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Clippers vs. Lakers - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

Staples Center (Red and Blue Trim)
December 8th, 2010, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Eric Bledsoe
PG Derek Fisher
 Eric Gordon SG Kobe Bryant
Al-Farouq Aminu
SF Ron Artest
Blake Griffin
PF Lamar Odom
DeAndre Jordan
C Pau Gasol


The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The teams split their four games last season.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have won four of their last five games at home, and four of their last eight overall. Well, really we should just focus on the home record, since we're talking about the same four wins. While two of the Clippers' wins have come against the Sacramento Kings, the team with the worst record in the league, the other three wins have come against the Thunder, Hornets and Spurs, teams with 14, 13 and 17 wins at this point. Could the Clippers pull off another win over a top team? If they do, it will be shorthanded again. Chris Kaman will miss the game for his injured ankle, Brian Cook will serve the second day of his suspension, and Baron Davis and Randy Foye each have troublesome hamstrings that may or may not allow them to play. With their veterans still hurting, the Clippers will start the U23 squad for the ninth straight game, and for the 11th time in 12 games. The 4 recent wins are somewhat notable when you stop and think about just how young and inexperienced this squad is. The team is currently dependent on two players to carry them: Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin. Gordon has scored 20 points in nine consecutive games (and before that he scored 19, and seven more 20 point games, so he's one point in Indianapolis from having a 17 game streak of 20 point games). Griffin has registered double doubles in nine straight himself, so basically in those last nine games, the Clippers have gotten a consistently high level of performance from their G-men. Against the Lakers, they'll need that and more. With a couple of bigs out, they'll need an active game from DeAndre Jordan (though Pau Gasol will be a brutally difficult cover for him). And they'll need two or three other players to step up with big nights. Craig Smith owned the Lakers last season, so don't be surprised if the Rhino has a big game.

The Antagonist:

The Lakers recently experienced their first four game losing streak since February 2007. Home wins against the Kings and the Wizards, two of the worst teams in the league, aren't definitive proof that order has been restored. During the losing streak, the Lakers allowed 101 points per game and indeed it has been their defense that has been less than championship caliber this season. The Lakers are by far the best offensive team in the league, as measured by offensive efficiency. But they're merely 12th in the league in defensive efficiency after finishing fourth last year on the way to winning their 400th banner. On paper, the Lakers should be better this year than they were last year. Their top seven players from last season in terms of playing time and scoring are back, and Steve Blake and Matt Barnes are definitely upgrades over Jordan Farmar and... and... who? Adam Morrison? Add to that the fact that Shannon Brown is having a career year, and the bench is looking very solid. Their glaring weakness is front court depth. Andrew Bynum is recovering from off-season surgery and hasn't played, while free agent center Theo Ratliff had his knee scoped in November and is out for a few more weeks. This leaves the Lakers in the surprising position of missing D.J. Mbenga and Josh Powell. It hardly matters: Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom are all playing at an extremely high level, and most nights the Lakers are plenty good enough to win, even if their defense isn't great and they aren't very deep up front.

