The Lakers play the Clippers on back to back nights a “home and home” where the only difference is the color of the uniforms, what face appears on your season ticket, and whether there are photos of your players in the rafters or not.
Oh, and there’s a difference in quality of team, too. The Clippers are pretty much locked into the 4th seed in the playoffs and a match up with the Warriors in the 2nd round. The Clippers just got Blake Griffin back from his torn quad/broken hand/suspension from punching the team’s equipment man in the face. Griffin looked rusty, but that’s to be expected.
If they are to make a deep run, they’ll need him at his best, though they will also need to find ways to integrate him back into what they did while he was away. Anchoring the 2nd unit as a point-PF who has the ball all the time might be the best way to do that, but that’s a conversation for another day.
The Lakers, meanwhile, are looking to ramp up their young players’ minutes over their final six games. This means changes to the rotation and, ultimately, Brandon Bass and Lou Williams being moved to the bench. Byron Scott gave the veterans a heads up that they should be ready should circumstances call for him to extend deep into the rotation, but otherwise they are going to sit.
I don’t necessarily disagree with this approach, though I wish it weren’t playing out exactly this way. If I had my druthers, it would be Roy and not Bass who is out of the rotation at C. Bass has been the better player all season and that’s shown in both individual and team on/off numbers. On the wing, I might just play Lou at SF behind Kobe and/or Nance rather than giving Ryan Kelly those minutes. We know Kelly isn’t a SF. We also know Lou isn’t one. But at least Lou is a viable wing player in the NBA whereas Kelly is a PF only.
That would give me a 9 man rotation of Russell, Clarkson, Kobe, Randle, Bass, Huertas, Lou, Nance, Black. Anyways, it’s not my call, so we’ll get what we get. And I’m not even going to speak on why this is happening now vs. 10 games ago. Though we probably know why.
As for tonight’s game, the focus will shift back to Kobe who now only has 6 games left in his career. I was looking for Kobe highlights against the Clippers and found a bunch of random games I barely remembered. The most memorable play between these teams in the last several years is when Kobe tried to end Chris Paul by dunking on his head.
That play was memorable, but I’d argue the most interesting Kobe/Clippers moments are the ones we never got to see — or the ones we ended up seeing based on “basketball reasons”. There are differing reports about how close Kobe was to signing with the Clippers in the summer of 2004, but at the time there were serious questions about whether Kobe would take his talents down the hallway and join the other Los Angeles team.
And the, of course, there was the veto of the Chris Paul trade which ended up with Paul not on the Lakers but, instead, the Clippers. ESPN’s Baxter Holmes spoke with both players about the team-up which never was and the quotes bring back a bit of a sting about what could have been. The trade that wasn’t definitely affected the trajectory of both franchises and the affects are felt to this day.
When it comes to tonight’s game, I expect things to go as they have recently. The Clippers have dominated this matchup in recent years, with the Lakers stealing a game here or there but mostly ending up on the wrong end of some blowouts. The Clippers remain on of the better teams in the league and the Lakers are not. My hope is that we get a competitive game or, at the very least, an entertaining one.
Of the individual matchups, I am most interested in Russell vs. Chris Paul, Clarkson vs. JJ Redick, and Randle vs. Blake Griffin. The Clippers have the advantage in each and the Lakers young guys — besides Randle, at least — haven’t been at their best very often lately. Still, seeing how they measure up against their high quality counterparts is worth the time to tune in.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.