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Clippers-Lakers preview: Reversal of fortune

The Clippers are by far the best team in Los Angeles at this point, even if they haven't played like it yet. The Lakers didn't figure to be very good even with Kobe Bryant back, but a series of injuries make them even worse.

2014/2015 NBA Regular Season
Lakers logo

October 31st, 2014, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center (Purple and Gold Trim)
ESPN, Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown (2013-2014)
21-9 East 12-18
36-16 West 15-37
34-7 Home 14-27
23-18 Road 13-28
25-18 .500+ 11-37
32-7 .500- 16-18
1-0 L10 0-2
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jeremy Lin
J.J. Redick SG Kobe Bryant
Matt Barnes SF Wesley Johnson
Blake Griffin PF Carlos Boozer
DeAndre Jordan C Jordan Hill
Advanced Stats (2013-2014)
98.39 (7th of 30) Pace 100.98 (2nd of 30)
109.4 (1st of 30) ORtg 101.9 (21st of 30)
102.1 (8th of 30) DRtg 107.9 (28th of 30)
Glen Davis (groin) doubtful
Xavier Henry (knee) doubtful

Nick Young (thumb) out

Steve Nash (back) out for season

Julius Randle (broken leg) out for season

The Back Story (The Clippers won the season series last season 3-1):

Date Venue Final

10/29/13 Lakers home Lakers 116, Clippers 103 Recap Box
01/10/14 Clippers home Clippers 123, Lakers 87 Recap Box
03/06/14 Lakers home Clippers 142, Lakers 94 Recap Box
04/06/14 Clippers home Clippers 120, Lakers 97 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are supposed to be very, very good this season, but there has yet to be any hard evidence of that. They went 2-6 in a lackluster preseason, and then barely survived against an Oklahoma City team that was without Kevin Durant the entire game and Russell Westbrook for all but nine minutes. The good news is that the problem, at least last night against the Thunder, is pretty simple: the Clippers can't shoot. The offense didn't look great (against a bunch of no-name OKC players who, it must be said, did play very hard on the defensive end); but it looked good enough, and it produced plenty of open looks. But you still have to make those looks. J.J. Redick made one of ten shots, and missed consecutive threes (one wide open from the corner, as easy a three-point attempt as he's likely to get this season) late in the game which left the door wide open for the Thunder. As a team the Clippers shot 39 percent. They were 0-8 last season when shooting under 40 percent, but they're undefeated when doing so this season, so there's that. Blake Griffin's jump shot looked good in the second half; Chris Paul looked more like himself than he did in the preseason (though he did miss a pair of free throws in the final seconds). DeAndre Jordan played well. But it was a sloppy game, and more than anything, the shooting was just dreadful. Hopefully we can assume that part will improve. Fortunately for the Clippers, the opening schedule doesn't get much softer. The Thunder and the Lakers, which seem like big, important opponents in theory, are so beset by injury that they are among the weakest teams in the league right now. Of course, the Lakers wouldn't be particularly good if they were healthy. The Clippers can continue to play poorly and still start the season 4-0 given the schedule, but it would be better to start playing well. Based on the way they've played against the Lakers the last three meetings, maybe tonight is the night the Clippers get it going.

The Antagonist:

