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Clippers-Lakers preview: The L.A. Sweep

The Clippers have a chance to sweep the Lakers for the first time in almost 40 years, for the first time since they moved to California from Buffalo. The Lakers need a win to maintain their hold on the eighth playoff spot, but the Clippers need it to try to get home court advantage.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

April 7th, 2013, 12:30 PM
STAPLES Center, Red and Blue Floor
ABC, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Steve Blake
Willie Green SG Jodie Meeks
Caron Butler SF Kobe Bryant
Blake Griffin PF Pau Gasol
DeAndre Jordan C Dwight Howard
Advanced Stats through games of April 6
91.3 (18th of 30) Pace 94.6 (3rd of 30)
110.4 (4th of 30) ORtg 107.6 (9th of 30)
103.6 (8th of 30) DRtg 106.5 (19th of 30)
Chauncey Billups (groin) out
Jordan Hill (hip surgery) out

Metta World Peace (knee surgery) out

Steve Nash (hip) doubtful

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have have many reasons, both noble and petty, to be up for this game. With the magic number for clinching their first ever Division Title sitting at one, a win today would make them Pacific Division champs. It would also keep their fate in their own hands for acquiring home court advantage in the playoffs -- they trail Memphis by a game in the loss column, but with a game against the Grizz looming next Saturday, the Clippers can assure themselves of home court if they win out despite the fact that they sit in fifth today. So it's very important that they keep winning. A win would also give them a sweep over the Lakers for the first time in the history of the intercity rivalry. The Buffalo Braves swept the Lakers 4-0 back in 1975, but they've never done it since moving to California and becoming the Clippers. Finally, by handing the Lakers a loss the Clippers can deal a blow to the Lakers' playoff chances -- which may seem petty, but let's face it, the attention the Clippers would get as the only L.A. in the NBA playoffs would be infinitely preferable to sharing the spotlight with their media-saturated roommates. The series to this point hasn't been particularly close -- the Clippers have trailed for a total of 63 seconds over the course of three full games. But the Lakers have a lot to play for as well, perhaps even more than the Clippers, and they've been playing better lately, so the Clippers should not take them lightly by any means. Fortunately for the Clippers, the Lakers have no real answer for Chris Paul, who should be able to carve them up all night.

The Antagonist:

