Whenever the Lakers play the Clippers, intrigue follows — especially now that it’s the Clips who are the “contender” expected to win the matchup. The story shifts from big brother beating up on its historically bad younger sibling to ideas about “whose town it is” and what the Clippers have to do to take center stage in Los Angeles.
These storylines can be fun and be a nice way to pass the time, but I don’t really invest a lot of value in them. As Doc Rivers has noted several times — and he would know, well, in fact, due to his ties to the Celtics — that key is to not just win games or, even, this particular game, but to win championships. Not just one, but multiple ones. Just yesterday Doc spoke of the “head start” the Lakers have in this area and other players at different times have acknowledged that L.A. remains a Lakers’ town. (As an aside, with Clippers players still getting booed at Dodgers games, it’s hard to have a different opinion on this matter.)
This “argument”, then, is best tabled for a later date when the Clippers achieve at a higher level. This isn’t to knock them, I think they’d say the same thing themselves, not just because this topic is tiring, but because they have higher aspirations that, frankly, have little to do with what the Lakers have done. They want to win titles for them, not because of an ability to say “scoreboard” when it comes to a cross-town rivalry.
So, what he have left is the game itself. And it’s one that the Clippers should win handily. Yes, as Nick Young said, this can be viewed as a rivalry game and that brings an extra level of emotion that can translate to some actions and outcomes that aren’t easily predictable. But basketball is still a game of talent and the Clippers have more of that than the Lakers do. This is reflected in the team’s respective records.
In saying that, however, the Lakers can make this game interesting in a couple of ways. First is the fact that the Clippers have not been where they need to be defensively this season. Part of the reason for this is that they do not have many (any?) strong perimeter defenders beyond a totally engaged Chris Paul (who still does so much heavy lifting offensively his defensive attentiveness isn’t where it once was). This should allow Kobe, Jeremy Lin (when going against the Clips’ 2nd unit), and Nick Young to create offense from the wing. If they all remain aggressive, they should be able to not only create shots for themselves, but force the defense into help situations where easy shots for the rest of the team can be generated with good, crisp, passing.
Second, the Lakers’ big man rotation isn’t the best in the league, but they do have some quality and have multiple bodies to throw at the Clippers’ pair of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Griffin, of course, is a monster and must be accounted for at all times. But a combination of Hill, Davis, and, even, Boozer can work to try and wear him down. If they can keep him out of paint and do a good job of contesting his jumper (and force some misses), his efficiency will suffer. As for Jordan, his athleticism trumps anything the Lakers can throw at him, but if you play him smartly by bodying him up on the glass and by taking good angles against his moves to the paint, you can limit his ability to control the restricted area via lobs and offensive rebounds.
Of course, none of this accounts for Paul’s brilliance or the shot-making Jamal Crawford brings off the bench, but, again, there’s a reason why the Clippers are as good a team as they are. Even if you can limit some of their weapons, you can’t take them all away. The Lakers will just have to hope that those two aren’t on and that the rest of their game plan works in their favor. It’s a tough hill to climb, but that is the blueprint.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.