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Clippers-Lakers preview: Battle of LA, 2015

The Clippers meet their STAPLES neighbors to renew their rivalry. The Lakers have been playing better lately and the Clippers have not been at their best, so the outcome is far from certain.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season
Lakers logo

January 7th, 2015, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center (Red and Blue Trim)
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
11-6 East 5-4
12-6 West 6-20
15-5 Home 5-12
8-7 Road 6-12
7-10 .500+ 5-18
16-2 .500- 6-6
5-5 L10 3-7
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jeremy Lin
J.J. Redick SG Kobe Bryant
Matt Barnes SF Ryan Kelly
Blake Griffin PF Ed Davis
DeAndre Jordan C Jordan Hill
Advanced Stats
96.46 (13th of 30) Pace 97.61 (8th of 30)
109.9 (3rd of 30) ORtg 103.7 (15th of 30)
103.5 (15th of 30) DRtg 109.6 (29th of 30)
Xavier Henry (achilles) out for season

Steve Nash (back) out for season

Julius Randle (broken leg) out for season

Ronnie Price (broken nose) probable

Wesley Johnson (hip) questionable

The Back Story (The Clippers lead the season series 1-0):

Date Venue Final

10/31/14 Lakers home Clippers 118, Lakers 111 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers continue to disappoint. We thought the 5-4 start of the season was unimpressive, but if anything the team has been even more lackluster for the last couple of weeks. It's getting increasingly difficult to look past the spankings they are receiving at the hands of good teams like Toronto and Atlanta. The bench is certainly part of the problem -- a problem that would more or less go away if Jordan Farmar and Spencer Hawes could just break out of shooting slumps. But with their seventh and eighth men putting up true shooting numbers of .505 and .507, the second unit is reduced to Jamal Crawford and nothing much else. It sometimes feels like stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are off their games also -- but overall that's not the case. Paul and Griffin are producing at levels more or less in line with their career numbers, and DeAndre Jordan is building on the career year he had last season. But the bench and the defense have been mediocre to bad, and until those problems are fixed -- especially against good teams -- the Clippers remain a shadow of what they were supposed to be this season.

The Antagonist:

The Lakers, it must be said, have been playing better lately. They're still easily the most hopeless roster in the Western Conference right now -- at least Minnesota and Utah have young players that could make the team decent at some point -- but they have been competitive in most of their games for about a month now. That month includes wins over San Antonio and Golden State. They're far too reliant on Kobe Bryant (and on Nick Young doing his Kobe impression when Kobe's not out there) but guys like Ed Davis and Jordan Hill and Jeremy Lin and even Carlos Boozer are having nice seasons that no one seems to notice. There's no semblance of a plan for the future -- but they can be very entertaining in the present.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. There's a certain reverse symmetry in the Clippers and Lakers efficiency numbers. Both are right near league average in one measure -- the Clippers are the 15th rated defense at 103.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, the Lakers are 15th on offense scoring 103.7. The Clippers are elite on offense though, scoring 109.9 points per 100 (3rd best in the league) while the Lakers are second worst on defense, allowing 109.6. In other words, the data suggest a 110-104 LAC win.
  • Kobe's a punk. If you don't know the story of how my daughter used to say "Kobe's a punk" when she was four, that's on you. Last Friday against Memphis was one of the best examples ever. Kobe made a three to draw the Lakers within one point. With 24.2 seconds left on the game clock, the Lakers needed to foul, and Jeremy Lin was intently looking at coach Byron Scott for instructions as Mike Conley dribbled the ball. Meanwhile, Kobe was screaming "FOUL!" and eventually sprinted from the baseline to commit the foul himself, and then proceeded to yell at Lin about how stupid he was. Now, Jeremy Lin is the only active NBA player from friggin' Harvard, and he's far from stupid -- he was doing what his coach wanted (sadly, I cannot say that Scott is not stupid -- Kobe was right, and the foul should have come sooner). But you don't -- YOU DO NOT -- show up your teammate in that situation. If Kobe wanted to have a conversation with his coach, fine. But is it any wonder that players don't want to play with Kobe Bryant when he treats them like that?
  • Reversal of fortune. Since I seem to be recycling old content here, it's probably worth re-reading (or reading for the first time if you missed it in October) this piece I wrote at the start of the season about the way in which the Clippers and Lakers have switched positions in LA.
  • 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 the injured Julius 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.
  • Clippers' struggles. The Clippers are 16-2 against teams with losing records, and undefeated against teams with winning percentages below .400. That's good. But they've been terrible against good teams this season. That's bad. The Lakers aren't good of course, so the Clippers should be OK for this one, but until and unless they find a way to play well against good competition, the season is in jeopardy. Here's the stat of the day -- the Clippers have just three wins against the top ten teams n the NBA -- the Lakers have five wins against those teams.
  • Jared Cunningham trade. The Clippers today traded Jared Cunningham to Philadelphia. The move was inevitable, as Cunningham's contract would have become guaranteed at 5 PM Eastern time today, and the Clippers (a) know they are at least one piece short and (b) are hard-capped, limiting their options. By paying Philly to take Cunningham off their hands, the Clippers saved a little room against the hard cap. What they do with that room remains to be seen, but it's safe to assume that they're being aggressive based on this move.
  • First meeting last season. Given the current situation, it's certainly worth remembering what happened when the Clippers met the Lakers in October of 2013. A Lakers team that should not have had any chance thoroughly embarrassed the Clippers in the fourth quarter and won easily. As it happens, this edition of the Lakers has been playing pretty well lately -- in their last eight games they have a win over the Warriors and near misses against Dallas, Memphis and Portland. The Clippers haven't exactly been awesome lately -- they'd better not be complacent heading into this one.
  • Other meetings last season. While the Clippers have a terrific record against bad teams this season, they have not had the laughers this season that they did last season. The middle two games against the Lakers were games the Clippers led by 50 and won by 40 -- they were record setting margins of victory for the Clippers, not to mention margins of defeat for the Lakers. The Clippers have only one 30 point win this season (Saturday against the Sixers, which hardly counts) and have yet to register a 40 point win. No time like the present, right?
  • Bryant's workload. Byron Scott has been limiting Kobe's workload lately, giving him a few days off here and there. As of now the plan seems to be to keep Bryant out of back to backs. The Lakers did not play yesterday and Bryant sat out the Portland game on Monday, so he should be fresh and ready to go in this one. (Then again, to my eyes the Lakers have looked better without Bryant than with him.)
  • Bryant's performance. It should not come as a shock that Kobe Bryant is past his prime. Even so, his shooting percentages this season ARE a bit of a shock. Only one player in the history of the NBA (or rather since Usage statistics have been available) has ever done what Bryant is currently doing -- shooting under 40% from the field, with a true shooting percentage below 50% while posting a usage over 35%. That one player was Allen Iverson, and, like Bryant will almost certainly do, Iverson started in the All Star Game that season, because fans are stupid. With the Lakers needing to rebuild, the last thing they want is for a 36 year old to be using over a third of their possessions, but they don't have a lot of options.
  • 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. But it's the Lakers -- so now the "We'll trade for Kevin Love" rumors are flying.
  • 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: Sir Frederick Alfred Laker (6 August 1922 - 9 February 2006) was a British airline entrepreneur, best known for founding Laker Airways in 1966, which went bankrupt in 1982. Laker was one of the first airline owners to adopt the "no-frills" airline business model that has since proven to be very successful worldwide with companies such as Southwest AirlinesRyanaireasyJetAirAsiaWestJet and Virgin Australia.