Entering the 2014-15 season, the Los Angeles Clippers had high hopes as the potential favorites to capture the franchise’s inaugural NBA title. However, about a third of the way through the grueling season, the Clippers find themselves lagging behind in possession of the sixth seed. Head coach Doc Rivers’ attempt to bolster an extremely thin bench has failed miserably as neither Spencer Hawes nor Chris Douglas-Roberts have made the imprint Rivers had anticipated. After splitting the previous ten games evenly, the Clippers will seek to get themselves back on track facing the division rival Los Angeles Lakers who are fresh off of an impressive performance vs. the Portland Trailblazers on Monday night.
Frontcourt: Rivers’ primary goal upon his arrival in Los Angeles last season was to tap into starting center DeAndre Jordan’s unsought potential as a defensive anchor to an otherwise sub-par defensive team. Jordan’s evolution into a Defensive Player of the Year Candidate hasn’t exactly resonated throughout the rest of the roster, but it has certainly been beneficial to a 19th ranked defense. Yes, Jordan has occasional lapses in focus and his offense isn’t exactly polished just yet. But he has undoubtedly transformed into a valuable player when utilized properly. Spacing is seemingly a constant issue for the Clippers as Jordan’s offensive game is entirely predicated within the painted area. Meaning the vast majority of his 9.2 points per game come off of offensive rebounds, tip-ins and lobs.
On paper, power forward Blake Griffin is having an exceptional 2014-15 campaign. Similar to the Lakers’ Jordan Hill, Griffin has evidently decided to drift away from the rim where he excels to shoot an inordinate amount of mid-range jump shots. In fact, Griffin has shot 138-350 (39.4%) from outside the restricted area, causing his overall FG% to drop 4.4 points from 52.8% last season to 48.4% this season. Thus, his rebounds have dipped from 9.5 to 7.6 rebounds per game, as has his points from 24.1 to 22.4 points per game. In no way is this argument intended to frown upon expanding a player’s game, but if implementing a new facet to that player’s skillset negatively affects his overall performance, said player should abort mission. In Griffin’s case, his expanded range has drawn him away from where he operates best, within the paint.
The wing position has been a glaring issue for the Clippers for years now. The Jared Dudley experiment turned out to be a catastrophe last season, resulting in his abrupt departure in the summer. His replacement, Matt Barnes, has regressed from prior seasons. Barnes is a nice piece on the right team. He defends his position fairly well and he’s almost a guaranteed eight to ten points per game. Barnes is surely not the ideal floor spacer, though, as Rivers has expected him to be. He’ll occasionally knock down the three-ball, but to rely on a career role player to stretch the floor for a supposed contending team is far too heavy a task to ask.
Backcourt: Comparable to Barnes, shooting guard J.J. Redick is asked to go above and beyond the role he has grown accustomed to throughout his lengthy NBA career. That role is being a starter. Prior to inking a four-year, $28 million with the Clippers in 2013, Redick started in 54 of a possible 424 games with the majority coming on an über-competitive Orlando Magic team. This fact, in particular, should have been an omen in itself because the majority of the time career bench players do not magically transform into capable starters overnight. Sure, Redick’s instant offense is an invaluable feat, especially on a team that lacks it. But, the sharpshooter really does not do much else. He’s a liability defensively and he very rarely attacks the basket like a shooting guard is supposed to do attempting a mere 55 shots in the paint this season.
Through all of the controversy surrounding the Clippers, All-Star point guard Chris Paul has quietly put together an incredible season. He’s averaging 17.9 points on 47.7% shooting, while dishing out the fourth most assists in the league with 9.5 per game. Paul has emerged as the bonafide leader on this Clippers team, albeit the rumblings of a rift within the locker room. Aside from his offensive gifts, Paul has yet again proven to be among the elite defensive guards in the league. Depleted by injuries last season, the point guard has seemingly replicated the tremendous defense he has displayed in years past. There is no doubt Paul is headed towards his fourth consecutive NBA All-Defensive First Team honors at the season’s conclusion.
Keys To Victory:
An Aggressive Kobe Bryant: Bryant has made a concerted effort to get his teammates involved since returning from a week’s rest just five games ago. Through that stretch, he’s averaging 17.0 points and an extraordinary 8.0 assists per game en route to two impressive victories. This mentality does present its share of flaws though. Bryant tends to orchestrate a bit too much at times, passing up on good looks. Facing a team with DeAndre Jordan anchoring the paint, Bryant must mix it up and look to score as well as pass.
Crashing The Boards: This primarily pertains to Hill, as he is taking far too many jump shots drawing him away from the boards where he is most lethal. In his early years in Los Angeles, Hill made a living on the offensive glass and put backs, but due to an expanded role Hill has shied away from this mindset. If he can replicate his 23 point and 14 rebound outing in Portland, the Lakers will have an increased opportunity to snag a victory.
A Productive Nick Young: The shooting slump continued for Young on Monday night, shooting a measly 3 for 13 from the field leading to just 11 points off the bench. Facing a weak wing defender, Young will have the opportunity to thrive and kick this long-lasting slump aside while facing his former team. The Lakers will definitely need Young to step up in Wesley Johnson’s prolonged absence.
Los Angeles Lakers (11-24) at Los Angeles Clippers (23-12)
7:30 PM PST, January 7th, 2015
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SN
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: Ronnie Price
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Ryan Kelly
PF: Ed Davis
C: Jordan Hill
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