This season has been a tale of two teams from the same city as the Clippers won each game in December and the Lakers continue to search for answers and a definitive identity. With the Clippers dropping their last two straight games, each team enters in tonight’s matchup having won six of their last eight games. Both teams come into tonight’s game hungry for a win and searching for a way to get back on track, while leaving with some bragging rights as well.
Despite a 40-point effort from Kobe Bryant, the Lakers fell to the Clippers in the first battle of the regular season 105-95 on November 2, 2012. In their first matchup, the Lakers had Mike Brown as their head coach and did not have Steve Nash orchestrating the offense on the floor. The Lakers will begin their toughest and most challenging week of their schedule tonight facing the Clippers in a technically road game, and hope to get off to a good start. The Lakers have an all-time record of 143-50 against the Clippers, with a 64-33 road record against their hallway rivals.
Frontcourt: DeAndre Jordan has improved his game and his performance this year is reflective of that. Coming off a horrible offensive performance on Tuesday night, Dwight Howard must win this battle of both ends of the court, especially on the defensive end by boxing out and forcing Jordan out of the low post. Jordan is averaging 9.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game on 59.7 percent shooting.
Blake Griffin has added more weapons to his tool belt this year, such as a mid-range jumper and more post moves. He is coming off of two inefficient performances (both losses), where he shot a combined 6-22 and posted 22 points and 17 rebounds. It will be important for Pau Gasol to stay on Griffin and limit his contribution in pick-and-roll plays. Overall, Griffin is averaging 17.4 points and 8.7 boards per game.
Caron Butler is expected to return to the lineup tonight after missing the game against Golden State on Wednesday for personal reasons. Butler seems to explode offensively against the Lakers, especially from the three-point line. Butler is posting 10.0 points and 2.6 rebounds per game on 42.3 percent shooting. Matt Barnes comes off the Clipper bench and provides nothing but hustle and energy. Laker fans know that all too well. As a reserve, Barnes is averaging 10.9 points and 5.0 rebounds per game on 50.4 percent shooting in 26.1 minutes.
Backcourt: Two of the best point guards will go head-to-head tonight. While it is widely known that Chris Paul is a much better defender than Steve Nash, it will be very interesting to see who gets their team more involved at a better rate. It will be important for the Lakers to clog the lane and prevent CP3 from dribble penetrating to create plays. Overall, Paul is averaging 16.3 points and 9.2 assists per game on 47.2 percent shooting.
Willie Green continues to start for Chauncey Billups, who is still recovering from surgery from last season to repair his Achilles tendon. Green should not be too big of a threat offensively, but that doesn’t mean that Steve Nash (who will most likely will get this defensive assignment) should leave him open on the wing. Green is averaging 5.9 points on 42.2 percent shooting.
Reserves Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe are having very solid seasons thus far. Bledsoe is averaging 8.5 points and 2.7 assists per game in 18 minutes. Crawford killed the Lakers back in November with 21 points in 31 minutes. Overall, he is averaging 16.5 points and 2.6 assists in 29.1 minutes per game while shooting 42.2 percent from the field.
Keys to Victory:
Consistent Defense: The Lakers’ defense have been a focal point throughout the season as the energy and effort they bring to the defensive end of each game usually predicts the outcome of the game. There are three main areas of defense that will be critical for the Lakers tonight: keep the Clippers out of transition, out of the pick-and-roll game and off the three-point line. This means that the Lakers must limit their turnovers and get back on transition defense for all 48 minutes. Second, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Darius Morris (if put in the starting lineup) must limit Chris Paul and Blake Griffin/DeAndre Jordan’s dependence on pick-and-roll sets.
Third, the Lakers need to defend the three-point line since the Clippers depend on throwing the ball out to one of their open wings for the long-ball. In fact, the Clippers hit 48.5 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from behind the arc during their 17-game win streak. However, the Warriors held them to 22.4 percent from the three in their big win against LA on Wednesday. This especially holds true with Caron Butler, who has shot 11-23 from beyond the arc in the last four games between the Clippers and the Lakers.
Get Involved Early: The Lakers have formed a habit of not getting off to a strong start and coming out of the gate slow and lethargic. Then, they tend to play with a late surge and begin to show that they care a little too late. Therefore, it is crucial to begin the game with energy and continue to play with a sense of urgency to close the game. After a couple of inconsistent and rather poor offensive games from Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, I would anticipate that the Lakers will expose their bigs’ strengths offensively. The Lakers’ frontcourt is in desperate need for a dominating night on both sides of the floor. Howard and Gasol’s energy and effort will be a must on the glass and in the post.
Los Angeles Lakers (15-16) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (25-5)
7:30 PM PST, January 4, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC Sports Network, ESPN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) 1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Clippers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Willie Green
SF: Caron Butler
PF: Blake Griffin
C: DeAndre Jordan
Key Reserves: G Jamal Crawford, G Eric Bledsoe, F Matt Barnes