Although it may not explain the extent of their problems, it is nonetheless true that the Lakers have been racked by injuries this season. For this afternoon's game they will be without Metta World Peace for sure, and probably without Steve Nash as well. Nash has missed all or part of their last four games with hip and hamstring issues, and it's highly doubtful that he'll be able to play in this one. They've managed to win three straight, despite those absences, and lead the Utah Jazz by one game in the loss column for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Utah holds the head-to-head tiebreaker so the Lakers can't afford to finish in a tie with the Jazz, which means that the Clippers can help themselves while hurting their rivals at the same time. Without Metta and Nash, the Lakers short bench has gotten a lot shorter, with Kobe Bryant averaging 46 minutes per game in the last four and Mike D'Antoni using a seven man rotation.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Lakers issues this season have mostly been on the defensive end, where they are 19th in the league in defensive efficiency. The Clippers are the fourth best team in the league in offensive efficiency so that's a bad combo for the purple and gold. Offensively, the Lakers are top ten, though in some ways it would seem like D'Antoni's offensive system is a bad fit. The Lakers are neither young nor athletic, yet they play at the third fastest pace in the league, a D'Antoni trademark.
  • Griffin's slump. Blake Griffin has failed to collect double digit rebounds in nine straight games, the longest streak without 10 or more rebounds of Griffin's young career. Clearly he's being bothered by his sore calf, but the bad news is that he seems to be allowing it to affect his effort. Because rebounding is really about hard work, and right now Griffin is not putting it in. Hopefully with three days off between games, Griffin's calf has had a chance to heal a bit, so maybe he'll play better today. In the last meeting with the Lakers, Griffin made nine of his first ten shots to help the Clippers jump on the Lakers early.
  • Three point shooting. Mike D'Antoni's system relies on quick shots and spreading the floor. The Lakers take the third most threes in the league, and bear in mind that the two teams ahead of them, Houston and New York, are both on pace to break the all time record for three point attempts in a season. But although the Lakers love to take threes (24.5 per game), they are slightly below average at making them (.356). In fact, they shoot the exact same percentage as the Clippers. Nonetheless, they'll have at least three and often four players willing to shoot the three on the floor at all times, so the Clippers have to close out strong.
  • Hoisting threes. Take the 20 players who have attempted the most three pointers in the NBA this season and sort them by three point percentage. As of this moment, number 19 on that list is Metta World Peace, making .347 of 395 three pointers and number 20 is Bryant, making .325 of 382 three point attempts. Can you say "Bad fit of coaching philosophy to personnel"? I knew you could.
  • The last sweep. The Clippers have never swept the Lakers, but the Buffalo Braves did sweep them in 1974-1975. That was the season after Jerry West's retirement, and the season before they traded for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Amazingly, from West to Jabbar to Magic to Kobe, the Lakers have had a string of legendary players interrupted by one season in the 70s and four seasons in the early 90s. Grant Hill was two years old the last time the Clippers swept the Lakers, Steve Nash was one, and no one else on either team was alive yet.
  • Elusive sweeps. The Clippers played their best basketball earlier in the season, that much is true. But even so, it's surprising how difficult it has been for the Clippers to close out season series sweeps this year. In recent weeks, the Clippers had chances to sweep the Rockets and the Mavericks but failed to do so. In fact, the only Western Conference opponent against whom the Clippers have finished a sweep is Utah. They still have a chance to finish sweeps against the Lakers today and the Timberwolves on on Wednesday, and they really need both of the wins.
  • Thanks, Lakers. The Lakers did the Clippers a big favor in their last game, holding on for a hard fought win over the Memphis Grizzlies. That cut the Memphis lead over the Clippers in the loss column down to a single game, putting the Clippers fate back in in their own hands. But as much as we appreciate what the Lakers did, it will all be for naught if the Clippers lose this game.
  • Remaining games. The Clippers have five more games left after today. The Lakers and the Grizzlies next Saturday are the only remaining Clipper opponents with winning records. Four of the Clippers remaining five opponents are already eliminated from the playoff race.
  • Defending Kobe. With Metta hurt, the Lakers have been starting Meeks, which slides Kobe Bryant to small forward. Which means that to start the game, Caron Butler will be defending Kobe. Throughout the game, Matt Barnes and Willie Green and possibly Grant Hill will all take a turn on him as well. Bryant is a bigger part of the Lakers attack at present than he has ever been -- playing both scorer and facilitator for the team at present. How well the Clippers contain him will go a long way towards determining the outcome of the game.
  • Pau and Blake. Gasol and Griffin have had some major battles over the last few seasons, but Griffin has gotten the better of the meetings the two times they've faced each other this season. With Metta injured, Pau is about the only reasonable option the Lakers have against Griffin. Antawn Jamison is too small, Earl Clark is too thin. They can move Howard onto Griffin, but that would be a tough cover for Dwight.
  • Ten versus seven. The Clippers play a ten-man rotation in most of their games. The Lakers play an eight man rotation when everyone is healthy, but they're down to a seven man rotation at present because of injuries. It's a good news bad news situation. Clipper reserves will be up against Laker starters much of the time they are on the floor, but the Clippers players should be fresher at the end of the game also.
  • Intentional fouls. With two of the worst free throw shooters in the NBA playing today, it's entirely possible that one or both of the coaches will decide to foul intentionally at some point in the game. So we've got that to look forward to.
  • Bad blood. Unwanted pats on the head, poster dunks, flagrant fouls -- these teams don't like each other. Almost every time these teams have met, there has been some significant tension. There's no reason to think today will be any different.
  • Connections. Lots and lots and lots of connections in this one. Odom, Turiaf and Barnes are all former Lakers. Steve Blake was a Clipper for half a season before moving across the hall. Steve Nash and Grant Hill played five seasons together in Phoenix -- one of those while being coached by Mike D'Antoni. Ronny Turiaf and Robert Sacre are two of four active NBA players from Gonzaga.
  • Get the Lakers perspective at Silver Screen and Roll.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Lake of Fire -- Nirvana

    Where do bad folks go when they die
    They don't go to Heaven where the angels fly
    Go to a lake of fire and fry
    See em' again 'til the 4th of July

    I knew a lady who came from Duluth
    Bitten by a dog with a rabbit tooth
    She went to her grave just a little too soon
    Flew away howling on the yellow moon

    Where do bad folks go when they die
    They don't go to Heaven where the angels fly
    Go to a lake of fire and fry
    See em' again 'til the 4th of July

    Two days ago was the 19th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's suicide, which is kind of freaking me out. This song is a nice acoustic cover of an old Meat Puppets song.