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Clippers-Lakers preview: The not-a-rivalry game

The Clippers and the Lakers don't have a rivalry; at least not this season, because the Lakers aren't good enough to rival the Clippers right now.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
2013/2014 NBA Regular Season

March 6th, 2014, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center (purple and gold trim)
TNT, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
17-9 East 10-16
25-11 West 11-24
25-5 Home 10-19
17-15 Road 11-21
22-14 .500+ 8-27
20-6 .500- 13-13
8-2 L10 3-7
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Kendall Marshall
Darren Collison SG Jodie Meeks
Matt Barnes SF Kent Bazemore
Blake Griffin PF Wesley Johnson
DeAndre Jordan C Pau Gasol
Advanced Stats
98.03 (8th of 30) Pace 99.98 (2nd of 30)
109.0 (2nd of 30) ORtg 101.6 (22nd of 30)
102.0 (8th of 30) DRtg 106.5 (25th of 30)
J.J. Redick (back) out
Kobe Bryant (knee) out
Jamal Crawford (strained calf) probable
Steve Nash (back) out
Jared Dudley (back spasms) ?
Xavier Henry (knee) out

Nick Young (knee) questionable

The Back Story (The season series is tied 1-1):

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

The Big Picture:

The Clippers won a big game in Phoenix on Tuesday night, their fifth straight victory. This is the third time this season that the Clippers have won five in a row, and each of the first two times the streak ended at five as the Clippers lost their next game. That will almost certainly change tonight when the Clippers meet the Lakers. Yes, the Lakers recently surprised the Blazers in Portland, but that's not happening tonight. The Clippers had a let down against the Lakers in the first game of the season way back in October, but they won't let that happen again. As it happens, the Clippers have avoided bad losses for several months now, and a loss to these Lakers would certainly quality as a bad loss. Blake Griffin was just named the Western Conference Player of the Month for February and he'll be looking to show off all of his fancy new moves. Chris Paul is looking more and more like his old self. The Lakers like to play small, and frankly, the Clippers should just pound them. Wesley Johnson can't guard the new Griffin, and Pau Gasol can't keep DeAndre Jordan off the boards. Hopefully the Clippers put this one away early and get a lot of minutes in for Danny Granger and Glen Davis. Jamal Crawford has missed two straight games with a strained calf muscle and seems to be ready to play again, but he'll be a game time decision.

The Antagonist:

