Coming into the 2012-2013 season, the Lakers were the ones with championship expectations after the offseason acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. We all know how that turned out. Coming into this season, it is the team down the hall in Staples Center with the championship expectations. For the first time since…well, ever, the Clippers are expected to legitimately compete for a title this season.
The Clippers embarrassed the Lakers in all four of their meetings last season, sweeping the series for the first time since the franchise moved to Los Angeles. The games were not close either, as the Clips won by an average margin of 13.2 points per game.
In hiring one of the top three coaches in the league in Doc Rivers, the Clippers are looking to instill a winning mentality into their franchise. In tonight’s opener, the Lakers have a tall task ahead of them in trying to defeat their hallway rivals without the services of Kobe Bryant.
Frontcourt: Blake Griffin’s development, and in particular his offensive repertoire, is one of the keys to the Clippers’ championship hopes. An All-Star in each of his three NBA seasons (not counting his rookie season when he sat out with an injury), Griffin remains one of, if not the most, explosive player in the league. Pau Gasol has had some success in the past defending Griffin (despite getting posterized on a couple plays) due to his length and Griffin’s subpar jumpshot. However, it looks like Coach D’Antoni is going to start Shawne Williams at the four in tonight’s matchup. Williams’ effort in defending Griffin will be important if the Lakers want to pull out a win.
DeAndre Jordan is back again as the Clippers’ starting center, and he has thrived under Doc Rivers’ guidance in the preseason in averaging 3.4 blocks per game. His development on the defensive side of the ball is the other key for the Clips. Rivers is schematically one of the best defensive coaches in the league, and he has made it a point to emphasize the importance of quarterbacking the team’s defense as well as timely rotations with Jordan. Jordan’s extreme athleticism gives him the potential to be one of the league’s best anchors on defense. Pau Gasol must be aggressive as the Lakers’ centerpiece on offense and go at DeAndre to try to get him into early foul trouble.
Backcourt: When Doc Rivers first got the job, he had a meeting with Chris Paul and told him that he has yet to accomplish anything of significance in the NBA. With that, Rivers immediately gained Paul’s respect. CP3 is without a doubt the best point guard in the league today and can takeover a game with both his scoring and playmaking ability. Look for this perennial All-Star to have one of the best seasons of his already outstanding career. As for the Lakers, look for them to try to avoid having Steve Nash guard Paul. If the Lakers start Steve Blake at the two, which seems likely, look for him to start out on Paul rather than Nash.
JJ Redick and Jared Dudley, two of the Clippers’ primary offseason additions, are set to start at the two and three for them. Both are two of the better knockdown shooters in the league (39 percent career from three for JJ, 40 percent for Dudley) and they figure to be excellent compliments to Paul as well as Griffin offensively. They are both solid enough defenders to fit in to Doc’s defensive schemes and are high IQ players that Paul will enjoy playing with. Jamal Crawford, one of the best sixth men in the league a season ago with the Clippers, returns and will likely fulfill the same role this season. The Lakers must do their best to slow down Crawford when he enters and not allow him to gain significant offensive rhythm as he can carry a team for short stretches.
Keys to Lakers Victory:
Limit Turnovers: Though the Clippers will play a more disciplined style of play under Coach Rivers, they still have many of the same pieces that dubbed them the nickname “Lob City” from the last two seasons. What this means is that if the Lakers turn the ball over early and often, the Clippers will be able to run out and get easy layups and dunks that could doom the Lakers quickly. Though the Lakers have gotten more athletic this offseason and actually might match up better with the Clippers this season than last, they still can’t get caught trying to run with the Clippers.
Continued Bench Momentum: The Lakers bench was one of the positives to take away from the preseason. With the additions of Jordan Farmar, Xavier Henry, Chris Kaman, and Wes Johnson, the Lakers have a stronger bench than they did last season. The Clippers have one of the best benches in the league headlined by Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, and Darren Collison. The Lakers must be able to keep the game even with this group while both units are in the game.
Pau Gasol: The Lakers need Pau to be aggressive early and to look for his shot. While he is a great distributor out of both the high and low post, the Lakers need him to assert himself if they want to get victories over top-notch teams like the Clippers. They also need Pau to be active defensively, as signs point toward D’Antoni pairing Shawne Williams with him in the starting lineup. He must control the boards and be disruptive in the paint.
Los Angeles Clippers (0-0) at Los Angeles Lakers (0-0)
7:30 PM PST, October 29, 2013
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet, TNT
Radio: 710 ESPNLA
Clippers Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Chris Paul
SG: JJ Redick
SF: Jared Dudley
PF: Blake Griffin
C: DeAndre Jordan
Key Reserves: PG Darren Collison, SF Matt Barnes, SG Jamal Crawford
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