|Mar. 7, 2008 - 7:30 PM
The Clippers finally won a game Wednesday night after 6 consecutive losses. Of course that game was against the 11th place Sacramento Kings, playing without their two best players. This one is against the red hot Lakers, playing with all the guys who have led them to 15 wins in their last 17 games (they do have a pretty good player they're due to get back next month, but they seem to be doing fine without him). The Clippers remain very short-handed. Chris Kaman is still feeling the affects of back inflammation and has been skipping practice to save his effort for games, where his minutes are still being monitored. Tim Thomas is listed as questionable for this game, but I don't expect him to go. It will take a monumental effort just to be competitive with the Lakers - big games from Kaman, Maggette and Thornton for sure. They Clippers lost to the Lakers by 18 two weeks ago playing without Kaman.
As I mentioned, the Lakers have won 15 of their last 17. (Amazingly, that only ranks them as the 3rd hottest team in the West over that period - what a conference, man.) Pau Gasol was born to play the triangle - he's got great instincts, is a terrific passer, and can score in a variety of manners. Former Clipper Lamar Odom has been on tear as well - he's reached double figures in rebounding for a dozen games in a row, and he's been shooting 61.5% since Feb. 1 - wow. This is a career 45% shooting we're talking about. Add in the NBA's best bench and this kid Kobe Bryant (I think he's gonna be pretty good someday if he sticks with it) and you've got a team with few if any weaknesses.
- 113 is an unlucky number. The Lakers have won the first two meetings of the season 113-92 and 113-95. If the Clippers plan to win a game, they might want to start by keeping the Lakers under 110.
- Kaman and Gasol Head to Head. The Clippers played the Grizzlies twice before Gasol was traded, and the Lakers once since the trade. But this will be the first meeting of the season between Chris Kaman and Pau Gasol - Gasol missed both Memphis-LA games, and Kaman missed the other one. Gasol will likely get plenty of easy shots against the Clippers - the Lakers ball movement and spacing will force Kaman into help situations, and they're very good at finding Gasol when that happens. In order to make it a contest, Kaman will have to use his size advantage on Gasol on the other end. As a side note, these two could meet in the Olympics if Kaman ends up playing for Germany and helps them qualify for Beijing.
- Maggette and Thornton. About the only thing the Clippers had working in the last meeting was a brief time in the second quarter when Maggette and Thornton were both in. The Lakers had to guard one of them with Sasha Vujacic, and the Clippers were able to exploit the mismatch. Alas, it didn't last long, but look for the Clippers to try to force a tough matchup there tonight as well.
- Seems Like Old Times. From 04-05 through 06-07, the Clippers' cumulative regular season record was 125-121, while the Lakers were 121-125. The Clippers had one playoff series win, and the Lakers had zero. But those days of parity and marginal Clipper superiority are over - and it's not just a question of injuries. A win tonight and the Lakers clinch the season series for the first time in 4 years - but it won't be the last time.
- Point Guard and Post Play. The two most precious commodities in the NBA are solid point guard play and low post scoring. Not because they are necessarily more important to a basketball team than shooting or wings, but simply because they are in shorter supply. (And I'm talking about generic position descriptions here - Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are precious commodities, but most teams have competent wing players who can do a lot, which is why someone like Corey Maggette may not generate a lot of interest this summer, while Jose Calderon and Beno Udrih will.) Going into this season, point guard and post play seemed to be the Lakers' weaknesses. But with the addition of Derek Fisher and the emergence of Jordan Farmar at the point, the addition of Pau Gasol and emergence of Andrew Bynum in the post, the Lakers miraculously have turned two perceived weaknesses not just into strengths, but strengths with depth.