Lakers Game Preview: Final Chapter in the Hallway Rivalry

LakersClippers The Clippers own the season record against the Lakers this year regardless of the result tonight. However, a win tonight would be huge for the Lakers playoff hopes. They are clinging to the eighth spot with a half game lead over the Jazz. The Lakers can’t worry about the Jazz’s schedule as they control their own destiny and each game at this juncture is a must-win.

On Friday night the Lakers edged the Grizzlies by playing hard nosed defense. That game was quite a departure from what we’re used to seeing from the Lakers on the defensive end, but it also shows us what they are capable of. Meanwhile, the Clippers are coming off a franchise season record 50th win. Buckle up folks, expect to see one hell of a battle today.

Frontcourt: The Clips have amazing depth in the frontcourt. This unit is headlined by Blake Griffin, who is still soaring for alley-oops in his third season. Blake relies a bit too much on his athleticism and hasn’t really developed a reliable mid-range shot. All of his numbers are down, but most of this is due to the fact that Clippers have so much depth. The Lakers should not forget that Blake destroyed them with 22 points and 10 boards back on Valentines Day. Center DeAndre Jordan has struggled with consistency all year. Jordan is very raw offensively, but he is a high leaper who loves to get up for lobs thrown by CP3 and he’s also a decent shot blocker.

Both of the Clips frontcourt backups are former Lakers: Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom. Barnes is the more versatile forward of the two and plays the role of pesky defender, hustle player and occasional spot-up three-point shooter.

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Backcourt: CP3 is probably the best point guard in the NBA at the moment. He can do it all: score, set up teammates for easy buckets and lock down opposing guards with his amazing on-ball defense. Unfortunately for the Lakers, they may be without Nash for the third consecutive game. Even if Nash does play, he’s 39 years old, hampered by a hamstring injury and was never known for his defensive prowess. The Lakers will have to scheme for CP3 and funnel him into Dwight Howard. Veteran Willie Green starts at the two and mainly roams the perimeter and spots-up for threes. Most of his minutes go to the Clippers sixth man Jamal Crawford. Crawford’s fancy dribbling has been known to put opponents on their butt and he’s also a scoring machine. Crawford averages 16.7 points and 1.9 threes per game.

At the three Butler is more as a wing player than a true forward. Almost ten seasons ago, Butler enjoyed a one year stint with the Lakers. While he has regressed from his prime, Butler remains a pesky defender and a three-point threat. Backup point guard Eric Bledsoe is a monster in the making. If he were on another NBA team he’d likely be starting but he just happens to be playing behind a future hall of famer. Bledsoe is a superb on-ball defender and may actually trump CP3 in this regard. He casually dropped 17 points, seven assists, two steals and a block in 21 minutes against the Suns.

Key to Lakers’ Victory:
The Big D – Against Memphis, the Lakers demonstrated that they are capable of playing great defense. The Clippers love to run and they have the legs to do it. The Clips’ offensive rating is fifth best in the NBA – they score 107.3 points per 100 possessions. They also take care of the ball with a 1.61 assist to turnover ratio. The Lakers haven’t been able to figure out the Clippers yet, losing to them in all three meetings this year. Tonight the stakes are higher than ever and the Lakers will need to D up in order to contend with the Clippers.

Specifically the Lakers need to figure out a way to slow down CP3. The Lakers do not have anyone on the roster who can lock down CP3 for 48 minutes, but Kobe stands the best chance of limiting him. It’s doubtful that Kobe will defend CP3 for more than half the game though since it’ll sap his energy. The Lakers need to funnel CP3 into the trees (Dwight and Pau) and defend the passing lanes so that CP3 is unable to dish to his players waiting beyond the arc.

Sharing is Caring – Good things happen when Kobe shares the ball. He’s averaging 11.3 assists over the past three wins. Kobe needs to continue to get his team involved on offense and keep his opponents guessing whether he’s going to shoot or pass. When Kobe gets into ISO mode, its much easier for the opposing team to defend him as they only have to worry about his shot. The Lakers have so many weapons on offense and Kobe can be the catalyst to set things into motion.

Los Angeles Lakers (40-36) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (50-26)
12:30 PM PST, April 7, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Clippers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Willie Green
SF: Caron Butler
PF: Blake Griffin
C: DeAndre Jordan

Key Reserves: PG: Eric Bledsoe, G: Jamal Crawford, SF: Matt Barnes, F: Lamar Odom

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