The Lakers will look to rebound from a disastrous first two games of the season with a “home” game against their crosstown rival Los Angeles Clippers. Adding injury to insult, the Lakers will likely be without Steve Nash in this one. This is a huge opportunity for the Lakers to get in the win column while coming off an eight point loss in the home opener to the Dallas Mavericks minus Dirk Nowitzki, as well as a double digit loss to the rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers the next night.
Needless to say, this is not the way many predicted the start of the season would go in Laker-land. This will technically be a Laker home game, though there figures to be some Clipper fans in the building as they are co-tenants with the Lakers. With Chris Paul coming to the Clippers last season and leading the team to their best winning percentage in team history, the Laker-Clipper rivalry has begun to take shape. Paul leads a young, athletic team that had an outstanding off-season with new veteran additions in Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, and Grant Hill.
Let’s take a look at how the Lakers will match up.
Frontcourt: Outside of LeBron James, there may not be a more explosive player in the NBA than Blake Griffin. The former Rookie of the Year and two-time All Star enters his third season and looks to build on his first playoff appearance a season ago. Griffin has struggled with the length of Pau Gasol in the past, however, as Gasol has been successful in giving Griffin a gap and contesting his questionable jumpshot.
Center DeAndre Jordan enters his fifth season in the NBA and he, like Griffin, provides an extremely athletic presence around the rim. Though his offensive game consists of nothing but put-backs and catching lobs, he does need to be accounted for on the offensive glass and around the rim. He and Griffin’s continued improvement is perhaps the biggest key for the Clippers to become a contender moving forward.
Dwight Howard, coming off a 33 point and 14 rebound performance, will have his usual advantage against Jordan and needs to focus on keeping him off the offensive glass.
Backcourt: Last season, Chris Paul was clearly the league’s best point guard. No one controls the flow of the game like Paul, and there really are no weaknesses in his game. He will be a very tough matchup for Steve Blake, with Steve Nash listed as doubtful. Paul makes this team go, and last year the team was often too reliant on him half court sets, particularly at the end of games.
The injured Chauncey Billups, who was brought back to the team this off-season, would normally man the two-guard slot for the Clippers but is currently out with an injury. Willie Green will start in his absence. Kobe Bryant should have a huge advantage over whoever is guarding him in this matchup, and look for him to establish himself on the block against the Clippers smaller guards.
Jamal Crawford, who exploded for 29 points off the bench in the Clippers’ opener, is a former Sixth Man of the Year. Crawford was one of the more underrated additions to any team in the NBA’s off-season, and he plays with a tremendous amount of confidence and can get hot in a hurry. It is quite possible for him to outscore the Lakers’ entire bench unit, and if this happens the Lakers will struggle to pull out a victory.
Keys to Victory:
Limit Turnover Total to 14 or Less – The Lakers are coming off a 24-turnover performance against Portland and ended up taking eight less shots in the game than the Trail Blazers. The Lakers attempted 11 less shots than the Mavericks on opening night as well, although they did attempt 13 more free throws than the Mavs (though they only converted on a miserable 38 percent of them). The Lakers must find a way to be more aggressive within their offense while limiting turnovers.
Princeton offense or not, there is no excuse for 24 turnovers. They are shooting nearly 50 percent from the field as a team in the first two games, but they must to find a way to get into their sets quicker so that they can get more attempts at the basket. Against a team as athletic as the Clippers, a turnover total in the high teens is almost certain to lead to a loss.
Energy on Defense – If giving up 99 points to a Dallas Maverick team without Dirk Nowitzki or its starting center wasn’t bad enough, the Lakers gave up 116 to Portland the next night. While Dwight Howard will eventually solve some of these problems once he is fully healthy from his back surgery this past off-season, there has been a lack of communication amongst players on defense with regards to rotations.
Shooters on opposing teams have had too many uncontested looks and lanes to the basket. The Lakers can make up for missed assignments once in awhile by playing with a better sense of urgency. If a game against the rival Clippers in the battle for Los Angeles cannot provide a spark of energy, it is difficult to imagine what will.
Los Angeles Clippers (1-0) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (0-2)
7:30 PM PST, November 2, 2012 Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
CA TV: ESPN
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 Lamar Odom