The Lakers a mess. They considered trading pretty much anybody not on a minimum contract at the trade deadline, but at the end could only deal Steve Blake. Marshon Brooks (and Kent Bazemore) join the crew of former first round picks who never got many minutes where they were and who get to be heavily featured with the Lakers. Basically, as long as you're not seven feet tall, you'll probably have a featured role on the Lakers. Steve Nash has potentially played his final NBA game, no one knows when or if Kobe Bryant is coming back, and there's only six weeks left in the season. The team is on pace to have the worst winning percentage in their west coast history and their fewest wins ever in any 82 game season. Basically, this season can't get over quick enough for the Lakers.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Lakers are bad on offense. And they're really bad on defense. The Pelicans hung 132 on them Tuesday night. There's no telling how many points a motivated Clippers team can score against them, but the last time these teams played the Clippers had 100 points through three quarters.
  • The Land of Misfit Toys. Remember the Land of Misfit Toys from the Rudolph Christmas special? (Quick, what was Rudolph's girlfriend's name? Ehh! 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 this season. Players who haven't worked out elsewhere in their NBA careers go to the Lakers and give it another shot in the D'Antoni system. And of course the system makes some of them look pretty good. It hasn't produced many wins and it's of no benefit to the team ultimately since none of these guys are signed beyond this season, but Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry, Kendall Marshall and now Marshon Brooks and Kent Bazemore are all getting some exposure with the Lakers which will probably help them remain NBA players for a few more seasons, which didn't look likely for any of them before the season began.
  • Paul in, Redick out. The last time the LA teams met was J.J. Redick's return to the Clippers lineup, though Chris Paul was out at the time. This time Paul is back and Redick is out. And Jamal Crawford may or may not play. It's kind of amazing how well the Clippers have been playing when you consider that they've been missing a starting guard for several months now, and much of that time they've been missing two of their top three guards.
  • Red hot Barnes. The Clippers haven't gotten the production from the three spot they would like most of this season. Jared Dudley has underperformed against his career numbers and Matt Barnes had until recently failed to live up to the standard he'd set last season with the Clippers. Until recently. Barnes has scored in double figures in six straight games, shooting over 60% from the field and over 50% from beyond the three point arc. It's obviously been timely production with Redick and now Crawford out. Without Barnes' red hot three point shooting, the Clippers would almost certainly have lost last week in Oklahoma City and Tuesday in Phoenix. The way he's playing at present, there's little question who should be the starter between Barnes and Dudley. However, newcomer Danny Granger may try to insert himself into that conversation.
  • The rotation. Crawford may or may not play tonight; Doc Rivers seemed to indicate that he was ready, but then again, it's doubtful they'll need him against the Lakers, so a couple more days rest might be the safe choice. With or without Crawford, Doc Rivers has some things to figure out in the rotation. In the backcourt, without Crawford and Redick, Collison will start, Paul and Collison will play heavy minutes, and Willie Green and Reggie Bullock will get some minutes that will dry up later. In the front court it's more complicated. Is Danny Granger better suited to play the three or to be a small ball four? Does Granger displace Dudley or Turkoglu in the rotation? Will Dudley even be available in this game after leaving Tuesday's game with back spasms? My gut tells me that assuming Redick returns, Doc will eventually settle on a nine man rotation, with Barnes starting at the three and Collison, Crawford, Granger and Big Baby Davis forming a versatile second unit that works with any one of the big three on the floor with them. Obviously that version of the rotation is still somewhere in the future, but getting some significant minutes for Granger and Davis is a priority in the meantime.
  • The streak. The Clippers have won five straight at this point, but they've done that twice already this season. The difference this time is that they will definitely make it six tonight, which will be their longest winning streak of the season -- until they make it seven Saturday against the Hawks. The fact is the Clippers are in a soft spot in their schedule, and the win in Phoenix was the most difficult game for several weeks. The Clippers will be pretty sizable favorites in their next 10 games or so.
  • The magic number is one. Notice anything about the records of the two LA teams? The Clippers have 42 wins and the Lakers have 40 losses. Those add up to 82 games. If the Clippers fail to win another game while the Lakers win out, the two teams will finish tied. That ain't going to happen. As of right now, the magic number for the Clippers to finish the season with the best record in the city is one. That's happening tonight, with six weeks left in the season.
  • Biggest standings lead in history. As you might imagine, the 20.5 game lead the Clippers currently hold is their largest lead over the Lakers in the history of the two franchises. Of course it still pales in comparison to leads the Lakers have had over the Clippers -- in 1986-87 the Lakers won 65 games while the Clippers won 12.
  • Third straight winning season. Amid the excitement of the Phoenix win, and perhaps owing to the fact that winning has become somewhat more routine in these parts, we failed to celebrate the fact that the Clippers clinched a winning regular season record on Tuesday. It may not seem like much, but three straight seasons over .500 has never happened before in Clippers history -- and it's only happened once in franchise history, way back in the 70s in Buffalo. As for three straight seasons over .600? Well, these being the only .600 seasons in franchise history, that would be a first as well.
  • First meeting. The two meetings between these two teams this season could not have been more different from each other. The Clippers should have won handily twice -- instead, they lost one, and obliterated the Lakers in the second one. The average -- a pair of double digit Clippers wins -- seems about right, although the teams are technically 1-1. As I wrote a week or so ago, the Clippers had a bad losses like that first Lakers game early in the season, but have avoided them for several months now. One assumes that they'll avoid a letdown in this one. In fact,I'd be shocked if the Clippers lost, but then again, I was shocked back in October.
  • 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. I do feel sorry for Steve Nash though.
  • 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.
  • 20wo30. Former Clipper Chris Kaman's NBA record of 20 point games without ever scoring 30 (the 20wo30) is slowly creeping closer to 100. 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 got heavy minutes for a couple of weeks while everyone else was injured, and he had a couple more 20 point games, but now that Pau is back, Kaman is back to the end of the bench. The record is now up to 96 20 point games without ever scoring 30. The ultimate 'All Star for a game' performance against the Clippers would be if Kaman went for 30.
  • 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?
  • 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. Nick Young and Kaman are former Clippers on the Lakers. Matt Barnes is a 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:
    Henry IV, Part 2 -- Act II, Scene 4 -- Pistol
    I'll see her damn'd first; to Pluto's damn'd lake[r], by
    hand, to th' infernal deep, with Erebus and tortures vile
    Hold hook and line, say I. Down, down, dogs! down, faitors!
    we not Hiren here?