It’s Battle of Los Angeles: Part deux. With the Clippers now trying to claim the city as theirs at the expense of the Lakers, Forum Blue & Gold reached out to Breene Murphy of Clipperblog to discuss the game.
J.M. Poulard, Forum Blue & Gold: With three losses in a row, the Los Angeles Lakers (10-8) do not at this point in time look like a championship caliber team. The defense has looked good for the most part but the offense has left much to be desired.
Kobe Bryant is playing extremely well for the Lakers but not all of his teammates have been able to follow suit as evidenced by losses in Miami and Orlando. In addition, the home loss at the hands of the Pacers last Sunday have people wondering how the Lakers can improve their play late in ball games when teams force the ball out of the hands of Kobe. Indeed, against the Dallas Mavericks, Bryant was able to find Fisher for an open 3-pointer, but for the most part the late game execution has been subpar at best for the Lakers.
This is relevant when discussing the Clippers because the last time they played the Lakers, they were all witnesses to the Kobe Bryant show, as the star guard lit up the Clips defense for 21 points in the third quarter and also made numerous big shots in the fourth. Once Vinny Del Negro ordered the double team off of Darius Morris, the Lakers star became a little hesitant with the ball and had trouble trusting his open teammates (*cough* Daris Morris *cough*). Ever since that game, it seems teams have been far more willing to throw extra attention on Kobe coming off screens, especially late in games.
What’s the temperature check for the Clippers going into this matchup?
Breene Murphy, Clipperblog: If we’re talking temperature check, the first name we have to mention for the Clippers is Mo Williams. After sitting out three games, Mo has averaged 25.3 points in his last three games, shooting an absurd 64 percent from the field. He’s been en fuego for sure, and it’s buoyed a Clippers team that shouldn’t be as desperate for guard play with Chauncey Billups also there to help the Paul-less Clips.
However, Paul is allegedly scheduled to play against the Lakers, so the big question will be how Mo reacts to the return of Paul, and if that will lead to the same success the Clippers have seen against the Lakers this year.
Based on Paul’s play against the Lakers this year and last year in the playoffs, how’re you feeling about him with a better cast than in the past?
J.M. Poulard: On Christmas day, I predicted that the Clippers would finish with one of the four best records in the Western Conference and that’s a testament to Paul’s talent. CP3 is an exquisite ball handler, good finisher and highlight reel waiting to happen with his passing; but his true value comes in his leadership and late game execution.
When players start jogging up and down the court on defense, Paul is usually the first one out there yelling at them to get back on defense, and his mastery of the offense is a thing of beauty, especially for a team that has had more than their fair share of issues closing out games. Paul brings terrific decision-making as well as a levelheaded player to stir the ship when all of the crewmembers are ready to dive into the water. I’m pretty sure I just said that the former Demon Deacon is the second coming of captain Jack Sparrow.
After seeing Kobe Bryant take on the Clippers, what’s your take on his play this season?
Breene Murphy: I really hope that CP3’s leadership turns the Clippers lackluster defense around, because so far, they’ve been a real disappointment on that end. And what’s somewhat disconcerting is that I don’t think that they have the personnel to be above average even with CP3 barking at them, or VDN finally connecting with them. The biggest struggle seems to be at the wing, where Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler don’t have the necessary athletic gifts at this point in the career to be good defenders.
So, Kobe, yeah, he’ll be tough for the Clippers to guard, especially considering his resurgence. Count me in the group that thinks Kobe needs to spread the ball around (36.0 usage rate?), especially with the quality of bigs on the team. Pau and Bynum? That’s formidable.
Speaking of Pau, he was so productive for so long, it’s hard to imagine that he’s just fell off so quickly. Last year, I’d say that he was the most effective defensive force on Blake Griffin this side of Tyson Chandler, making him a fulcrum player against the Clips. Was it related to the failed trade? The playoff performance? How do you feel about the PF matchup this year?
J.M. Poulard: Honestly, with the way Pau has played this year, one would be inclined to believe that Blake would win the PF matchup; but through two preseason games and one regular season meeting; Griffin has been pretty average by his standards when playing against the Spaniard. Blake has looked to show off his handles against the Lakers as opposed to rolling hard to the basket and posting up with some aggression.
Consequently, the Clippers should have the advantage at the four spot, but in truth it seems to be just about even given Blake’s struggles against the Lakers.
Breene, normally I’d ask you to pick a winner here; but we’ll do this a bit differently. If the Lakers lose this game, do you think the roster remains intact going into this weekend?
Breene Murphy: Maybe I’m wrong, but Kupchak hasn’t struck me as a reactionary GM, barring the Lamar Odom trade (which wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Stern’s rejection of the CP3 trade). So I’ll say no. I believe that Kupchak’s forever working on the best possible trade, while remaining smart enough to know that teams simply go through slumps. 4-game losing streaks give a perception of panic. A team that panics is a team with less leverage, and trading with less leverage typically doesn’t work out well.
J.M. Poulard: At this point in the season, the Lakers face more serious questions about their roster than the Clippers and that makes the Battle of Los Angeles all that more intriguing. Mind you the Lakers’ core has sipped championship champagne while the Clippers’ has yet to make the playoffs.
None of that will matter tonight when both teams take the court at Staples and try to earn themselves a victory in what promises to be a playoff-like atmosphere. I’ll take the home team tonight.
Breene, thanks again.