The Lakers come into tonight’s game against their hallway rivals off an ugly 91-85 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night. While the Lakers sleepwalked through the second half, Kobe Bryant sleepwalked through the entire game in scoring only four points and committing seven turnovers. Hopefully he doesn’t repeat that poor performance. Kobe has been far and away the most consistent Laker this season and the team needs him to play well against the high caliber Clippers.
The Clippers are running away with the Pacific Division, currently holding a six and a half game lead over the second place Golden State Warriors prior to their game Wednesday night. While the Clips don’t quite resemble the juggernaut they seemed to be when they rattled off 17 straight wins earlier this season, they still figure to be a dangerous threat in the Western Conference. They have recently been battling injuries to all-stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but both are back in the lineup.
Frontcourt The Lakers big men must focus on getting back on defense against the Clippers frontcourt, or else they will help the Clippers live up to their “Lob City” nickname. Outside of Lebron James, there may not be a more explosive player in the NBA than Blake Griffin. Griffin has been an all-star each year of his three year career, including this season, and comes in averaging 18.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season. Metta World Peace would be the logical matchup on Griffin in this one because he has the strength to try and body Griffin. Earl Clark’s thin frame serves as a poor matchup for him. The Lakers will especially miss Pau Gasol tonight, as he has had success defending Griffin in the past.
Center DeAndre Jordan enters his fifth season in the NBA and he, like Griffin, provides an extremely athletic presence around the rim. Jordan has shown improvements this season in his post game, though nearly all his baskets still come off lobs and put-backs. He and Griffin’s continued improvement is perhaps the biggest key for the Clippers to become a contender moving forward. Dwight Howard must continue to do a stellar job on the glass and will have to keep a body on DeAndre at all times.
Backcourt: Chris Paul is quite simply the best point guard in the NBA. He has no weaknesses in his game, and no one controls the flow of the game better in knowing when to score or when to set up teammates. Paul’s impact on the team was shown recently when the team went 2-7 while he sat out with a knee injury. Look for Kobe to start out on Paul again, as Steve Nash has little to no chance of defending him effectively in the half-court.
The injured Chauncey Billups, who was brought back to the team this offseason, still serves as the starting two guard when healthy. He is likely to play tonight after suiting up last night for the Clippers against the Rockets. Billups brings one of the most poised leaders in the league to the Clippers, and he and Paul work well in the backcourt together. Shooting guard Jamal Crawford, however, is the player the Lakers need to be most worried about other than Paul or Griffin on the Clippers roster. Crawford is the front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year and is second on the team in scoring at 17.1 points per game. If Crawford goes off for 20 to 30 points, it will very likely result in a Lakers loss.
Keys to Victory:
Limit Turnover Total to 14 or Less: The Clippers are a team that can get stagnant in their half-court sets. They tend to rely too heavily on Paul to create offense for everyone when things slow down in the game. Where the Clippers have a huge advantage over the Lakers is with their athleticism, and the Lakers can ill afford to allow the Clippers to get run outs and easy baskets off of turnovers and poor shot selection. The Lakers need to reduce their turnover total to pull out a victory.
Contain Eric Bledsoe and Matt Barnes: While the Lakers are likely to have their fair share of trouble defending Paul and Griffin in this one, the Lakers need to also contain the Clippers’ role players and their deep bench. Former Laker Matt Barnes is having an excellent season, averaging 10.4 points per game. Eric Bledsoe serves as Paul’s backup and figures to be a starting point guard in the NBA in the next few seasons, as he has proven more than capable of taking over a game off the bench. Containing these two key contributors off the bench will be crucial because the Lakers match up so poorly with the Clippers at the Clippers’ two best positions.
Los Angeles Clippers (38-17) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (25-28)
7:30 PM PST, February 14, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
CA TV: ESPN
Clippers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Chauncey Billups
SF: Caron Butler
PF: Blake Griffin
C: DeAndre Jordan
Key Reserves: G Jamal Crawford, G Eric Bledsoe, F Lamar Odom