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Clippers vs. Lakers - Game Preview

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season

Staples Center (Red and Blue Trim)
January 14th, 2012, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, NBA-TV, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Derek Fisher
Chauncey Billups SG Kobe Bryant
Caron Butler
SF Matt Barnes
Blake Griffin
PF Pau Gasol
DeAndre Jordan
C Andrew Bynum

The Back Story:

First of three meetings this season. The Clippers won two games in the pre-season. The Lakers won 3 of 4 last season.

The Big Picture:

This is just another game in the NBA schedule. Everybody else in the world would have you believe that it is the Battle of Los Angeles, the most monumental NBA game to occur in the history of the city, but it's not. It's just a game. I mean, sure, the winner will be in first place in the division, and second place in the conference. And yes, it's a chance to send a message to the other team in town. And OK, the future of the free world does hang in the balance. But it's just another game. Obviously, the Clippers traded for Chris Paul in December, while the Lakers had a dismal off-season that included losing out on Chris Paul in controversial fashion. This is the first regular season meeting between the teams since the Chris Paul era began (the age of relevance, as I like to say). So sure, it means something a little extra. The Clippers come into the game well rested and presumably well prepared, following two days off after an overtime win over the Heat on Wednesday night. The Clippers also have the momentum/confidence (such as it is) of having beaten the Lakers twice in pre-season, their only other meetings of the Chris Paul era. One presumes that the Clippers won't come out flat in this one, as the team should be really fired up to face their city rivals.

The Antagonist:

The Lakers have won five straight, including last night against Cleveland. Kobe Bryant has been carrying the team, scoring 40+ in three straight games to take the NBA scoring lead. But the Lakers current 9-4 record is padded by a whole bunch of home games - they're 8-1 at home (they've played more home games than any team in the league), but only 1-3 on the road. This isn't exactly a road game for them in that there's no travel, but it's not really a home game either. The Lakers have had some players out recently - some came back, other went out, but really who cares? Other than Kobe, Pau Gasol and Anderw Bynum, the others are interchangeably terrible. If one or more of them is missing, it's not like their replacements could be significantly worse. BUT, Bryant, Gasol and Bynum are all monsters, and they can win a LOT of games all by themselves. And make no mistake - the Lakers have seen the stories, they've heard the reports that the Clippers are challenging their supremacy in LA - they will be hyper-motivated to win this game. It was simple enough to brush aside pre-season losses - this one counts.