The Lakers were already a mess, and then they lost a couple of key players for the season. Steve Nash is the oldest player in the NBA, and his back hasn't been right for a long time now, so it should not have come as a shock that he was forced to forego the season (which probably signals the end of his amazing career). But when they lost their youngest player, the one on whom they had pinned much hope, lottery pick Julius Randle -- that was a major emotional blow. Randle broke his leg during an innocuous play on opening night against the Rockets and it's unlikely he'll return this season. With Nick Young also out, an already questionable Lakers roster gets even thinner. The Lakers have lost their first two games, and while they've hung around for a while in each game, in the end they just haven't had enough quality against the Rockets or the Suns, and the outcome wasn't close in either game. Kobe Bryant, back from two different injuries, is averaging 25 points per game -- but he's taking 21 shots per game the get there. Which feels about right for Kobe this season -- I pegged him for a 40 percent shooter this year, and right now he's at .405 -- which is better than the Lakers have shot as a team. But while this Lakers squad, especially Kobe, may find ways to score, it's on the defensive end where they're going to really struggle. Adding Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer is not the way to fix a bad defensive roster. If the Clippers offense needed a shot in the arm, they might get it tonight.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Lakers were terrible defensively last season, 28th in the league in defensive efficiency. Adding the likes of terrible defenders Lin and Boozer hardly figures to improve that, and Bryant has never had much interest in that end. You can expect the Clippers offense, most efficient in the league a year ago, to light up the Lakers, as they did in the final three meetings last year.
  • Laker starters. For the second game in a row to begin the season, I'm doing little more than guessing at the starting lineup for a Clipper opponent. OK, it's not a pure guess -- these guys have started the first two games for the Lakers and they'll start tonight. Lin is clearly going to start in the absence of the injured Steve Nash, and obviously there's Bryant. But the front court is a hot mess. Not that there are particularly good options on the Lakers bench -- even fewer since they've lost two players for the season at this point.
  • Sad for Nash. Almost every NBA player plays longer than he should. Who can blame them? I'm 51 and I play basketball every chance I get, and no one is even paying me to do so. Then again, no one is paying to watch me, either. Steve Nash is one of the great point guards of all time and won back-to-back MVPs playing some of the most entertaining basketball ever witnessed for the Suns. He was still playing incredibly well his final season in Phoenix, even at the age of 39. But time catches up with everyone, and the Kobe Bryant curse catches up with any star that suits up next to the Mamba. Injuries are the primary culprit, but are these destined to be the worst final two seasons of any NBA MVP? He played 15 games last season and has already shut it down for this season. He has not yet officially retired, but that's the obvious next step.
  • Halloween Curse. For years the Clippers were the cursed resident of STAPLES Center (and of the Sports Arena before that). Now it seems as if it is the Lakers who broke a mirror under a ladder while holding a black cat. Bryant has played six games between two major injuries since April 2013. Nash's career ended when he put on the purple and gold. But when the Lakers went all in on an aging roster, with three stars in their mid to late 30s (Bryant, Nash and Pau Gasol) injuries were a major risk factor. To lose their lottery pick in the first game of the season? Their best-positioned draft pick since James freaking Worthy? That's a whole other level of hex. Julius Randle isn't Blake Griffin -- but to Lakers fans he represented a future that no one else on the team is really a part of, so losing him hurts. A lot.
  • Reversal of fortune. Injuries are just one way that the Lakers and Clippers have switched places in recent years. You are free to read more, if you like.
  • Lakers draft pick. The Lakers first round pick in the 2015 draft goes to the Suns as part of the disastrous-in-retrospect Nash trade, unless it falls in the top 5. At this point, it very well could. If Randle can come back strong next season, they could put high lottery picks from back-to-back drafts on the court together; not something the Lakers do very often.
  • Worst season ever. The Lakers are coming off their worst season ever. I don't think they'll top (bottom?) last season's win total of 27, but after losing Randle on opening night, it does seem like this team is destined for new levels of misery.
  • Best season ever. On the other hand, the Clippers are coming off their best season ever -- and could very well be heading into their new best season ever. Not that they've looked like it so far, but it's still very early, and this is a very good team, at least on paper.
