Pre-Game Report: Lakers Face Hallway Rival Clippers in L.A. Showdown

Los Angeles Lakers (9-4) at Los Angeles Clippers (5-3)
7:30 PM PST, January 14, 2012
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 ESPN (English)/ 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Clippers Projected Starting Line-Up:
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Chauncey Billups
SF: Caron Butler
PF: Blake Griffin
C: DeAndre Jordan

Key Reserves: G Mo Williams, G Randy Foye

Injury Report: Lakers G Steve Blake will not play (sternum)

The Lakers face their “hallway rivals,” the Los Angeles Clippers, for the first time this regular season. The Lakers were shut down by the Clippers in both of their pre-season games in December. Coming off a big overtime win against the Miami Heat, the Clippers enter tonight’s game with a 48-141 all-time record against the Lakers. Riding off the incredible performance of Kobe Bryant this season, the Lakers are looking to extend their five game winning streak, and to earn their first victory against the newly acclaimed “Lob City” Clipper squad.

Frontcourt: Power forward Blake Griffin is having a superb year, as his game is improving with the additions of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups. Griffin is averaging 23.3 points per game on 53 percent shooting to go along with 10.8 rebounds. Griffin essentially lives in the paint, as he is second in the NBA in dunks with 22. Pau Gasol will need to step up defensively to keep the powerful Griffin out of the paint. DeAndre Jordan is more of a threat defensively than offensively, although he does have a habit of being in the right place at the right time to get an open dunk. Jordan is averaging 3.38 blocks per game, which leads the league, as well as averaging 7.1 point and 7.2 rebounds per game. Bynum’s defense inside the restricted area will need to be great tonight to stop high-percentage attempts by the Clippers. Bynum and Gasol should have no problem controlling the boards as the Lakers are out-rebounding the Clippers this season by about 10 per game.

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Backcourt: There is no question that the additions of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups has strengthened the Clippers’ backcourt tremendously. Coming off a 27 point and 11 assist game against the Heat, Paul is finding his stride running the Clippers’ offense. Paul is averaging 16.1 points and 8.8 assists per game. Derek Fisher and rookie Darius Morris will have a tough assignment guarding Paul and keeping him from driving the ball. In addition to Paul, Chauncey Billups has added leadership to the young Clippers squad. Billups is averaging 15.8 points and 3.7 assists per game, and is a constant threat along the perimeter. Caron Butler is a threat from mid-range, averaging 16.1 points per game. Reserve guards Mo Williams and Randy Foye highlight the Clippers’ bench. Williams is averaging 10.4 points and four assists per game, while Foye is averaging 5.5 points per game.

Keys to Lakers’ Victory:

Limit Turnovers, Improve Transition Defense: Ball control seems to be one of the constant keys for a Lakers’ victory this season. The Lakers are averaging close to 17 turnovers per game, while the Clippers are averaging 8.5 steals per game. Points off turnovers and fastbreak points are going to be essential for both teams in tonight’s game. The Lakers need to limit the fastbreak opportunities for the Clippers. The Clippers have demonstrated their ability to entertain the crowd and gain momentum with alley-oops and thrilling dunks. The Lakers also need to continue to improve their transition defense, which has been better since the opening week of the season.

Force Griffin and Jordan Out of the Paint: As mentioned above, Griffin and Jordan are no strangers to dunks and easy opportunities inside the paint. In fact, these two have 36 dunks between them this season. While Griffin has slightly improved his outside jumper, once he is forced outside the paint, his shooting percentage and overall game changes. The same goes for Jordan, who is shooting 63 percent, although his game is limited to within five feet from the rim. In fact, Jordan is shooting 48 percent from the free-throw line. So, the further out the Lakers can force him the less his percentages will be.

Avoid the Three: The Lakers are dead last in the NBA in three-point percentage, shooting 25 percent. Meanwhile, they are defending the three-point line against their opponents pretty well, giving up just 30 percent. Despite having a spectacular season, Kobe Bryant has had his worst year thus far from the three-point line, shooting 24 percent, even though he shot 4-7 from three in last night’s game. The cold Metta World Peace is once again returning to throwing up questionable three-point attempts, where he is shooting a mere eight percent, instead of positioning himself on the block or driving into the lane, which seemed to work for World Peace. Points in the paint and mid-range jumpers are where the Lakers have the best success. To scoop up bragging rights in LA, the Lakers need to focus their offense inside the three-point line.

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