The Los Angeles Lakers face the Los Angeles Clippers tonight in the first game of a two game series that will take place in their shared home court at Staples Center. The Lakers are coming off of a lopsided loss to the Trail Blazers, a team that the Clippers beat just a few days ago. With that loss, the Lakers have matched the franchise record for losses in a season. On the other hand, the Clippers are on a roll right now, having won nine of their last ten games. The Lakers will have their work cut out for them tonight against their hallway rivals.
Frontcourt: Since his return from injury eleven games ago, Blake Griffin has been his usual dominant self. He hasn’t missed a beat and has been a phenomenal playmaker for both himself and his teammates. His rebounding numbers have fallen off this season, though it seems like this has more to do with DeAndre Jordan than any actual decline in his own abilities as Jordan went on an absolute tear on the boards when Griffin was sidelined. As a playmaker, Griffin has developed into one of the best passing forwards in the league. He is averaging a career best 5.2 assists per game, shattering his previous high of 3.9. As for his own offense, he has become much more versatile with the ability to step out and shoot the ball as opposed to always looking for a way to get to the rim.
DeAndre Jordan has also put together a fantastic season for himself, averaging a double double with 11.3 points and an unbelievable 14.8 rebounds a game. Of course, the Clippers’ defensive anchor also chips in 2.2 blocks a game. Jordan has looked like a max player at times this season, particularly when Griffin was sidelined. That said, Jordan still puts Clippers head coach Doc Rivers in a pickle late in games. As a historically bad free throw shooter that is sitting on a grotesque 39.2 percent average, Jordan has often had to ride the bench in the fourth quarter as opponents intentionally foul him instead of playing defense. As Jordan becomes an increasingly dominant player, this has become more commonplace and is surely a part of the game that the league will evaluate this summer.
Former Laker Matt Barnes starts at small forward and has gotten all the minutes he can handle with Jamal Crawford missing time. Barnes is a great fit for a Clippers team that can use his toughness on the perimeter and his ability to find offensive rhythm without the ball. Barnes has continued to be a very serviceable NBA wing with his ability to knock down open shots and play defense. He is averaging double figures this season at 10.2 points per game.
Backcourt: As one of the best pure shooters in the world, J.J. Redick is in a perfect role for his skill set. While the likes of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are drawing all of the defensive attention, Redick is able to shift between his favorite spots and wait for catch and shoot opportunities. Make no mistake though, Redick has developed into a well-rounded offensive player that can put the ball on the floor and vary up his looks. He is the Clippers’ fourth leading scorer this season, averaging 16.2 points on insane shooting splits of 47.4 percent from the field, 43.4 percent from deep, and 90.1 percent from the line.
With a case as the best point guard on the planet, Chris Paul has been particularly great as of late. He has single-handedly won multiple games for the Clippers, most recently doing so by posting a ridiculous 41 point, 17 assist outing against the Trail Blazers. All the points in the world don’t mean much to Paul, who is the epitome of a pass first lead guard. This makes it especially impressive that Paul is averaging just 2.4 turnovers a game. Coupled with his league-leading 10.2 assists a game, he boasts an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.21, which leads the league by a very large margin. New advanced analytics have also shown Paul to be a fantastic man defender and he demonstrated it with a strong defensive performance against Russell Westbrook earlier in the season.
Keys to Victory:
Jordan Clarkson: As the first Laker to earn a Western Conference Rookie of the Month award, Jordan Clarkson has been playing at a very high level for some time now. Over his last five, he is averaging 20.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 6.6 assists on 56.9 percent from the field. While this is clearly unsustainable, Clarkson has quickly emerged as one of the Lakers’ best offensive players. He will more than likely have a tough matchup against Chris Paul tonight and will have to maintain aggression, even if shots don’t fall for him early.
Force Jordan to Earn His Points: DeAndre Jordan does little more than clean up shots around the basket and catch lobs from his teammates. The Clippers rarely run standard post-up plays for him in a half court set, but Jordan is such a prolific rebounder that he will get his share of put backs close to the basket where he is nearly impossible to stop. The mistake that so many teams make is that they foul Jordan, but fail to prevent the conversion, putting him at the charity stripe for a chance at a three-point play. As odd as this might sound, the Lakers have to be disciplined in fouling Jordan by allowing him to go up for the dunk if they are completely out of position or by fouling him hard enough to prevent him from scoring and putting him at the line for two.
Defense: The Clippers boast a top two offense this season, averaging 106.8 points per game. The Lakers don’t have nearly the firepower to trade buckets at that pace and will have to aim to hold the Clippers under 100 tonight. This will be a tough task as players such as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are impossible covers one on one. The Lakers will have to have a strong defensive outing as a team to give themselves a chance in this one.
Los Angeles Lakers (20-55) vs Los Angeles Clippers (51-26)
6:30 PM PST, April 5, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
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: SG: Austin Rivers, SF: Hedo Turkoglu, PF: Glen Davis
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jeremy Lin
SG: Jordan Clarkson
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Ryan Kelly
C: Tarik Black
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