Records: Lakers 57-24 (1st in West, 3rd in NBA), Clippers 28-53 (12th in West, 29 games back)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.9 (11th in NBA), Clippers 103.1 (28th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.6 (5th in NBA), Clippers 110.3 (23rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Clippers: Steve Blake, Rasual Butler, Travis Outlaw, DeAndre Jordan, Chris Kaman
The Lakers Coming in: Despite the poor record down the stretch and the sub standard performances of late, there is optimism and excitement in the air. The playoffs are about to begin and the Lakers are going to have the chance to defend their title. Plus, things are starting to look up. Gasol playing the best he has all season. In last night’s game against the Kings, bench players stepped up their games and it turns out that Farmar is not as hurt as orignially thought. Over the past two days, Andrew Bynum has been running on a treadmill, says that the pain is gone from his strained achilles, and plans to participate in today’s shootaround before the Clippers game. And while Kobe is sitting out these last few games with his assortment of ailments, he’ll have ample rest before the Lakers next game (only playing the Portland game in the two weeks between the April 4th game vs. the Spurs and the likely Arpil 18th openener in the OKC series). Whether or not it has actually showed in game performance, the Lakers are prepping for the post season and Phil was already talking about wrinkles that the team is working on in practice in preparation for the Thunder. The time that the players and all us fans have been waiting for is finally here. Game 82 is tonight, but the second season is set to begin. I’m smiling just typing that.
The Clippers Coming in: This is just a disappointing finish to an even more disappointing season. The Clippers are 2-8 in their last ten games, are banged up, and aren’t playing with any sort of purpose or togetherness. So rather than me sit here and explain what’s been going on with this team, I’ll let Kevin from TrueHoop and ClipperBlog do it for me. In a post over at TrueHoop, Kevin explains (after quoting Clip’s coach Kim Hughes) that some of what’s been wrong with the Clips of late is the pending free agency of a lot of their players:
There are a bunch of guys on the Clippers roster who, at times, have acted as personal mercenaries, throwing up shots without even pretending to survey the floor for other opportunities. The substance of what Hughes and others around the team are saying is correct, but the underlying premise is problematic. The implication here is that a guy should play a losing brand of basketball in order to advance his career.
Consider that for a second.
In an effort to secure more money in the free agency market, players are jacking up shots with impunity, presumably to tally more points, irrespective of how efficiently those points are scored. The Clippers, who resided comfortably among the Top 5 teams in assist rate for much of the season, have plummeted in that category over the past few weeks.
Just a rough time for the Clippers. Their organization is rudderless, their coach will likely not be retained, they’ll have a bunch of new players next year, and their fan base is just tired of it all. I know you really can’t compare the two teams, but it’s crazy how different the fortunes of the Clippers and Lakers are.
Clippers Blogs: ClipperBlog is the place to go. You should go there now. As you can see above, Kevin is one of the most insightful analysts of the game on the web and D.J. also does excellent work. There’s no other place I go to get great insight on the Clips.
Keys to game: When questioned about the approach to last night’s game Lamar Odom said:
“I look at it, honestly, like we’re practicing against the other team. You want to run all the sets and do everything the right way. We want to play almost how we play in practice. It’s just a practice in front of 20,000 people. ” (via Land O’ Lakers)
When looking at tonight’s game, I expect the same type of mentality. The Lakers want to play well and they’d surely like to win, but more importantly is doing things the right way. The Lakers need to execute their sets and hopefully have the supplementary players build on the Kings game.
So against the Clips, the Lakers should do what they did last night – go into Pau on the low block, cut, screen, move the ball, and try to get a good shot every time down. This is a game where Pau is actually facing a quality big man, so it will be a good test to see how he does against a big front line of Kaman/Jordan. In the last few games, Pau has really shown more confidence in his mid range jumpshot and using that weapon will be key tonight. Both Kaman and Jordan are good shot blockers around the rim and are big bodies that can deny Pau the position that he likes. So if Pau can knock down his 15 foot jumper it will help him in his overall attack. I’d also like to see more interior screening to free Pau when moving through the lane. Last night in the first period, there was a concerted effort to set more screens for Pau and they were effective in getting him that extra step of separation to establish his position.
On defense, the Lakers will need to be active on the their defensive glass to deny the Clippers second chance points. The Clips are throwing out a pretty big line up tonight (even Blake is listed at 6’3″ and both Butler and Outlaw are in the 6’7″ range) so gang rebounding will be key. The Lakers wings can’t leave all the rebounding duties to Gasol and Odom, they’ll need to close down the FT line and get their hands dirty in going for the basketball.
But really, this game is just about getting through healthy and unscathed in preparation for this weekend. This game doesn’t mean anything for the standings (unless the Magic go down to the 76ers, and even then we’re talking about a potential Finals matchup – not exactly the most pressing situation), so the Lakers should only be looking to play solid basketball and see what comes of it. Enjoy the last regular season game, everyone.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start in the west on KCAL (the Lakers are the road team). Also on ESPN Radio 710am.