|November 5, 2008 - 7:30 PM
The Big Picture:
The Clippers and the Lakers have always been a tale of two teams in one city. With very few exceptions, the Lakers have been the better team for their 25 years together in LA. And even when the Lakers have been a little down and the Clippers have been a little up, a successful Clipper season (second round of the playoffs in 2006) looks nothing like a successful Laker season (8 rings since 1980). Still, having said all that, the contrast has rarely been as stark as it has been so far this young season. Still, there was 86-87, when the Lakers won the title and the Clippers had the worst record in the NBA at 12-70 - the second worst team had twice as many wins. Maybe assistant coach Rory White can tell the guys a little about that experience.
Obviously we're barely a week into this season, and there's a long way to go. But in the latest version of Marc Stein's Power Rankings, it's 'I <3 the 80s' with the 3-0 Lakers number 1, and the 0-4 Clippers dead last. And it's hard to argue. The Lakers have a league best point differential of +21.7 and the Clippers have the league's worst at -21.5. In a victory of sorts, the Lakers are only favored by 15 in this one - seems pretty clear the spread should be more like, say, 21. Lakers beat writer Mike Bresnahan has more on the Lakers/Clippers mismatch in today's LA Times. The sliver of hope for the Clippers is that Baron Davis and Marcus Camby made it through their return to the court Monday in good shape, and the Clippers might be able to actually use their projected starting lineup for the first time this season.
In three games this season, the Lakers have demonstrated very well why they are such are dangerous team. In wins over the Blazers and the Clippers, they used their precision offense, much improved defense, terrific shooting and talented bench to dominate the games, allowing their stars to coast along. In a closer contest with Denver, Kobe Bryant took over in the fourth quarter to secure the victory and Pau Gasol went for 16 and 16 in 42 minutes. And that, in a nutshell, is the real beauty of this Lakers team. Most NBA teams that think they have a shot at a championship are usually relying on the raw talent of their superstar players (think Cleveland), or on a balanced attack that can wear teams down (think Detroit). The Lakers can do either. In most games this season, I suspect they'll have the game put away by the fourth quarter. But if they don't, just give the ball to Kobe. It's a great luxury for them.
- 28 feet of starting bigs. OK, maybe it's officially 27'11" since Camby is listed as 6'11". But in a league that has suffered in recent years from a relative lack of skilled big men, this game features 4 who would be the starting center for most teams in the league. Not many front courts will come close to matching up with Gasol and Bynum this year. And the Clippers may not either tonight - Camby is likely to be rusty and tired in only his second game since April, and Kaman was an embarrassment a week ago against these guys. But Kaman has played better since that Lakers game, and played very well for three quarters against Utah. Look closely when these guys are standing side-by-side, because it's important to know how Camby and Kaman measure up.
Confidence. It's hard to imagine how the Clippers will have any confidence going into this game. They lost by 38 to this team a week ago in a home game. They've had at least one major meltdown in every game this season. They're coming off a quarter in which they shot 2 for 13 on their way to an ugly loss to Utah. If they fall behind early, you may want to switch over to Dancing With the Stars. But if they can come out strong, maybe they can make a game of it with their pieces finally falling into place. In some ways it's probably easier for them to play in Staples as the visitors - if the place is going to be chanting M-V-P at your opponent, you'd rather it not be while he's standing on your logo.
Bench play. In the first game, the Lakers reserves absolutely destroyed the Clippers bench. However, in the Denver game they proved that they are mortal, as their white hot shooting cooled off - Farmar, Vujacic, Ariza and Odom combined to go 7 for 26 with 1 three against the Nuggets after hitting 15 of 25 with 5 threes against the Clippers. That's a pretty big difference. But the Clippers second unit simply has to play better as well. Hopefully we'll get to see how Tim Thomas does in a reserve role. Meanwhile, if Ricky Davis doesn't do something positive, surely we'll see more of Eric Gordon. MDsr went with an 8 man rotation against the Jazz - Kaman, Camby and Thomas at the bigs, Thornton, Mobley and Ricky on the wings, Baron and Taylor at the point. I don't necessarily disagree with that - but Ricky has got to make a contribution pretty soon.
How do they score? For all of the talk of running and gunning, the Clippers are averaging 83.5 points in four games, 29th out of 30 teams. Obviously, Baron has missed time and still isn't 100% - his finger is still bothering him, for one thing. You have to be able to rebound to run, and the Clippers have yet to outrebound an opponent in 4 games. And they're shooting under 40% on the season, which is truly dreadful. Their spacing and ball movement have been horrifyingly bad all season, particularly so in that first game against the Lakers. I guess the good news is that the offense should get better, if only because it's hard to imagine it getting any worse.