Clippers Vs. Lakers - Game Preview - The Game of the Year

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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32-21

34-20
STAPLES Center (Red and Blue Trim)
April 4th, 2012, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Ramon Sessions
Randy Foye SG Kobe Bryant
Caron Butler
SF Metta World Peace
Blake Griffin
PF Pau Gasol
DeAndre Jordan
C Andrew Bynum?

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

Regular season NBA basketball games really don't get any bigger than this. The Lakers hold a slim game and a half lead over the Clippers in the Pacific Division and for third place in the Western Conference -- that lead is a single game in the loss column. The two teams split their first two games this season and this being the final meeting of the year (how strange is that, the schedule-makers gave the LA teams three games instead of four?) the winner of this game will win the season series, and with it the first standings tie-breaker. Which means that the winner of this game is in the driver's seat to win the division, even though the Clippers would still be in second place tonight even with a win. The intensity in the first two meetings -- heck, even the intensity in the pre-season games -- was off the charts, so it's hard to imagine what it's going to be like today. You can expect hard fouls, lots of chirping and stare downs galore. The Clippers are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, having won six straight, all but won by at least nine points. The Lakers have won three straight and four of five, but all four wins have been anything but impressive. Based on their recent performances, I'd say you have to favor the Clippers in this one, but you never know. Adding to the magnitude of the game is the fact that it is on ESPN, and you can bet the WWL will be flogging the game all day today.

The Antagonist:

In an NBA season filled with enigmatic NBA teams, there may not be any more inscrutable than the Lakers. They've been great at home (23-5), poor on the road (11-15). They've had great wins over Miami and Dallas, and terrible losses to Washington and Detroit. Lately, they've allowed teams ravaged with injuries to hang around until the final seconds before finally winning on heroic Kobe Bryant three pointers -- perhaps not the best strategy when the guy is shooting 28% from deep. Of course, the Lakers have just been playing down to their competition, so you should expect them to be plenty up for this game. It's difficult to know how to factor in the home-road record discrepancy for this game, since it's still in L.A. It's hardly a true road game for the Lakers, since they slept in their own beds last night and the crowd will be about 45% purple and gold. Andrew Bynum is still listed as day-to-day, but he'll play. He didn't play last night against New Jersey, but it's not clear at this point if that was for the ankle or possibly for some disciplinary reason -- he was apparently fined for some of his recent behavior. Bynum has always given the Clippers fits (he scored his career high against them several years back) and if he doesn't play, it will be a big break for the Clippers. Defending Bynum and defending Kobe, and in general dealing with the length of the Lakers, will be a real challenge for the Clippers. Of course, defending Chris Paul will be a challenge for the Lakers, but the recently acquired Ramon Sessions will help there.