The Subplots

  • Double-double men. Pau Gasol is tied for the league lead with Minnesota's Kevin Love at 16 double doubles in 21 games. Blake Griffin has a total of 15 double doubles in 22 games, including a string of 9 in a row. Lamar Odom is also among the league leaders, with 10 double doubles.
  • Team USA shooting guards. Kobe Bryant won a Gold Medal with Team USA in the Olympics in Beijing in 2008. Two years later, he was too banged up to play in the World Championships in Turkey, and in his (and other Redeem Teamers') absence, Eric Gordon donned the red, white and blue, and he too won a Gold Medal. Both have said they would like to be on the team that goes to London for the 2012 Olympics. Gordon is younger and on the rise, but it's hard to imagine that Kobe would not be on the team if he wants to be. Team USA has a problem looming in 2012 where they could be forced to cut multiple players with Gold Medals (they'll likely have about about 20 of them at tryouts).
  • Lakers on a back to back. The Lakers beat the Wizards last night here in LA. Officially, they're on a home-road back to back, but of course there's not a lot of travel involved. At least they let the Wizards back into the game in the third quarter, when the LA lead was reduced to three, so the Lakers regulars had to play big minutes - Pau 43, Artest 39, Lamar 37 and Kobe 35.
  • Get Away Game for Lakers. The Lakers are officially on the road tonight, but in reality they begin their longest road trip of the season after this game. Will they look past the Clippers to the start of their six game trip, on ESPN Friday in Chicago?
  • Eight man rotation. With Bynum and Ratliff out, the Lakers have been going with essentially an eight man rotation, with rookie second round pick Derrick Caracter getting only spot minutes as the only true big off the bench. That leaves Artest and/or Matt Barnes playing the four most of the time that Odom is out of the game. I'm not sure they can get away with that against the Clippers.
  • Rhino Time. In four games versus the Lakers last season, Craig Smith scored no less than 12 points off the bench, and made 22 of 36 field goal attempts, 61%. He loves going right at the long, slender Lamar Odom, using his low center of gravity to knock Odom off balance on his way to the rim. In fact, on the front line this is very much a battle of the muscle of the Clippers versus the crazy length of the Lakers. Unless the Lakers use Artest (who may be busy on Gordon) or Caracter (who plays very little), both Griffin and Smith will have significant strength advantages on the block - but they'll have to contend with the length and savvy of Odom and Gasol.
  • Three point shooting. This remains the most reliable barometer of the Clippers from game to game, though I don't actually believe in this case that correlation is causation. At any rate, the Lakers are among the league leaders in three point percentage, making almost 40% of their attempts from behind the arc. It looks a lot like fool's gold, with their six top three point shooters all well above their career averages. Blake, Barnes, Odom, Brown and Fisher are all not just above their career percentage, but having easily their best single season shooting the three. No wonder the Lakers are the most efficient scoring team in the league. That seems like a statistical anomaly that is going to correct itself over time. As a matter of fact, it may have already started. The Lakers shot well under 30% during their recent losing streak, and did not shoot as high as 33% in any of those losses. If they continue to jack them like they believe they're a 40% shooting team, but make them at a 30% clip, that's an opportunity for their opponents.
  • EJ's Three. I'm about prepared to declare Eric Gordon's three point shooting slump over. After making just 6 of his first 40 threes this season (15%), he has made 19 of 58 (33%) over the last twelve games. That's still not quite what we expect from Gordon (he shot 38% over his first two seasons) but it's acceptable. In his past five games, he's made 9 of 23 threes (39%). That's more like it. Moreover, the shot just looks better. Early in the season he was missing badly - front of the rim, off line - these are red flags. Now, when he misses, it's still on line, back of the rim, or in and out. That's a much better sign for a shooter.
  • Kaman out, Baron game time decision. Lisa Dillman tweets that Chris Kaman's MRI Tuesday revealed a "dreaded bone bruise" and that he's out tonight. Whether Baron Davis plays depends on how he feels in the morning shootaround and in pre-game warm ups.
  • A quick All Star Game rant. Pau Gasol is a great basketball player. He is arguably the best player on the Lakers, and that's not a knock on Kobe Bryant, just a statement about how good Pau is. But in his first six years in the league, he made the All Star Game once (in 2006), and then only as a replacement player. In two seasons with the Lakers, he's correctly been selected directly to the team twice. Is he suddenly that much better? Not so much. Using PER as a measure, he had multiple more productive seasons in Memphis than his first season with the Lakers (you may not be a fan of PER, but presumably it does an OK job of comparing a player to himself). The usual culprit in these situations is team record, but the Grizz were actually good in those years, with 30 wins by the All Star break on their way to 50 win seasons. Nope, it's just the impact of playing in an NBA backwater like Memphis. You would think the coaches, who actually have to prepare to play against Memphis and who pick the reserves, would know that Pau Gasol was a tad better than say, Brad Miller in 2004 or than Rashard Lewis in 2005 - but evidently not.
  • Pau OK? Gasol came out of the gate this season red hot putting up off the chart numbers. But during the losing streak, his production was way down, and he experienced some tightness in a hamstring. But apparently he's OK, based on the near triple double he hung on the Wiz last night (21 points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists and 5 blocked shots for good measure).
  • Defending Kobe. Eric Gordon is a very good defender and seems to be getting better; it was his defense more than his shooting that earned him minutes on Team USA. But Kobe Bryant is a very tough cover for him. Kobe's got a better post game than any shooting guard in the league, and while EJ is plenty strong, he's giving away three or four inches to Bryant. Still, EJ forced KB24 into a 10 for 30 night in the Clippers win over the Lakers last January; he'll need to do a similar job tonight. Ryan Gomes and Rasual Butler will likely take turns on Kobe as well.
  • Artest on Gordon. Eric Gordon could be in for a long night. The Lakers like to keep Kobe's defensive assignments light and let Ron Artest do the heavy lifting, so expect Artest to defend Gordon while Kobe rests in the vicinity of Al-Farouq Aminu. Artest will bully Gordon, and if the officials let him get away with a lot of physical play, it could be a long night for EJ. It will be interesting to see how EJ handles what will be the first time the Lakers are game planning for him as the number one perimeter player.
  • The Battle of LA. When the Clippers host the Lakers, the crowd is usually about 40% Laker fans, and depending on how things go, it can get pretty loud in support of the visitors. In Blake's debut in the series, it will be interesting to see how the crowd reacts. Griffin is the highest wattage player in a Clippers uniform since... since... well, probably ever. He's got a good chance to be the best basketball player in this city within a few years, but tonight he gets to meet the guys who currently own the city.
  • Two Straight at home against the LAL. The Clippers won both of their home games against the Lakers last season. It will certainly not be easy to make it three in a row tonight.
  • Former Clipper Matt Barnes. People outside of Clips Nation have mostly forgotten that Matt Barnes began his NBA career with the Clippers as a 10 day contract guy who eventually earned himself a real gig late in 2004. The Lakers are his eighth team in eight seasons, but he helps teams wherever he goes. He was also a college teammate of Baron Davis at UCLA; he was a freshman during Baron's second and final season in Westwood. In addition to Barnes, Steve Blake and of course Lamar Odom are former Clippers who have moved across the hall.
  • Superstar for one game: Steve Blake. Blake had a huge game against the Lakers to end last season, in his final game as a Clipper. Why do I have a feeling he's going to return the favor tonight.
  • Famous Quotation: 

    Don't sell firewood by a forest, nor fish beside a lake.
    Chinese proverb.
  • Get the Lakers perspective at Silver Screen and Roll.