Records: Lakers 30-11 (2nd in West), Clippers 13-25 (13th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.2 (1st in NBA), Clippers 105.4 (20th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.9 (9th in NBA), Clippers 108.5 (20th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Clippers: Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Ryan Gomes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff (out); Clippers: Chris Kaman, Craig Smith and Brian Cook (all out)
The Lakers Coming in: Right now, there’s not a hotter team than the Lakers. They hold the league’s longest winning streak at 7 games and have moved up in the Western and league wide standings. They now sit in 2nd place in the West behind the Spurs and only trail the Celtics and Spurs for the best record in the league. After with half the season left to play, I’d prefer the Lakers were on top of the standings but I’m very pleased with where they stand now. Understand the Lakers still play the C’s twice and the Spurs three more times, so there is time to make up ground in the standings.
But that’s really talk for another day. As it stands now, my only concern is that the Lakers continue to play good basketball and improve as a team. And trust me, there is still plenty of room to improve. Not all the players are firing on all cylinders and a couple of the guys could use a positive turn in their games, not only for their individual benefit but to also help the team. This describes no one more than Steve Blake. I won’t get too much into it here, but you should check out C.A. Clark’s post on Blake detailing how the team could really use a bit more production from the reserve point guard. Personally, I think some aggression in Blake’s game would do everyone some good, but I also understand it’s tough to be aggressive when your shots aren’t falling all while you’re teamed with a bunch of all-star caliber players. Anyways, long story short, it’d really be nice if Blake started to find his groove again. That guy that hit those clutch shots on opening night against Houston would be a welcomed sight.
The Clippers Coming in: A funny thing has happened on the Clippers next trip to the lottery. They became must see TV. And it’s all because of Blake Griffin. He’s simply amazing. Not to overhype the kid but, you know, he deserves it. As Kelly Dwyer recently wrote:
There really hasn’t been anything like it, since LeBron James'(notes) first year in the NBA back in 2003, or Tim Duncan’s(notes) initial trot through the league way back in 1997-98. And even those weren’t met with the sort of breathless reactions that just 2 1/2 months worth of Griff have given us.
Better than the highlights, though, is the fact that he’s got the Clippers winning games. Victors in 8 of their last 12 contests – including wins over the Bulls, Nuggets, and Heat – the Clips are now a competitive team that is playing excellent basketball nearly every night. And it’s not just the Griffin show either. Eric Gordon continues to impress as one of the better young guards in the league and even Baron Davis is starting to provide returns on the hefty investment this team put in him. When you add those three to DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe, and Al-Farouq Aminu the Clips have a nice mix of young athletes and difference makers that give the opposition headaches. It’s easy to see that if the Clips hadn’t dug themselves such a hole early in the season, they’d easily be in contention for a playoff spot in the stacked West. This team is no longer a pushover.
Clippers Blogs: For news on the other LA team, go read the excellent work at ClipperBlog.
Keys to game: Based off everything I just wrote about the Clips, you know this will not be an easy game for the Lakers to win. The Clips have size, athleticism, and quickness to counter all of the Lakers strengths while also being able to take advantage of their weaknesses.
So, if the Lakers are to prevail discipline will be the key. The Lakers surely want to attack inside but they must do so with smarts and with patience. Simple dump downs to Pau and Bynum will yield solid results, but what will work much better is running the offense to better openings for the bigs. By setting screens and using the various actions of the Triangle, the Lakers should be able to get both Drew and Pau better looks at the basket by having them catch the ball on the move and dashing into space.
However, if the Lakers are going to go for straight post ups, I’d prefer that they attack Griffin rather than the ever improving DeAndre Jordan. If there is a hole in Griffin’s game it’s in his individual defense as he often relies on his athletic ability to make up for getting beat to a spot or briefly getting lost on that end. But, if Griffin gets beat to a spot by Pau, the big Spaniard can make him pay by executing one of his many post moves or counters to get easy baskets around the rim. Plus, if Griffin gets beat too many times he may be forced to foul which could end up being an even better result for the Lakers as the prized rookie may just end up on the bench rather than attacking the rim on other end as payback.
Obviously Kobe is also a major key to the Lakers offensive game plan but today he’ll face a defender that has historically given him some issues. Eric Gordon has the quickness to stay with Kobe off the bounce and strength and leaping ability to challenge him in the post and on his turnaround jumper. This has often meant that Kobe works hard to get the buckets he does get against Gordon and usually while walking the line between operating within the offense and not. Today, I’d love to see Kobe take a step back from being a creator on offense and instead work more off the ball to get his shots. As I mentioned with the big men, this is a game where offensive discipline will be key and Kobe should not be an exception when it comes to this attack.
Defensively, the Lakers will have their hands full with Griffin, Gordon and the suddenly-cares-again Baron Davis. The Clips will take every opportunity to try and get these guys going in both transition and in the half court and the Lakers must be ready for what they have in store. When operating against the Clips set O, the Lakers must be prepared for the stagger screen sets they run for Gordon to get him open to shoot his wonderful jumper. The Lakers bigs need to be prepared to step out to deny passes to Gordon as Kobe (or Artest) chase around screens to get themselves in position to defend Gordon on the catch. If they can briefly disrupt this set it will allow the D to recover and hopefully put everyone in position to deal with Gordon’s underrated first step.
As for Davis and Griffin, they love to run the P&R similar to what we’ve typically seen from Nash and Amar’e. Davis loves to come off the screen looking for a diving Griffin, but has no qualms attacking off the dribble to look for his own shot. Davis will settle for the jumper if you go under screens but the Lakers must be careful that he doesn’t get hot from the outside as he can easily get going and get buckets in bunches if his jumper is falling. That said, I’d much rather see Baron hoisting jumpers from deep than penetrating the Lakers interior and finding open mates or getting the Lakers’ bigs in foul trouble. When dealing with Griffin, the Lakers will need sharp rotations from the weak side to deal with his dives to the basket with a 2nd (or even 3rd) layer of defense there to contest his shots at the rim. I understand that no one wants to be in the latest poster shot, but the rotations must come fast and the challenge must be there to ensure that he doesn’t get the easy basket. If the Lakers can do all this without fouling, that’d be best as Griffin has been feasting at the foul line this year averaging 8.4 FTA’s per game (good for 6th most in the league).
As I mentioned earlier, this game is by no means an easy win. The last time these two teams met the Lakers barely escaped with the win, needing a buzzer beating D-Fish lay-in to claim the W. Needless to say, if the team is depending on that type of finish again they’ll likely be disappointed at the end of the contest. The Lakers will need to play smart and use their offense to their advantage while getting back in transition and controlling the paint on defense. The Lakers definitely have the ingredients and the smarts to execute this plan to perfection but after struggling to fully follow through against the Nets and the Warriors, there is a doubt that it will get done. The win streak being extended to 8 depends on it though, so here’s hoping it happens.
Where you can watch: 12:30pm start time on KCAL. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710am.