The 2014-15 NBA season could not have started any worse for the Los Angeles Lakers. To tip things off, the team lost to former Laker Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets by a score of 108-90. In the process, the Lakers lost prized rookie Julius Randle for the season after suffering a fractured tibia in the loss. Less than 24 hours later, the team traveled to Phoenix where they were defeated 119-99 by the Suns in their first road game of the year. It won’t get any easier for the Lakers on Friday, as they take on the Clippers, who are fresh off a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday.
Frontcourt: Out on the perimeter at the small forward position is Matt Barnes, a player Laker fans should be familiar with since he spent two seasons dawning a purple and gold uniform. Barnes is a quality role player for the Clippers, chipping in 9.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season. He brings a layer of toughness to the team, as he is usually the first guy to stand up for his teammates whenever some kind of scuffle breaks out on the court. Barnes isn’t a great perimeter shooter, but he is a capable one, which allows him to help create spacing for the offense. Expect Barnes to bring energy and effort during every minute that he is on the floor.
Whenever Barnes is defending a teammate amidst a tussle, it’s usually centered around power forward Blake Griffin. The 25-year-old Griffin is undoubtedly one of the most talented players in the league, although that doesn’t seem to stop his opponents from hammering away at him with hard fouls. Griffin garnered some MVP consideration last season for his performance, and his game looks to be expanded even more this year. One improvement that stood out in the preseason was an extension of his shooting range and the consistency that came along with it. Griffin is also often a highlight dunk waiting to happen thanks to the incredible amount of athletic ability he possesses. He continues to improve each and every year, and the Lakers will have their hands full trying to contain Griffin and the tremendous skill set that he brings to the table.
Manning the middle for the Clippers is another supremely gifted athlete in starting center DeAndre Jordan. Although his offensive game is still a work in progress, the big man knows what his role is under coach Doc Rivers: Protect the rim and rebound. Jordan posted career highs in all five major statistical categories a year ago, most notably points (10.4), rebounds (13.6) and blocks (2.5). Offensively, he will be the recipient of multiple lob passes around the rim where he usually finishes with a thunderous dunk, or he will get chances to score after snatching offensive rebounds. His extraordinary leaping ability and length also makes it difficult for opponents to get many scoring opportunities around the basket. Jordan’s biggest downfall is his free throw shooting, where he has converted on just 42.5 percent of his attempts during his career.
Backcourt: J.J. Redick will get the start at shooting guard again this season, coming off an injury-plagued 2013-14 campaign that saw him play only 35 games. In those games, Redick averaged 15.2 points per game while knocking down 39.5 percent of his three point shots. The ability to hit shots from beyond the arc has always been his forte, so the Clippers will certainly look to get him open looks from deep again this year. At 6’4″, Redick is a bit undersized for a two guard, but what he lacks for in size he makes up for with his effort. He plays extremely hard, always looking for additional ways to help his team besides just his precision shooting from the outside.
Orchestrating the offense is the team’s leader and point guard, Chris Paul. A strong case can be made for Paul as the best point guard in the league. He led the NBA in assists last season for the third time in his career with 10.7 per game to go along with 19.1 points. Paul also led the league in steals (2.5) for the sixth time in the past seven seasons. He will look to push the ball in transition whenever his team is able to produce a stop on defense, often leading to either a lob to Griffin or Jordan, or an open three for his shooters on the wing. In half court situations, Paul is lethal in pick and rolls and with dribble penetration, creating tremendous scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. The Lakers will have their work cut out for them if they want to slow down the seven-time All-Star.
Keys to Victory:
Take Care of the Basketball: The Clippers are one of the best teams in the league in not only forcing turnovers, but converting them into easy points in transition. The Lakers absolutely must minimize wasted offensive possessions if they don’t want to see “Lob City” in full effect. Doing so will give the team more shot attempts while cutting down the amount of fast break opportunities for the Clippers. Against a team with superior talent, taking poor care of the basketball would be a quick way for the Lakers to dig themselves a hole that they may not be able to climb out of.
Control the Pace: It’s no secret that the Clippers want to get out and run in order to put up points in a hurry. The Lakers will need all five guys sprinting back on defense, forcing the Clippers to run as many half court sets as possible. Taking care of the ball feeds into this, but another way to slow them down, even if it’s just by a few seconds, is to be efficient on offense. It is significantly more difficult for teams to push the tempo when they have to take the ball out of bounds after a made shot and pass it in, as opposed to simply rebounding a miss or forcing a turnover where they can outlet the ball and immediately get up the court. If the game is a running match between the teams, the Lakers don’t stand a chance. However, if they are able to slow the game down, they will have a far better chance of pulling off the upset.
Protect the Paint: With such a dangerous offensive threat that the Clippers pose, you sometimes have to pick your poison. In this instance, the Lakers need to try and limit dribble penetration and number of shot attempts close to the basket. Don’t be surprised if the Lakers try to take away some dunks and layups from Jordan by fouling him and sending him to the line for two free throws. Overall defensive performance will be crucial for the Lakers, but they would be better served by forcing the Clippers to beat them from the perimeter instead of throwing lobs at the rim all night. On top of that, the Laker bigs will need a strong effort on the glass in order to limit second chance opportunities.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are 11.5-point underdogs against the Clippers via Sportsbook.ag.
Los Angeles Clippers (1-0) at Los Angeles Lakers (0-2)
7:30 PM PST, October 31, 2014
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Clippers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Chris Paul
SG: J.J. Redick
SF: Matt Barnes
PF: Blake Griffin
C: DeAndre Jordan
Key Reserves: PG: Jordan Farmar, SG: Jamal Crawford, C: Spencer Hawes
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Jordan Hill
Lakers Julius Randle Fractures Right Tibia, Kobe’s Reaction