The Lakers have been the hottest team in the Western Conference since the All-Star break, and will be looking to remain that way tonight against their in-town rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers. The Lakers are coming off one of their most exciting games in recent history, where they defeated the Phoenix Suns 139-137 in triple overtime. The Clippers last game was an overtime bonanza as well, as they needed two extra periods to dispatch the Washington Wizards 127-119 on Wednesday. Both the Lakers and the Clippers will be looking to build on those overtime classics tonight in Los Angeles.
For the Lakers tonight marks the return of Andrew Bynum. The young center missed the last two games due to a suspension he earned last week against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Lakers managed to win both their games while Bynum was out, but it was obvious they missed his production. Losing Bynum was especially costly for the Lakers considering his recent contributions. Against the Clippers this season Bynum is averaging 17.0 points and 12.0 rebounds, and has been a defensive catalyst against the Clippers’ budding young superstar Blake Griffin.
The Lakers are 51-20 and are currently sitting in the second slot in the Western Conference standings, but the Dallas Mavericks are not far behind. Dallas inched closer last night when they defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves to crawl within a single game of the Lakers. The teams have one more head-to-head meeting which will take place a week from tomorrow in Los Angeles.
Keys to the Game:
Control the paint: With Bynum back in the lineup the Lakers front-line is once again at full strength. If the Lakers can attack the basket and use their size to their advantage they should have no problem grabbing rebounds and earning second-chance points against an undersized Clippers squad.
Use the triangle: Despite almost having a triple-double on Tuesday night against Phoenix, Kobe Bryant struggled for much of the game. He took several bad shots that were not in rhythm or within the offense. Bryant needs to pass the ball and get his teammates involved. In return the game will come to him and the Lakers will be a five-headed monster rather than a one-headed one.
Don’t overreact to Blake Griffin: There’s no question that Griffin is the most exciting rookie in the league. There is always a chance that he will get the fans on their feet with a thunderous dunk. It’s up to the Lakers to use their veteran savvy and not overreact to anything Griffin does. If they can limit his chances on the boards and in the paint they will have an advantage.