here in Los Angeles, ESPN nationally and of course ESPN 710 radio.