Exactly one month after their franchise record 48 point loss, the Lakers will have a chance at redemption against the Clippers. Since their surprise win over the Suns last weekend, the Lakers have dropped three straight and allowed over 100 points in each of these contests. In their three most recent wins, they held their opponents to under 100 points, but that will be a tough task against a Clippers team that leads the league in points per game at 107.7.
The Clippers have been cruising all season long and despite a recent home loss to Dallas, they are in striking distance of the number two seed in the West. This is a big deal as it can mean home court advantage in a second round date with the Thunder. Add the fact that today’s game is against the Lakers and you can expect a hungry Clippers team to be firing on all cylinders. Despite the disparity in success this season between the two clubs, Los Angeles is still very much a Lakers town – exhibit A: Chris Paul regularly getting booed at Dodgers games; you can expect the Clippers to make every effort to change the status quo.
Frontcourt: If you haven’t been living under a rock, you are familiar with Blake Griffin from his numerous Kia commercials and never-ending collection of YouTube-worthy throw downs. However, Griffin has developed a much more diversified offensive repertoire, which has made him a legitimate MVP candidate. When Chris Paul was sidelined with an injury earlier this season, he demonstrated improvement in nearly every facet of his game and took over as both a scorer and shot-creator for his squad. He is averaging a career high in scoring and, more importantly, in free throw shooting. Since working with renowned shooting coach Bob Thate, Griffin has brought his once dismal free throw shooting to a very respectable 71.0%.
Griffin’s improvement in the free throw shooting department is particularly important as his frontcourt mate, DeAndre Jordan, struggles mightily from the charity stripe. Although Jordan is invaluable defensively to the Clippers, it can be a coaching nightmare for Doc Rivers to decide what to do with him late in close games. Jordan will be a terror for the Lakers defensively as he sports averages of 13.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. Mike D’Antoni hasn’t been shy about employing the hack-a-Jordan strategy and sadly, it may come to this as it will be tough for the Lakers to slow down the potent Clippers offense. Former Laker Matt Barnes rounds out the starting frontcourt and it’s always tough to see him in another jersey as he is a model competitor that brings more to the table than his stats suggest.
Backcourt: In his third season as a Clipper, Chris Paul is leading the league in assists while quarterbacking his team’s offense to the top of the league. When Paul is healthy, there isn’t a better lead guard on the planet and he is living a point guard’s dream with the collection of complementary talent he has to work with. The Lakers don’t have the personnel to stop Paul individually, but may still be best served limiting his playmaking and defending him one on one. If the dysfunctional Lakers defense can stay zoned in on their own marks, Paul will be forced to beat them by scoring instead of passing.
Darren Collison starts opposite Paul and has played very well in place of an injured J.J. Redick. Redick made his return against the Mavs, but Doc Rivers chose to play Collison over him late in the close game. Despite playing out of position at the two, Collison is a fantastic defender and offensively, he gives the Clippers the added luxury of having an additional playmaker on the floor. It remains to be seen whether or not the sharpshooting Redick will reclaim his starting job, but both players will be major factors in this afternoon’s game.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Second Unit Energy: With injuries to Danny Granger and Jamaal Crawford, the Clippers have a fairly depleted bench. Rivers will ease Redick back in slowly, but he has opted to give little run to Glen Davis and Jared Dudley. As a result, the Clippers starters have been logging big minutes and the Lakers’ second unit needs to capitalize on their fatigue by playing with energy and effort on every play.
Defense: This has become a recurring theme this Lakers season, but the defense has looked as bad, if not worse than before. Offensively, the Lakers are not a team that’s prone to exploding for big scoring nights and their average of 102.6 points per game leaves them as just a middling offensive squad. This is why the Lakers won’t win many games allowing more than 110 or 120 points. Again, the Lakers will have their work cut out for them, but they should aim to hold the league’s most prolific offense to under 100 points to give themselves a chance in this one.
Balance Rebounding and Fast Break Defense: The Clippers have two of the better rebounders in all of basketball and it will be tough for the Lakers’ big men to keep them off the glass. However, they also play two six foot point guards major minutes, so the onus will be on the bigger Lakers guards to secure their share of rebounds as well. That being said, guards are the first line of defense and the Lakers will need to find a balance between containing the fastbreak and grabbing long rebounds. If they can walk this fine line, they should be able to hold their own on the glass without breaking down defensively.
Los Angeles Lakers (25-51) at Los Angeles Clippers (54-23)
12:30 PM PST, April 6, 2014
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Clippers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Darren Collison
SF: Matt Barnes
PF: Blake Griffin
C: DeAndre Jordan
Key Reserves: SG: J.J. Redick, SF: Jared Dudley
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Kendall Marshall
SG: Jodie Meeks
SF: Kent Bazemore
PF: Ryan Kelly
C: Jordan Hill
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