Thursday, January 3, 2013
Five keys for Lakers against Clippers
By Dave McMenamin
LOS ANGELES -- There have been 127 games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers since the Clips moved to L.A. before the 1984-85 season, and the Lakers have won 97 of them.
However, if you think Friday’s Lakers-Clippers game has a different feel than most of those other matchups, you have good reason. In those 127 games, the Clippers came into the showdown with a better record than their crosstown rival just 14 times, going 3-11 in those games. Even rarer has been a matchup this late into the season with the Clippers doing better than the Lakers when the teams tipped it off. According to Elias Sports Bureau, there have been only four times out of those 127 games that the Clippers had a better record than the Lakers coming into the game when both teams had played 30 or more games entering game day, and the Clippers are just 1-3 in those games.
All of this is to say, when the 15-16 Lakers face off against the 25-8 Clippers on Friday, at least they’ll have history on their side. Here are five more things the Lakers can do to help their cause:
1. Come ready to play
There was a discernible difference between the Lakers who blew out Portland by 17 last week and the team that lost to Philadelphia at home four days later. It all came down to energy. As Kobe Bryant put it, the Lakers are an “old damn team,” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t all individually capable of finding an energy reserve they can tap into from game to game. “That's a big thing when you're starting to age, is figuring out how to get yourself ready game in and game out,” Bryant said. “It's tough. It takes a lot, a lot of commitment." The Clippers will certainly test that commitment more than most opponents.
2. The more Dwight, the better
When the Lakers lost to the Clippers 105-95 back on Nov. 2 in just the third game of the season, Dwight Howard’s meager line of 13 points and seven rebounds (albeit with five blocks) was somewhat understandable, as he had just recently missed the bulk of the preseason as he recovered from back surgery. The Lakers need more from Howard at this point in the season. He sets the ceiling for how far this team can go if everybody stays healthy. If he dominates both ends and finds a way to overcome any discomfort he continues to feel in his back, the Lakers will have a shot to do something special. If he doesn’t, they’ll likely remain their inconsistent selves.
3. Protect the basketball
For everything that went wrong for the Lakers in that New Year’s Day debacle against Philly, the main positive was that L.A. had just seven team turnovers, leading to only six transition points on the other end for the youthful Sixers squad. The Clippers are third in the NBA with 17.6 fast-break points per game, so this will be something the Lakers will have to try to do again. “We’ve got to get back,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “The biggest thing that the Clippers live on is in transition, and they get there by making you turn it over. We got to take care of the ball, the first thing. We’ve been doing a better job, we’ve been getting back better. [Those are] probably the first two steps. They’ll break out some, that’s what they do, but we can slow them down by not turning it over.”
4. Do it with defense
Chris Paul is a special player whom just about any defender in the league would have a difficult time stopping one-on-one, let alone the 38-year-old Steve Nash. So, the Lakers will have to communicate and orchestrate together on the defensive end if they hope to have any chance of not simply being picked apart once Paul’s penetration gives the Clippers more offensive opportunities. “We should be much better defensively than we have been recently,” Nash said. It’s not an overnight fix, of course, and the chance of this key working is seemingly intertwined with Key No. 1 and Key No. 2 coming to fruition.
5. Continue to balance the offense
Bryant is having an historic season, leading the league in scoring with an average of 30.3 points per game as a 34-year-old, but the Lakers are at their best when they strike a balance on offense. Bryant’s scoring is best capitalized on as just another threat rather than the lone Lakers attack. That means finding a rhythm within D’Antoni’s system that gets everybody involved. “We’re not trying to be a track team,” Nash said. “We just want to play with a pace. It doesn’t mean we have to play at a 100-meter [dash] pace. It’s more like a quarter-mile or something, or a mile pace. The pace has got to be something that takes hold of the other team on the court and makes it very difficult to play us.”
Prediction: Lakers 114, Clippers 108. The Lakers have shown some fight this season when they’ve been tested and I don’t think they’re ready to curl up and die just yet, especially when the Clippers game marks the start of a brutal five-game stretch against five teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings.
Alvin Anol from ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.