The Back Story (The Lakers lead the season series 1-0):
|Lakers 116,Clippers 103
The Big Picture:
The Clippers are now 3-1 playing without Chris Paul this season. If you want to include the fourth quarter against Dallas after Paul was injured, you could even make a case that they are 4-1. The two wins on the current homestand almost need an asterisk because the opponents have been struggling so badly (though to be fair, the Celtics played pretty well), but wins are wins. One of the more interesting quirks of these most recent Paul-less wins is that the Clippers team assists have been through the roof -- 56 assists on 71 field goals -- without the leading assist man in the NBA. That's just nuts. But Doc Rivers has been pounding home ball movement, and it's been playmaker by committee with Blake Griffin, Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford leading the way, and it's paying off. And assisted baskets have no correlation with bad opposition, as far as I can tell. You could beat bad teams with ball movement or playing one on one; the Clippers are doing it with ball movement. Griffin had a huge game against the Celtics -- there's the dunk he threw down on Kris Humphries of course, but he also scored 29 points, including seven early in the fourth quarter when the Clippers took control. That's in addition to eight assists. The Clippers will have loads of motivation in this one after having suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Lakers to open the season. Another bad team that beat the Clippers early in the season came to town this week -- the Clippers beat the Magic by 20 on Monday after leading by as many as 35; I expect a similar result in this one.
I knew heading into the homestand that the Clippers were benefiting from facing some struggling teams. However, I didn't really grok until recently just how poorly these opponents have been playing. The Magic had lost six of eight heading into Monday's game (they've now lost eight of ten). The Celtics had lost eight of nine when they got to town (and have now lost nine of ten). The Lakers have likewise lost nine of their last ten. In fact, the Celtics and Lakers are tied for the worst record in the NBA over their last ten games -- oh how the mighty have fallen. In defense of the Lakers, they've been decimated by injuries. Sometimes you get hit by injuries to a string of key players -- but just as bad is getting hit by a series of injuries to a single position. As the start of training camp, the Lakers had three point guards who were actually among the best players on a suspect roster. Beyond those three, they had a couple of other perimeter players who were plus ball handlers in Kobe Bryant and Xavier Henry. And all five of those ball handlers are currently out of action, have been for a while, and will be for a while. (Henry will be the first back, but he's the least important of course.) Ouch. The Lakers starting point guard as of now is Kendall Marshall, whom they called up from the D-League a couple weeks ago. (Though Marshall is at least a former lottery pick, as are most of the players on this reclamation project of a team.) I'm not sure who the backup point guard is, but I guess it's Jodie Meeks -- and Jodie's long suit has never been his handle. At the end of the day, the Lakers are probably better off losing a lot this season and maximizing a draft pick they actually own. All these injuries allows them to lose without overtly tanking, so it's a good thing.
- Comparison of key metrics. The Lakers are bad on defense. And they're also bad on offense. They're in the bottom third on both sides of the ball, 22nd in the league in both cases.
- Redick's return. Clipper shooting guard J.J. Redick will probably return to action tonight after missing 21 games with a broken bone in his hand and a ligament problem in his wrist after taking a hard fall against Sacramento at the end of November. I really haven't spent much time feeling sorry for the Clippers this season, but losing Redick for a quarter of the season, and then losing Paul for a quarter of the season -- these are not insignificant issues. How nice will it be if the team is finally healthy for the final third of the season after the All Star break? Getting Redick will help a lot. Paul is more important, but having Redick will allow Doc Rivers to move Jamal Crawford back to the bench, while also restoring a quality ball handler and playmaker to the lineup. Not to mention that he can shoot a little, something the Clippers have struggled with quite a bit. I've got Crawford penciled in as the starter for this one, not knowing for certain whether Redick will return or if perhaps Doc will want to work him in slowly. Redick will of course be the start again when he's fully back.
- First meeting. I almost don't even want to mention opening night. It was such a weird game, so completely unexpected. You would say it's a cautionary tale for the Clippers, to beware of NBA players that you don't expect to beat you, because they're all so talented. But even the unexpected heroes of that game (Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry) are out of this one, and surely the Clippers won't have any sort of a let down as they seek vengeance for what happened. Right? RIGHT?!?!
- Feeling sorry. Is it possible to actually feel sorry for the Lakers? They have had a lot of injuries this season. And their outlook going forward is incredibly bleak. Nope, turns out, it's not possible to feel sorry for the Lakers. Sorry. Can't do it.
- Bryant's health. It's impossible to say whether the fracture to Bryant's patellar plate is in some way related to his return from a ruptured Achilles last season. It's clearly not directly related, but things in the body are interrelated in complex ways, and stresses increase in some areas to compensate for weaknesses elsewhere. Most likely it had nothing to do with the Achilles. What is clear though is that bodies begin to break down more frequently as they get older, and that Bryant is 35 and has put an inordinate number of miles on his body. Injuries may be the new normal for the rest of his career.
