Records: Lakers 15-6 (4th in West), Clippers 5-17 (14th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 115.7 (1st in NBA), Clippers 104.4 (22nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.4 (13th in NBA), Clippers 111.0 (27th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Clippers: Eric Bledsoe, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum, Theo Ratliff (out); Clippers: Baron Davis, Randy Foye (questionable), Chris Kaman (out)
The Lakers Coming in: Two straight wins have the Lakers back on track. Somewhat. They’ve played lower wrung teams so the real test wasn’t necessarily pulling out the victories, but how they went about accomplishing the task. Last night the Lakers did many things well, but one of them was not keeping their focus. After building a big 1st quarter lead, the Lakers let off the gas and turned the game into back and forth game of matching buckets rather than a one sided affair. There will be nights like that during a season so I’m not going to dwell too much on what could have been done better or get upset that what could have been a double digit cruise turned into a game that was close in the final minutes.
Instead, I’d rather focus on the positives. Like Kobe attacking the paint for the second straight game. Like Odom continuing his consistently stellar play. Like Gasol finding a rhythm in a game where he started 1-6 from the floor (something that doesn’t always happen). Like Shannon finding his shooting stroke again. And ditto for Steve Blake. Like Artest playing mostly dogged defense on Arenas and Wall. And with reinforcements on the way, the Lakers will get better. I’m not saying games like last night won’t happen again – we’ll probably see anywhere from 5-10 more games like it this year. But the Lakers are right where they should be. They’re figuring each other out on the floor and witha road trip approaching they’ll have more time to bond and grow together off of it too. We may be 21 games into the year, but things are really only now getting started.
The Clippers Coming in: Even though the Clippers are 5-17, they’ve won 4 of their last 8 games. Included in that set are wins over the Spurs and Hornets. So while the Clippers aren’t performing consistently, the potential to beat some of the better teams in the league is right there.
Because while there are questions surrounding the coaching of this team, there are not questions about the overall talent on this roster. Eric Gordon was a key player for Team USA in their run to the World Championship this past summer. Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu are two promising rookies. Veterans Baron Davis and Chris Kaman, while dealing withinjuries this year, are both all-star caliber players when healthy and fully engaged.
Andthen, of course, there’s last year’s #1 overall pick Blake Griffin – a player that combines unbelievable athletic ability with a joy and love of playing basketball that we’ve rarely seen in a player his size. I know this will come off as pure hyperbole, but the young man runs like Karl Malone, pogo bounces like young Amar’e, and finishes in traffic as well and as nastily as Shawn Kemp. Sure, his rebounding technique needs work (he often just out-jumps players for boards rather than boxing out) and his FT’s should be much better than what they are, but those are things that should improve as his career goes on. So while he may not yet be one of elite PF’s in the league (he’s not yet close to that Dirk and Pau stratosphere) you can see the potential. And if you haven’t yet, please just watch his highlight reel vs. the Knicks for a taste of what he can do.
Clippers Blogs: ClipperBlog has long been the destination for smart analysis on LA’s other basketball team. That’s as true today as it’s ever been.
Keys to game: Whenever the Lakers and Clippers meet there’s a certain buzz in the air. The Clips have long been seen as the younger, less talented brother in the LA basketball family and that often brings out the emotions on their side – especially when it’s a Clipper “home” game as it is tonight.
So, if the Lakers are going to win tonight’s game, they’ll need to rely on their experience and smarts. They’ll need to take the emotion out of the game and make the contest about execution and precision, not running andjumping. That means being deliberate, which also translates into post play. With Kaman likely out, the task of slowing Gasol and his arsenal of post moves falls to DeAndre Jordan. Jordan is a very good athlete, but like JaVale McGee last night, Pau should be able to score when patient andwhen attacking with a good base under him. That means, just like last night, going into Pau on the left block and letting him dribble into his back down where he can shoot his lefty hook or drive middle to create for himself or a teammate.
This same game plan should apply to Kobe as well. As I mentioned earlier, Kobe has been very good at attacking the paint and tonight should be no different. Gordon is a game defender and often gives Kobe a hard time when #24 tries to create off the dribble from deep on the floor. So instead, Kobe will need to work better off the ball (as he has in the last two games) by using screens and hard cuts to get into the positions where he can make a catch and go to work closer to the basket. Eric Gordon is an underrated athlete and will contest Kobe’s shots effectively, but he is giving up some height so Kobe should be able to get his shot up over the top of him.
Defensively, the Lakers will need to be ready to defend a steady dosage of P&R’s tonight. Similar to the way that Amar’e is deployed, the Clippers like to run 1-4 P&R’s where Blake and the PG set up shop at the top of the circle or the extended wing and run this action to free up Griffin on a dive where he can use his explosiveness to finish in the lane. Bledsoe, while not a classic play making PG has shown capable of running the P&R so the Lakers will have to be heady in hedging, recovering, and rotating in order to avoid showing up on tonight’s SportsCenter highlights.
Staying with the active bodies of Griffin, Jordan, andthe rest of the Clips’ young guns on both the boards and on drives will be the other key. The Clippers rank 8th in Offensive Rebounding Rate andare constantly attacking the glass after misses to create second chance opportunities. Griffin and Jordan love to just out-jump opponents so Odom and Gasol will have be better than normal at finding their man and boxing out. This also means the guards and wings will need to help more on the glass tonight, so look for Kobe, Artest, Barnes, and Shannon to do their jobs by hitting the glass. The Clips are also excellent at drawing fouls, so the Lakers will also need to defend without losing discipline. Avoid reaching, grabbing, and pushing. Instead, focus on position D and force the Clippers to shoot jumpers over contested hands or change directions before elevating to finish inside.
If nothing else, this game should be exciting. Griffin alone makes the Clippers watchable but when the Lakers are on the schedule it makes the game even more of a must see. I’ll give the Clips the highlights if the Lakers can start their “road” trip off with a good win against a team that will look to show the glamour team that they too are for real (if only for one night).
Where you can watch: 7:30 start time out West on KCAL or on Prime Ticket for the locals. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.