  • The Land of Misfit Toys. Remember the Land of Misfit Toys from the Rudolph Christmas special? (Quick, what was Rudolph's girlfriend's name? Buzzzz! Too late. The answer is Clarisse. "She thinks I'm CUUUUUTE!") There was a Ralph-in-the-Box and a train with square wheels and an elephant with pink polka dots (though I never saw anything wrong with that). That's what the Lakers have become the last two seasons. Players who don't fit elsewhere -- some big names, like Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin, some draft busts like Wesley Johnson and Jordan Hill -- come to the Lakers to try to find a happy home.
  • First meeting last season. Beware of over-confidence. The Clippers expected to easily beat the Lakers in their first meeting last season. Instead, Henry and new-Clipper Jordan Farmar lit the Clippers up and the Lakers were victorious. The Clippers got some revenge in three straight blowouts after that first meeting, but it does show you what can happen on any given night in the NBA.
  • Other meetings last season. The Lakers had their fun in the first game -- but the remaining three games were complete massacres. The Clippers flirted with 50 point wins in both games 2 and 3, and topped 100 points in the third quarter in both of those. The fourth game -- a 23 point drubbing of the Lakers -- felt pretty close by comparison. It's difficult to know how the memory of those losses will factor into tonight's game. Will the Lakers be looking to redeem themselves? Is there anything they can do about it?
  • Bryant's return. It's difficult to know what to expect from Kobe Bryant this season. He's played a total of seven basketball games in the past 18 months. He's now 36 years old and has been in the NBA more than half of his life (he was 17 when he was drafted). No one doubts Kobe's desire, his drive, or his skill level. But after two major injuries, incredible wear and tear over the years, and the simple passage of time, a decline is inevitable.
  • Bryant's contract. The Lakers signed Bryant to a two year extension that allows him to remain the highest paid player in basketball until he's 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.
  • Brilliant Lakers. There's a certain brilliance to what the Lakers have done here, although there is no plan for getting better and it will not be brilliant to be bad indefinitely. But they can afford to be bad for a couple of seasons. They can literally afford it, since their TV contract pays them ridiculous amounts of money and runs for eight more seasons. The question is whether ratings and attendance will suffer, and I doubt they will, at least not for a couple years. Kobe is still Kobe, and as he chases scoring records, people are going to tune in. Lin has a built-in audience, especially in a huge market with a large Asian population like LA. Boozer is no longer a very good player, but he's a name, and the casual Laker fan might actually think he was a good pick up. They're all over the national TV schedule still. If the goal is to win games, they won't do that very well. But if the goal is to make money, you shouldn't waste your sympathy on the Lakers.
  • The future for the purple and gold. The Lakers plan was always to sign a mega-star in the summer of 2014. The way they saw it, either LeBron James or Kevin Love or at least Paul George would be dying to play for the greatest franchise in the history of the known universe. It didn't work out that way.
  • Connections. Nick Young is a former Clipper on the Lakers. Matt Barnes and Jordan Farmar are former Lakers on the Clippers. Lakers coach Byron Scott was originally drafted by the Clippers, but was traded to the Lakers in exchange for Norm Nixon (among other components) before ever playing for the Clippers.
  • Get the Lakers perspective at Silver Screen and Roll.
  • Wikipedia definition: Lake freighters, or Lakers, are bulk carrier vessels that ply the Great Lakes. These vessels are traditionally called boats, although classified as ships. Lakers carry bulk cargoes of materials such as limestone, iron ore, grain, coal or salt from the mines and fields to the populous industrial areas down the lakes. The 63 commercial ports handled 173 million tons of cargo in 2006. Because of winter ice on the lakes, the navigation season is not usually year-round. The Soo Locks and Welland Canal close from mid-January to late March, when most boats are laid up for maintenance. Crewmembers spend these months ashore.

    Depending on their application, lakers may also be referred to by their type, such as
    oreboats (primarily for iron ore), straight deckers (no self-unloading gear), bulkers (carry bulk cargo), sternenders (all cabins aft), self unloaders (with self unloading gear), longboats (due to their slender appearance), or lakeboats, among others.

    In the mid-20th century, 300 lakers worked the Lakes, but by the early 21st century there were fewer than 140 active lakers. One of the best known was the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, the most recent and largest major vessel to be wrecked on the Lakes.