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Game of the Week: Los Angeles Lakers at Los Angeles Clippers

US Presswire

US Presswire

Slim pickings this week. For some reason TNT isn’t broadcasting the Thursday games.

That leaves the ESPN games on Friday. I think the Bulls-Heat game will be great, but I couldn’t resist picking the Los Angeles-Los Angeles matchup.

There has been a lot of talk about how the Nets moving to Brooklyn created a great intra-city rivalry, but the Knicks and the Nets have done battle for a long time, with each side experiencing periods of superiority. But in Los Angeles, I don’t think the Clippers have ever been better than the Lakers, except for right now.

One of the great storylines of the season will be whether the Clippers can stay better. They won the first matchup in November.

Key Players

The Lakers lean on Dwight Howard for a lot, despite his bad back. He’s the anchor of a defense that has a lot of holes and he’s been the second option on offense while Steve Nash sat out with injuries and while Pau Gasol continues to adjust to Mike D’Antoni’s system. While Kobe Bryant probably finds Howard’s constant joking to be grating, he must appreciate how Howard covers up his failings on defense. Still, it’s obvious Howard isn’t back to the player he was during the 2010-11 season, before he became the most wishy-washy person in the league. The Clippers kept him pretty quiet in their first game against the Lakers, especially on the glass, where he only recorded one offensive rebound.

That is largely because of Blake Griffin, who along with DeAndre Jordan has become an effective paint defender. Griffin has the lowest defensive rating of his career. That is admittedly a noisy stat, but he has also displayed a penchant for stealing the ball that wasn’t there last year. In the playoffs, Vinny Del Negro would bench Griffin in the fourth quarter because of his defensive deficiencies. I don’t think he would do that now. Couple his defensive improvement with his usual excellent work on offense, and you have one of the most promising players in the league reaching his potential in his third year. There’s a great line in the Nicolas Cage movie ‘The Weather Man’ about how as you get older, the possibilities of who you can be—an astronaut, a famous actor, a basketball star—dwindle down to one. Blake Griffin is forcefully keeping his chances of being an all-time great alive with his play.

What to Watch For

As I mentioned before, the Clippers did a good job keeping Dwight Howard off the offensive glass in their first meeting. They haven’t done such a good job since. Meanwhile, attacking the glass has been one of the Lakers’ greatest strengths on offense. It makes sense. The Lakers are a big team. Howard has been a big part of their success rebounding, but Jordan Hill has also been a prolific offensive rebounder off the bench. The Lakers squander a lot of opportunities with turnovers, but they also get a lot of them back on the boards. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have to remember to box out.

Speaking of turnovers, no team forces more of more of them than the Clippers. Eric Bledsoe and Chris Paul lead the league in steal percentage, and Matt Barnes is in 12th. No other team has three players in the top 20, and Blake Griffin has pretty good hands on defense too. Turnovers are the Lakers’ biggest weakness on offense. You can blame the fact that Chris Duhon has been running the offense, but Steve Nash is turnover-prone too. He’s been great since coming back, but this is a very bad matchup for him.

I’m also interested in hearing the crowd. The Clippers, who are the “home team” on Friday, have actually outpaced the Lakers in attendance over the first 30 games. Will they have a real home court advantage?

Why Else Should I Watch?

Lobs on lobs on lobs on lobs

How to Watch

ESPN, 10:30 p.m. eastern time

League Pass Bonus Game

Brooklyn Nets at Oklahoma City Thunder, Wednesday, 8 p.m. eastern time. P.J. Carlesimo has had a nice start as interim coach, but this week the Nets have matchups with the Spurs and this game agains the Thunder. I think he would be overjoyed with a split.

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