The Subplots

  • Tonight's Special Guest Recapper. Citizen John Raffo. But maybe he should get upgraded from the citizen title. Is he like the Vice President of Clips Nation now?
  • The Questionable Blogger. Today's Questionable Blogger is CA Clark from the Lakers blog, Silver Screen and Roll. Be sure to check out his answers to my questions, and head over there to read my answers to his questions as well.
  • Key Lakers Metrics
    Pace: 90.2 (21st of 30 NBA Teams)
    Off Rtg: 105.4 (13th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 102.8 (9th of 30)
  • Key Clippers Metrics
    Pace: 88.9 (28th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 108.2 (5th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.6 (20th of 30)
    Amazingly even really. Each team scores about 2.6 points per 100 possessions more on offense than they allow on defense.
  • An alternative view. At the end of the day, this game barely matters. Ultimately, barring some unlikely scenarios, we're talking about the difference between third place in the West and fourth place in the West. Both of those seedings provide home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. And while third currently would avoid Oklahoma City in the second round, I'm not sure that San Antonio is a particular bargain, and the Spurs could very well end up catching the Thunder in the standings at any rate. The one huge implication would be if both the Lakers and the Clippers advanced to the WC Finals, in which case this game would go a long way to determining home court advantage. Or conversely, if say the Grizz got super hot down the stretch and shot past both teams, putting them into a 4-5 first round series. Still, it matters. It matters a lot, if only for city of LA bragging rights.
  • Sessions. Ramon Sessions' season-high this year came against the Clippers, when he filled in for Kyrie Irving in the Clippers-Cavaliers game in February. Sessions absolutely killed the Clippers in that game, scoring 24 points and handing out 13 assists. So that's special, the Clippers get to play against him again in the biggest game of the year.
  • Chris Paul. When Chris Paul has been 100% against the Lakers this year, the Clippers are 3-0. The one game the Clippers lost was the first game that Paul returned from an early season hamstring injury. Paul was limited to 26 minutes, and scored just 4 points on 2 for 8 shooting (he did have a dozen assists in those 26 minutes). If CP3 scores 4 points again tonight, the Clippers will lose again -- but guess what, CP3 is going to score more than 4 points. The Clippers have been their best this season when Chris Paul has been aggressive on the offensive end. The Lakers have had a terrible time defending quick point guards in the past, though Sessions changes the equation some there. At any rate, a big game from CP3 is pretty much a requirement for the Clippers to win tonight.
  • Lakers-Clippers, meaningful game, April. Surprisingly, you don't have to go back very far to find the Clippers and Lakers playing meaningful NBA games in April. Also surprisingly, the Clippers have done well in those games. In April 2007, the Clippers trailed the Lakers in the West by a couple of games, with the teams hanging around the 7 to 9 spots in the standings. The Clippers beat the Lakers on April 4 and again on April 12 -- but unfortunately, they couldn't seem to beat the Hornets or the Kings that year. The Lakers finished with the 7 seed, and the Warriors snuck past the Clippers for the final spot in the playoffs. In 2006, the Clippers held a five game lead on the Lakers when they met on April 9th in a game the Lakers won. Both teams made the playoffs that year, the Clippers as the 6th seed and the Lakers as the 8th.
  • Season series. You have to go back to the 92-93 season under Larry Brown for the last time the Clippers won the season series with the Lakers.
  • Three point shooting. The Lakers three point shooting this season has been abominable. They are 27th in the NBA in three point percentage, making less than 32% of their three point attempts. That terrible percentage hasn't kept them from launching over 17 a game. Ramon Sessions helps here, as he's been a good three point shooter this season (he's made half of 20 attempts as a Laker) despite the fact that he is a career 32% shooter from deep. The Clippers take almost 22 threes per game and make about 35%. Randy Foye has been on a tear from deep lately. He's made 16 in the last three games including a team record 8 on Monday, and has hit 48% in those games.
  • Expect it to get chippy. The first two games this season, both pre-season games, a couple games last season... basically, every meeting between these teams since the Clippers got competitive has had an edge. There will be hard fouls, there will be technicals. Heck, with McRoberts and Barnes around, there pretty much has to be a hard foul or two, since those guys don't have many other NBA level skills.
  • Mo Williams. Williams will not be available for this game, as he's still out with a sprained big toe.
  • Defending Kobe. The Clippers will likely begin the game with Caron Butler on Kobe as they in the first two games. That's less than ideal, as it leaves Randy Foye on Metta World Peace. Foye will work hard on Bryant when he gets the assignment, but he's giving away a lot of size. So expect Nick Young, acquired at the trade deadline precisely to defend bigger twos like Bryant, to get an early call if the Clippers struggle with Kobe and MWP early.
  • Pau Troubles Blake. Few defenders in the league seem to give Blake more trouble than Pau Gasol. Gasol is smart, he won't get beaten easily, and he's crazy long, long enough to bother Griffin's shot. As a result, Blake struggled against the Lakers last season, shooting below 40% in three of the four meetings. Houston (and his other nemesis, Chuck Hayes) is the only team to hold him to a lower shooting percentage among Western Conference teams. In the two games this season, Blake has played very well -- he's shooting 55%, averaging 24 points and 11.5 rebounds.
  • Lakers playing fourth game in five nights. The Clippers definitely catch a scheduling break in this game. The Lakers are playing their fourth game in five nights, following up a tough game against the Nets last night. Meanwhile, the Clippers had Tuesday off. Pau (41), Sessions (38) and Kobe (36) all logged big minutes last night. Bryant is currently fourth in the league in minutes per game, and the workload at age 33 may be a factor in recent terrible shooting games (3 for 20 against the Jazz, 3 for 21 against the Hornets).
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    laker

    A small fart, also known as silent but deadly

    "Julian, I just layed a laker!"
    "Lakers are sweet, Asim, let me try"
  • Get the Lakers perspective at Silver Screen and Roll.
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