Preview and Chat: The Los Angeles Clippers

Darius Soriano —  April 7, 2013

Records: Lakers 40-36 (8th in the West), Clippers 50-26 (4th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 105.4 (8th in the NBA), Clippers 107.3 (5th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.5 (T 17th in the NBA), Clippers 101.1 (9th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Clippers: Chris Paul, Willie Green, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash (out), Metta World Peace (out), Jordan Hill (out for the season); Clippers: Chauncey Billups (out)

Clippers Blogs: ClipperBlog is a great place for all your news, analysis, and updates on this team.

Keys to game: The Clippers are looking for a season sweep against the Lakers after already claiming their first 50 win season and division crown in franchise history. Those latter two feats likely mean more, but it’d be silly to think the Clips wouldn’t also love to dispatch the Lakers for the 4th time this season as a cherry on their sundae of a season (so far).

The Clippers, like the Lakers, have more to play for besides bragging rights. They currently sit two games behind the Nuggets to claim the 3rd seed in the west, a spot that would allow them to avoid the Grizzlies in round one and instead face off against whichever team (Houston, Warriors) that ends up with the 6th seed. That’s a huge difference in opponent quality and if they can pull it off, their chances of advancing are much better. And while I don’t think they can actually catch the Nuggets, they’re certainly going to try their hardest to do so.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are still just fighting to get into the dance. They’re still a half-game over the Jazz for the 8th seed and need every win down the stretch to guarantee their entry. The fact that the Lakers only leave Staples one more time to close the season and seem to by finding a rhythm to their game are factors that work in their favor. Of course, the closing kick of games against top opponents should definitely give them pause. The road won’t be easy, but this is where the Lakers are and will at least earn their way in.

A few things to note about the Clippers heading into today that show this match up shouldn’t necessarily favor the Clippers:

  • The Clips have lost four of their last six and are only 5-5 in their last 10. The Lakers aren’t much better at 6-4 in their last 10, but have won 3 in a row.
  • Since January 1st, the Clippers have a 25-20 record. The Lakers, in that same span, are 25-21.
  • Also since January 1st, the Clippers are posting a defensive efficiency of 103.8. Meanwhile, the Lakers have posted a defensive efficiency of 104.0.

Basically, since the turn of the calendar year, the Lakers and Clippers have actually been very similar teams. The Clippers’ offense has been better than the Lakers’, but beyond that their metrics (and records) are nearly identical. That doesn’t mean that getting a win today will be any easier — the Clips still have the same strengths to attack some of the Lakers’ weaknesses — but it does mean that there shouldn’t be this expectation that the Clippers are some dramatically better team than the Lakers right now. Over the course of the season they definitely are. But right now? No.

As mentioned, though, that doesn’t change the fact that the Clippers have some distinct qualities that give the Lakers issues. And it starts with Chris Paul and his ability to get his team a good shot nearly every time down the floor. With Nash out, Steve Blake will likely see most of the minutes against Paul and his devastating offensive game. Paul will try to work Blake over in isolation and in the pick and roll, manipulating him into spots where he can be taken advantage of. Blake will need to try to steer Paul towards help and simply contest his shot without fouling while also trying to disrupt any passing angles. You don’t stop Chris Paul, you only try to slow him and make his life harder in the process. If Blake can be somewhat effective at this, the Lakers’ odds of winning go up dramatically. If Blake isn’t getting the job done, or if the game is close down the stretch, don’t be shocked to see Kobe slide over for his turn at slowing Paul.

If Paul getting his is nearly a given, getting the rest of the Clippers to perform below their normal standards is the key to victory. Pau Gasol will get another crack at Blake Griffin and will need to use his length to bother his inside game while sagging off him on the perimeter to encourage him to shoot jumpers. Griffin has become a respectable shooter from mid-range, but him taking that shot is still preferred to him working in the post (where he has more moves and is more effective than given credit for). If Griffin is allowed to play his entire game in the paint — and that includes getting lobs and corralling offensive rebounds — the Lakers will be in for a long day. If he’s kept on the perimeter hoisting jumpers the Lakers have done their job even if those shots fall.

Besides Griffin, the Lakers must really worry about the Clippers’ bench and their ability to change the game’s dynamic once they enter the game. Bledsoe, Crawford, Barnes, and Odom are a quartet that loves to get out in the open floor and turn defensive rebounds and turnovers into quick baskets. All of these guys thrive in the open court and must be marked accordingly. Barnes is a key player here as he’s the one player who will run out every single time and hunt the easy basket. If he’s guarding Kobe (which he will when they share the floor), the other guard/wing must be aware that Barnes will contest the shot and then continue up court to try and be an outlet for a lay up. Getting back to take away that long pass (especially from Odom who loves the long outlet) is a must.

Crawford, meanwhile, is a catalyst for their half court sets when the offense slows down. He loves to work in isolation and out of the P&R, looking to create a shot for himself in the process. The Lakers don’t have a great option to guard Crawford but my hunch is that Meeks and Clark will see the majority of time on him. Both are vulnerable to Crawford’s brand of shake and ball handling creativity, but both still need to stay down on pump fakes while trying to steer him into the teeth of the defense so he has to finish inside. If Crawford’s offense stalls, the Clippers’ bench becomes much more manageable with only Bledsoe attacking off the dribble and Barnes’ cutting the really big weapons. Gum up those sets and the Lakers should be able to get stops.

Offensively the Lakers must simply continue to do what they’ve been doing lately. They need to feature their big men via the P&R and in standard post ups. Pau can score in the post against any of the players who defend him, but will need to turn down the mid-range jumper in favor of putting the ball on the ground to aggressively get into that position. Howard, meanwhile, will be dealing with the super athletic Jordan, but he’s also a player who can relax when playing on the weak side. Dwight should be able to find duck-in chances for quick post ups, especially when Pau has the ball high in HORNS sets. As for Kobe, he’s going to need to balance his playmaking with his scoring with Nash still on the sidelines healing up. He can play set up man in the P&R and should be encouraged to attack Griffin in that action with Pau screening. Kobe can also work in the post against any defender who guards him and should find ample chances to work below the FT line when one of Dwight or Pau is on the bench. Further, in the Lakers HORNS sets, Kobe can work off the ball as a cutter and when coming off picks to set up quick jumpers or to put him in position to run a delayed P&R with the defense scrambling behind him.

The other keys are controlling the glass and ball security. This can be said every game, but when the Lakers take care of the ball and close defensive stops with a rebound they’re an infinitely better team. The Clippers have the pieces to press on those weaknesses and can turn the game in their favor by doing well in those two areas. If the Lakers are to win, a low turnover count and high defensive rebounding percentage will likely be two of the main reasons why.

Where you can watch: 12:30pm start time on ABC. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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