The Back Story:
- October 25th, 2009 at Lakers - Lakers 99, Clippers 92 - Recap Box Score
- January 6th, 2010, at Clippers - Clippers 102, Lakers 91 - Recap Box Score
The Big Picture:
The Clippers went out on the road riding a four game winning streak, within one game of .500, playing their best basketball of the season, and as far as we knew within a couple of weeks of Blake Griffin's debut. In the course of about 30 hours beginning Tuesday afternoon, leading scorer Chris Kaman tweaked his back, leading rebounder Marcus Camby got a stomach virus, they experienced a fluke delay in Memphis while leading by 12 only to go ice cold when the game was resumed, found out Griffin is having surgery and will miss the entire season, and lost by 14 in New Orleans. That's a bad 30 hours. They're back in LA, so the weather is at least nicer - but I would hesitate to say that life will get any easier in the near term. They play the 30-9 Lakers tonight, followed by the 30-11 Cavs tomorrow night. Those would be the only two 30 win teams in the NBA folks. With all of the focus in Playa Vista, I don't think anybody thought to ask whether Kaman will be able to play. His MRI Wednesday showed no structural damage, and he told Lisa Dillman that he thought he might, but the Clippers (and Kaman himself) tend to be pretty conservative about these things. We'll see. Hopefully the Clippers can bounce back from their poor performance in New Orleans - but it's hard to imagine they can beat the Lakers without Kaman. They certainly can't beat them with neither Kaman nor any outside shooting - the Clippers perimeter shooting has almost completely deserted them in the last two games. Eric Gordon was 1 for 14 from beyond the arc in the two games - his three point percentage dropped from .388 to .357 in a couple of games. If Gordon and Butler can't find the range, it won't matter how great Baron Davis is. Of course, the Clippers were in a similar situation January 6th - 3 games under .500 and facing a couple of tough games that could really push their season to the edge. They came up with a dominant win over the Lakers that night. Can they do it again?
The Lakers are somewhere between decimated by injuries and 100% healthy. They have five players, three of them starters, who are dinged up - but all of them are likely to play against the Clippers. Let's start with Kobe Bryant. In addition to the broken index finger on his shooting hand that has him shooting 37% in his last six games, he's been experiencing back spasms that had him hobbling around American Airlines Arena on Wednesday, looking more like Jelly Bean than Kobe. Of course, it didn't keep him from scoring the game winner. Ron Artest, has returned form his concussion (question - how do you know when his head is ok?), but now has a sprained finger. Pau Gasol has missed six straight with a strained hamstring, but is expected to play. Sasha Vujacic also has a bad hammie, and Adam Morrison has the flu. The Lakers are 19-3 with Gasol in the lineup this season - if he's 100%, they are very tough to beat. One would expect that the Lakers will have more than a little extra motivation after losing to the Clippers for the first time in several seasons just over a week ago. In that meeting, the Clippers were able to turn Kobe into an inefficient volume shooter - a role he's pretty comfortable playing. And the rest of the Lakers did a lot of standing. But Gasol is so good, and so smart, that he makes things a lot better just being out there. He's almost never in the wrong spot, and the other Lakers seem to do a better job of being where they're supposed to be when he's on the floor. The Lakers are in what passes for a slump for them - they've lost three of their last five. But those games were without Gasol. Although this is the third meeting of the season between the teams, it will be the first time that Gasol will play.
- Playing through pain. Does anyone else think this is kind of stupid? Why is Kobe playing with a broken finger in January? Why is he playing with back spasms? The NBA season is 82 games long. 82 games. The playoffs alone last for almost two months. What exactly is the point of playing these semi-meaningless mid season games when you're injured? You don't see Tim Duncan out there playing tweaked. You know, pain is a little message from your body telling you that something is not right. Ignoring it can cause more damage. I know it's Kobe's thing to do this - but at some level, isn't it pretty dumb? What exactly is the point?
- Sneaking up on the Champs? Not this time. This was the first bullet from the last preview. But rest assured, the Clippers have the Lakers full attention tonight.
- Can Kaman Play? If Kaman can play, Kaman versus Bynum is the matchup to watch. Kaman got the best of the matchup last time. If Kaman can't play, there can still be a lot of intrique in the DeAndre Jordan-Bynum matchup. Anyone who thinks that DJ is too raw to ever develop into a top center need only look at Bynum's rookie season - he averaged under 2 points and 2 rebounds per game.
- Defending Kobe. As always, Eric Gordon will draw the toughest assignment. But last week the Clippers guarded Kobe by committee. Gordon started there, but Rasual Butler, Baron Davis and Ricky Davis all took turns on him, and all did a good job. The Clippers philosophy will be to funnel him to help, and to make him take tough shots. Then again, he has the ability to make tough shots, so that strategy might not work, even if they execute it perfectly.
- Interesting matchups -Camby and Odom. There's Odom and Camby - who both play similar roles for their respective teams of doing a lot of things, and getting a lot of rebounds. Odom is obviously the more skilled player, but Camby can give him some trouble.
- Craig Smith. Smith loves playing the Lakers. He had 26 points in 22 minutes in the pre-season, and he also went for 12 on opening day, and was one of the heros of last week's win with 12 points on 6 for 7 shooting. When the Lakers tied the game in the fourth, it was Smith who put the Clippers back ahead and carried the second unit done the stretch.
- Baron Davis. As we said going into the last game, point guard is the one matchup on the floor that is a clear advantage to the Clippers, and they need to not just win it by dominate it to have a chance in the game. Baron obliged and dominated last game. In fact, in three consecutive games (Lakers, Heat and Memphis) Baron put the Clippers on top 2-0 with a driving layup on the first possession. It may just be a coincidence - or it may be an indication of his intensity from the opening tip of those games. Watch what happens on the first possession tonight. Because let's face it - Derek Fisher can't guard him.
- Outside shooting. Since the evacuation of FedEx Forum, the Clippers are 1 for 22 from three. That is one bad stretch. The one make was by Ricky Davis, so the guys the Clippers actually rely on to make threes are ohfer in that time. They better make some shots tonight, or it could be a LONG night.
- Time to move on. The Clippers can be excused a bit if they were not at their best in New Orleans after just having learned about Griffin. But the decision is made, we know what's happening, the Clippers were beating good teams with Griffin before, and it's time to get back to playing well.
So, I'm tendin' bar there at Ecklund and Swedlin's last Tuesday, and this little guy's drinkin' and he says, "So where can a guy find some action? I'm goin' crazy out there at the lake." And I says, "What kinda action?" and he says, "Woman action, what do I look like?" And I says, "Well, what do I look like, I don't arrange that kinda thing," and he says, "I'm goin' crazy out there at the lake," and I says, "Well, this ain't that kinda place."
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