The Subplots

  • All-Star game. When the game tips off tonight, there will be five likely Western Conference All Stars on the floor, four of them starters. Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum would all be starters if the voting ended today, and Pau Gasol will likely be selected as a replacement.
  • Road wins versus home losses. I mentioned the other day that the home court advantage seems especially pronounced this season. There's an old trick some people use to try to gauge a team's real strength when their schedule has been particularly uneven (i.e. a disproportionate number of home games or road games). You express the record as the road wins compared to the home losses. If a team has more road wins than home losses, it's the equivalent of being above .500 in a normalized schedule. Fewer road wins than home losses, below .500. There are currently eight Western Conference teams with an overall record above .500. However, there are only two above .500 by this method. The Thunder are a stellar 5 road wins versus 1 home loss, while Denver is a less impressive 2-1. The Lakers and the Clippers? Each 1-1.
  • CP3 must take control. The Clippers have been their best this season (beating Miami, blowing out Houston) when Chris Paul has been aggressive on the offensive end. That will absolutely have to be the case tonight. The Lakers have a terrible time defending quick point guards (as evidenced by Paul's dismantling of them in last year's playoffs), while Pau Gasol tends to give Blake Griffin fits. Paul will need to be the focal point of the offense for much of the evening if the Clippers hope to win.
  • Five game win streak. Yes, the Lakers have won five straight. But this looks a lot like a schedule streak. Four of the wins came against teams under .500, and only one came on the road. If they can beat the Clippers in front of the LAC crowd, it will mean a little more than beating the likes of the Cavs and the Suns and the Warriors.
  • Kobe on a tear (in his ligament). Kobe has scored 42, 40 and 48 in the Lakers last three games to raise his average above 31 points per game, best in the NBA. Although he tore a ligament in his wrist against the Clippers in pre-season, as is his custom he has played through the pain, and says that it's feeling much better. He has taken 31 shots in each of the last three games. No other Laker has taken more than 16 during that time.
  • Defending Kobe. The last thing the Clippers want to see in this game is a dialed in Kobe Bryant. The combination of point guards and combo guards on the Clippers roster is great on offense, and fine on defense against most teams. But none of them has the size to really defend Bryant. In pre-season, Vinny Del Negro started the game with Caron Butler on Kobe (leaving Chauncey Billups to defend the far less dangerous Matt Barnes). I think we can expect to see different players on Bryant, as well as different defensive looks, including plenty of double teaming.
  • Bynum loves the Clippers. A little less than three years ago, on January 21 2009, Andrew Bynum scored 42 points while grabbing 15 rebounds against the Clippers. That 42 point game still stands as Bynum's career high, and in fact, his second highest game is 29. Bynum also scored 26 in just 31 minutes against the Clippers in the second pre-season game last month. Something about the Clippers seems to bring out the best in Drew.
  • Tough task for DJ. DeAndre Jordan has a very, very difficult task ahead of him this evening. He's leading the NBA in blocked shots per game, but in the second pre-season game, when he left Bynum to go challenge shots, Bynum invariably gobbled up the loose ball and scored. DJ has to use some discretion and not go after every single block when he's responsible for a monster like Bynum. That means he'll have to resist the urge to go chase impossible blocks and instead box out Bynum, which is simply not in DeAndre's nature. I will say this - he's shown some real progress as a post defender this year. He's had huge individual defensive plays, not just blocking shots, but also on the ball, against the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and Chris Bosh this season. He needs some of that defensive discipline tonight.
  • Tough schedule, easy schedule - a matter of perspective. The Clippers have played a league low eight games so far, two fewer than any other team. The Lakers have played 13, tied with Chicago for the most. So that means the Clippers have played an easy schedule. But the Clippers have, among their eight games, played five teams against teams with a winning percentage better than .600 (Portland twice, San Antonio, Chicago, Miami) while the Lakers have played only four such games in their 13 (Denver twice, Chicago, Portland).
  • 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. However, it should be noted that Griffin did shake off a terrible start against the Lakers to score 10 fourth quarter points in his team's only win over their rivals last season. He'll need to battle through again tonight for the Clippers to be successful.
  • Laker injuries. The Lakers got Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy back from injury against Cleveland last night. Jason Kapono also returned to the lineup after the birth of his twins (congrats, Jason). However, they also lost Steve Blake for about a month with a cracked rib cage, and Ron Artest Metta World Peach sat out with a sore Achilles tendon and a bad back. Blake is definitely out for this one - we'll have to wait and see if the trainers will give World Peace a chance (to play basketball).
  • Rebounding. The Lakers are averaging the second most rebounds per game in the NBA. The Clippers are averaging the fewest. If the Clippers don't commit to rebounding in this game, it could get ugly. Of course, the Lakers bounded them on the boards in both the pre-season games and the Clippers still won, but somehow I don't feel like counting on that.
  • The message if the Clippers win: We're for real, we're a real threat to you, we believe we're the best team in LA, and we certainly have the brightest future. We know this has been your town, but it's going to be ours.
  • The message if the Lakers win: Pre-season, schmreseason. We're still the Lakers, look up and count the banners. It doesn't matter how many dunks you get, or who you trade for. You'll always be the other team in this town.
  • The crowd. In years past, the crowd at a Clippers home game against the Lakers has seemed to be about 45% Lakers fans. I thought that might change with interest in the Clippers sky high, but during the pre-season game, it seemed about the same as always. So it figures that there will be plenty of Lakers fans in the crowd tonight. The atmosphere at the pre-season game was electric. The crowd was completely nuts - and that was pre-season! I can only imagine what it's going to be like tonight.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:
  • laker

    n. a straight person pretending to be lesbian; hence "lesbian faker"

    Did you see her lookin at him? What a laker.
  • Get the Lakers perspective at Silver Screen and Roll.