- Bryant's contract. The Lakers signed Bryant to a two year extension that allows him to remain the highest paid player in basketball until his 37 before he had even returned from his Achilles injury. He then played six games before being sidelined again. It was a terrible basketball decision to tie up $25M for two seasons in an aging player; but they don't care. They'll rake in the dough during the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour and worry about winning basketball games again in 2016.
- The future for the purple and gold. Next season the Lakers have Bryant and Steve Nash signed to guaranteed contracts. Those are tying up about $33M in salary between them. The team has an option on Robert Sacre; and Nick Young has a player option, which he'll probably decline. And that's it. They'll have money to spend on free agents -- but it's unclear who they could get. Kevin Love is a logical target in two summers -- he can opt out to become a free agent, things are less than perfect in Minnesota and he went to college in L.A. -- but at this rate it looks like they'd be recruiting him to a pretty bad team with the promise of re-building around him in 2016; not the most compelling case. Still, the Lakers always seem to find a way.
- Nick Young. Former Clipper Nick Young is the Lakers' leading scorer at over 16 points per game, mostly off the bench. He's doing his best Kobe imitation, shooting almost once every two minutes, and making less than 43% of those shots.
- 20wo30. Former Clipper Chris Kaman's NBA record of 20 point games without ever scoring 30 (the 20wo30) is stuck at 94. He didn't have a great season in Dallas last year, but he did manage to have six more 20 point games. He had ten of them in New Orleans, where once again he was something of an afterthought for the then-Hornets. But he's really a forgotten man with the Lakers, despite the fact that they need... well, they need something. He did have 19 against Utah just after Christmas, but he's only two appearances since then. He'll probably play tonight, given the Clippers size (he played Wednesday against Dwight Howard and the Rockets). The ultimate 'All Star for a game' performance against the Clippers would be if Kaman went for 30.
- Jordan. Heading into the first Lakers game, the first game of the season, it was an open question whether Doc Rivers' faith in DeAndre Jordan was justified. Just shy of the mid-point, I think we can safely say that yes, Doc knew what he was talking about. Jordan currently leads the NBA in rebounding and field goal percentage and is third in blocked shots. Some of that is simply more minutes -- he's playing 35.1 minutes per game, almost eight minutes more than his previous high for a season -- but he's also killing his career rebounding numbers on a per minute basis. This is a different DeAndre.
- Point guard injury epidemic in LA. Three Laker point guards. Chris Paul. Former Bruin Russell Westbrook. Former Clipper Eric Bledsoe. That's six NBA point guards with ties to the City of Angels currently injured. Darren Collison, beware.
- Passing bigs. Gasol and Griffin are two of the best playmaking bigs in the NBA. Look for each of them to play a major role in triggering the offense for their teams, especially given the absence of traditional playmakers for each team.
- Pau and Blake. Gasol and Griffin have had some major battles over the last few seasons. And Pau has appeared on Blake's posters more than once. With Blake seemingly in postery-mode lately, could we be in for something special tonight?
- Lob City. The homestand so far has featured some of the best Clipper dunks of the season, with Griffin and Jordan seemingly trying to outdo each other.
- ATOs. No one in the NBA is better at drawing up plays after a time out (ATOs) than Doc Rivers. It's uncanny how many lob dunks the Clippers get from ATOs. Opponents should either figure out a way to stop those plays -- or just get out of the way. Because how can they not know they're coming at this point?
- Bad blood. Unwanted pats on the head, poster dunks, flagrant fouls, disappearing banners -- 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 tonight will be any different.
- Connections. Lots and lots and lots of connections in this one. Young, Kaman and the injured Steve Blake are all former Clippers on the Lakers. Matt Barnes and Antawn Jamison and 10-dayer Darius Morris are all former Lakers on the Clippers. In addition, Clippers associate head coach Alvin Gentry was Mike D'Antoni's top assistant when D'Antoni coached in Phoenix, and eventually took over the top job for the Suns after the Terry Porter experiment.
- Get the Lakers perspective at Silver Screen and Roll.
- Shakespearean reference:
Tempest -- Act IV, Scene 1 -- Ariel
I told you, sir, they were red-hot with drinking;
So fun of valour that they smote the air
For breathing in their faces; beat the ground
For kissing of their feet; yet always bending
Towards their project. Then I beat my tabour;
At which, like unback'd colts, they prick'd
Advanced their eyelids, lifted up their noses
As they smelt music: so I charm'd their ears
That calf-like they my lowing follow'd through
Tooth'd briers, sharp furzes, pricking goss and thorns,
Which entered their frail shins: at last I left them
I' the filthy-mantled pool beyond your cell,
There dancing up to the chins, that the foul lake(r)
O'erstunk their feet.