We knew that the Lakers would have a tough go of it this season, but the team’s first two games have served as the evidence that wasn’t fully formed off just the preseason and our analysis of the team’s offseason moves. The Lakers have been, for lack of a better word, awful to start the year.
Unfortunately for them, lopsided losses against the Rockets and the Suns are only the beginning as the team faces the Clippers tonight. Their Staples Center co-habitants haven’t exactly looked great either — they played a sloppy and close game against a very shorthanded Thunder team last night — but are clearly the superior squad entering this game. They are a team that in the spring will actually look to have a good chance to make good on their championship aspirations while the Lakers (who have stated to have the same goal) will look retain a top five protected lottery pick.
The match ups in this game aren’t even really worth discussing, to be honest. While it’s nice in the abstract to discuss how Jeremy Lin might perform against Chris Paul or how a combination of Jordan Hill and Ed Davis might fare against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the reality is that the Clippers’ players should outperform their counterpart in nearly every matchup. The only advantage the Lakers look to have is with Kobe against a Clippers’ wing rotation that doesn’t offer a great defensive option (though Matt Barnes and JJ Redick will compete hard on that end and offer more than just token resistance). We’ll see if Kobe can carry over some of his effectiveness he showed in the Suns game (he did, after all, have 31 points in only 3 quarters of play), but also see if he can do so while his teammates join him with some reasonable production themselves.
From a larger strategy standpoint, this game actually mirrors some of what the Suns’ game did. While the types of players and match ups are different, the Clippers will play fast and look to exploit the Lakers’ transition defense. The Clips have multiple players who can turn a rebound into a fast break chance and the Lakers will need to find a way to get back effectively or give up the type of highlight plays that will be all over SportsCenter after the game.
In the half court the Clips will mix a lot of post ups for Griffin with pick and rolls between Paul and both big his big men. To counter, the Lakers’ bigs will need to have strong communication with their guards in order to effectively manage Paul at the point of attack while still covering the back line. One particular play to watch for is when the Clippers run a 1/4/5 pick and roll where Griffin screens for Paul and then, after diving, makes a catch with a quick lob to Jordan for the easy finish. This is a play the Lakers used to run often between Kobe, Pau, and Bynum several years ago and with that reminder I will now go weep in the corner.
Ultimately, this game is likely to end just like the Lakers’ previous games did. I wish I had better news for you, but again, it’s not like we didn’t see this coming. From a talent perspective, the Lakers just aren’t as good as the team they are playing. We will be saying that a lot this season, it seems.