Records: Lakers 40-19 (3rd in West), Clippers 21-37 (13th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.8 (2nd in NBA), Clippers 105.9 (20th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (10th in NBA), Clippers 109.6 (23rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Clippers: Eric Bledsoe, Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Injuries: Lakers: Matt Barnes & Theo Ratliff (out); Clippers: Eric Gordon (out), Mo Williams (questionable)
The Lakers Coming in: Coming out of the trade deadline there’s no new Laker to welcome or any old Lakers to say goodbye to. Personally, I’m happy for that. I’ve not felt the Lakers needed to make a move to reach their ultimate goal this year, only that they need to get healthy, play to their potential, and reach their peak level come the post-season. With Matt Barnes now practicing, the team is finally getting closer to the healthy part of that equation and all I’m looking for now is good play.
And in the past two contests, that’s exactly what we’ve seen. Two straight wins, including the come from behind effort in overtim against Portland has this team moving in the right direction. There’s still things to improve upon, but it’s clear that the team (at least currently) has the right mindset going into the final stretch of the season. They’ll need that to continue too as they currently sit 3 games back in the loss column to the 2nd place Mavs, a position the Lakers would like to get to if they want to ensure home court advantage should they advance to the 2nd round of the playoffs. The time really is now to make a push and the Lakers look poised to do so.
The Clippers Coming in: There’s a lot going on in Clipper land right now. Blake Griffin was crowned dunk king of 2011, which will only serve as another feather in the cap of what will likely be a rookie of the year campaign for him. But the man that passed him the ball on his trophy clinching dunk is now a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yes, Baron Davis has been shipped out to Siberia with Mo Williams and Jamario Moon taking his place in LA. Personally, I’m not a fan of this move by the Clips but I do see why they’d do it. Financially this deal saves them a bunch of money and Mo Williams is a guy that can effectively play off the ball and potentially better compliment Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin in the future. That said, I’ve never thought highly of Williams as a post-season performer and question whether or not he’ll be productive in the most meaningful games. And while there won’t be many of those this season, the Clips hope for those down the line. Only time will tell, though.
As for the Clippers play of late, it’s been pretty bad. They’ve lost 9 of 11 contests including back to back losses to the Thunder and Hornets coming out of the all-star break. Their lone wins in that stretch are against the T-Wolves and Knicks both coming on the Clippers’ Grammy road trip. From what I’ve seen of the team, most of the losses are due to their opponents clogging the paint against Griffin and making the Clips jump shooters – a skill they’re not as good at with Eric Gordon still on the mend. Overall, this is a transition season for the Clips with both Gordon and Griffin showing what they’re capable of but if this team is going to be a long term threat in the West, they’ve still got a lot of strides to make.
Clippers Blogs: ClipperBlog is a must read if you’re looking for all the ins and outs of the other LA franchise.
Keys to game: With Gordon still out and Mo Williams questionable (and likely rusty/learning his new team if he does play) the Clips will need to win the interior if they’ve got any chance of winning.
This means that the Lakers must first and foremost protect the paint on defense and make guys like Foye, Gomes, and Aminu make shots from the outside. If the Lakers surrender dunks and offensive rebounds to Griffin and Jordan, this game will be a lot closer than it need be.
The Lakers must also protect against the Clippers’ guards wanting to push the pace. Rookie Eric Bledsoe has the ability to turn on the jets and has no qualms with rushing the ball up court and looking to finish in the paint against a retreating defense. Since Jordan and Griffin are good defensive rebounders, the Lakers will have to pick their spots on when they attack the offensive glass hard and also ensure that they have good floor balance in order to get back and wall off the paint. If the Lakers control the paint in the half and open court, they’ll be just fine defensively.
Offensively, this is a night where Kobe should be able to go to work. Gordon is a guy that’s consistently given Kobe issues but with him on the sideline, one of Gomes or Foye will be tasked with slowing #24 and that’s something neither are well equipped to do. Either one will be succeptible to post ups (even the bigger Gomes) and neither has the defensive instincts to keep Kobe in front of them on drives to the rim. So, I expect to see Kobe attack a fair amount tonight even if it doesn’t lead to shots for himself.
That last point is key because both Griffin and (especially) Jordan are good help defenders and will leave their men in order to contest/block shots. Kobe would be wise to recognize this and look for dump offs to Bynum and Gasol when they open up on penetration. Gasol can also get going offensively with straight post entries vs. Griffin – a player that has all the physical tools but has not yet learned to consistently apply them to man to man defense. Pau should get plenty of touches on the left block where he can use his hard right hand dribble to set up his rolling hook or then counter off that with step throughs and drop steps to his left hand. If Griffin sags off Pau, the 15 foot jumper will also be readily available to take in rhythm.
This is a game where the Lakers would do well to remember how closely the Clips have played them this year and go for the jugular early. The Clips are a down team right now and just lost Davis via trade. They’re a young team that hasn’t had to deal with the “business” side of this league too often and the Lakers would be smart to take advantage of any distractions that may have seeped into the heads of their opponent. Plus, the Lakers are finding their groove right now and a loss to the Clips would serve a set back that ins’t needed. Get this win and go into a big game on Sunday with some momentum is all the Lakers should be thinking.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Fox Sports West. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.