|2015/16 NBA Regular Season|
|January 29, 2016, 7:30 PM|
|STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, California|
|Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM|
|Wesley Johnson||SF||Anthony Brown|
|Luc Mbah a Moute||PF||Julius Randle|
|98.3 (13th)||Pace||98.4 (12th)|
|105.6 (5th)||ORtg||97.1 (29th)|
|101.1 (11th)||DRtg||108.3 (30th)|
Blake Griffin (quad/hand) Out
Paul Pierce (old) Out
Kobe Bryant (decrepit) Out
What's new with the Clippers?
The Clippers are coming off a successful 3-2 road swing against five quality Eastern Conference opponents. Wednesday night's win over the Hawks on the second night of a back-to-back may well be the club's best win all season, despite not playing particularly well overall. They've obviously done a wonderful job in weathering the storm without Blake Griffin available as they're now 13-3 since he's been out. Things are going to be getting a tad tougher in the next few weeks though, with games against Chicago, Boston, San Antonio and Golden State coming up, as well as the annual Grammy road trip. On the bright side, the Grammy trip is a relatively quick four-gamer this year. Last season's Grammy trip was an eight-game marathon.
What's new with the Lakers?
Where do we even start? The Western Conference cellar dwellers have a robust winning percentage of .191 so far this season, and are a full five games worse than the conference's second-worst team, the Timberwolves. Despite having a youthful roster with a few potentially excellent players, they've been the opposite of "fun" so far this season. It all lands at the feet of Byron Scott, who must be doing some sort of drawn-out comedy bit with the way he's handled his team this year.
Scott has effectively messed with the confidence of both Julius Randle and D'Angelo Russell with the way he's jerked their respective roles around all year long, and seems eager to bench them for made-up reasons whenever possible. Late in Tuesday night's game against the Mavericks, Scott yanked Russell with just over two minutes to go because he thought Russell was trying too hard. Here's the explanation, courtesy of ESPN's Baxter Holmes:
"I saw the last couple minutes that he was in that he was really trying to take over the game, and that's not him yet," Scott said. "I want the ball to move a little bit. I thought it stuck with him. He tried to make the big shots and things like that. I understand that, but to me, that's not him right now."
In general, Scott said of Russell, "He's been more aggressive to score. I think sometimes he's taking what they're giving him, and I think there's other times where I think he's kind of forcing the issue. He has to find a happy medium. He's learning."
"I love the fact that he has confidence," Scott said. "When it gets to the point where it's cockiness, then we've got a problem."
Is he close to that point of cockiness where it becomes a problem?
"I think he's pretty close," Scott said. "I don't think he's there. I just think he feels right now that he's got a lot of confidence in himself. Like I said, that's a good thing. You don't get this far without having that. And sometimes you don't get this far without having a little cockiness, as well. But you don't want that to overshadow the confidence that he has.
"I think when you get cocky, you're thinking that there's nothing that you can't do. And if you think that, then you stop working."
...OK? The Lakers have a team net rating of -11.3 this season, which is the league's worst mark. They haven't played a whole lot of close games. The aforementioned game with the Mavericks was tight coming down the stretch, and it would seem like a pretty good opportunity to get your supposed franchise point guard some valuable crunch time minutes. But hey, I'm not a coach.
Scott seems to have done a similarly poor job handling Randle. He demoted the former Kentucky star to the second unit earlier in the season without offering so much as an explanation. Shouldn't part of the coach's responsibility be to explain situations to his players in an attempt to get them to fix whatever they're doing wrong?
Either Byron Scott is just crazy, or he's pulling off the greatest stealth tank coaching season of all-time. Or both.
We haven't even gotten to Kobe Bryant yet, who is trying his best to play through various injuries during his retirement tour. He hasn't played very well for most of the season, but it's been refreshing to see mellow Kobe, for once. He's clearly resigned to the fact that the team is bad and that he can just coast into retirement, so he's taking it all in stride in a way he probably wouldn't have in the past. He's even dapping rivals for hitting game-winners against his own team. Retiring Kobe is the best Kobe. He'll miss this game after playing 25 minutes in L.A.'s loss to Chicago on Thursday. Anthony Brown will likely slide into the starting unit at small forward.
Matchup to watch
DeAndre Jordan vs. Roy Hibbert
Jordan and Hibbert are two completely different types of centers that are really supposed to serve the same purpose. D.J.'s the springy rim protector type, while Hibbert's game is predicated on verticality and using his huge size (7'2") to wall-off the basket. Unfortunately for Roy, it seems like the league has passed him by a bit. Just two years ago he was the anchor of one of the league's stingiest defenses in Indiana and runner-up for the Defensive Player of the Year award, and now he's wallowing around among the rest of the filth with the Lakers. He's still only 29, but his impact has completely fallen off a cliff.
The Pacers sent him to L.A. in an attempt to pave the way for a faster and bouncier roster that can keep up with the pace-and-space era the league is obsessed with these days. The Lakers acquired him in an attempt to finally get someone that can provide a little paint protection, but LAL has a defensive rating of 112.2 with him out there this season, per NBA.com. Thats...not good. In fact, Hibbert is tied with Kobe Bryant for the league's worst net rating at -15.9. It's a shame Hibbert has been relegated to this, but the reality is that slow-footed bigs have a hard time keeping up nowadays. Tough times for the Purple & Gold.
Meanwhile, DeAndre has been tearing it up with Griffin on the shelf. Since Christmas, D.J. is averaging about 14 points, 15 rebounds and nearly two blocks per game. He's unlikely to be named to the All-Star team with the west so laden with talent, but he's obviously been a vital cog in the Clippers' success over the last several weeks.
He had been in the starting lineup until a sore knee sent him back to the bench, but the Lakers seem to have found something in rookie big Larry Nance Jr. The son of former Dunk Contest champion Larry Nance clearly inherited his dad's hops, and he's provided the Lakers with some much-needed energy on both ends of the floor. He also knows to respect his elders, which is probably something Byron Scott would actually value when determining playing time.
The rest of the bench has a lot of weird, ill-fitting parts. Nick Young has been in-and-out of the rotation all year long as he continues to provide little outside of decent three-point shooting. 32-year-old Brazilian rookie Marcelo Huertas may actually be the worst player in the NBA that sees regular minutes. Brandon Bass, who could be a useful bench big on a contender, is here, for some reason. Ryan Kelly is a thing that exists.
The Clippers won in Atlanta Wednesday night due in large part to an excellent performance from the bench. Jamal Crawford led the team in scoring while Wesley Johnson and Austin Rivers did a number defensively in helping force 22 Hawks turnovers. It was an encouraging sign from the much-maligned reserve unit, and sorely needed on a night when most of the starters didn't have their legs under them. One would imagine they should see a pretty sizable helping of garbage time action in this game. Maybe we'll even see Lance Stephenson!
Game day songs of choice
The battle for Los Angeles means we get to enjoy some good ol' L.A. tunes in this space. This seems like a good place to start...
Sure, Young the Giant hails from Irvine, but that's close enough to L.A., right? I'd say we can go ahead and claim them.
And we'll cap things off with this one, because why not?
The last Laker win over the Clippers came on opening night of the 2013-14 season. The Clips will try and hand the Lakers their 40th (!!!) loss of the season tonight at 7:30. To commemorate the milestone, here's hoping the home teams wins by 40. Sound good?