Updated: March 18, 2013, 2:17 AM ET

1. Playoff Identities For L.A. Teams Take Shape

By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Now that the Los Angeles Lakers look increasingly like playoff possibilities, we turn to the same question that has been nagging their Staples Center neighbors, the Clippers, recently: Are they playoff capable?

The Lakers' 113-102 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night improved their record to 36-32, a game ahead of Utah for the eighth spot in the Western Conference, a half game behind seventh-place Houston.

That the Lakers did it without Kobe Bryant (out with a sprained ankle and the flu) was a healthy sign for their immediate future, which includes a game in Phoenix on Monday night for which Bryant might not be available. But it makes it more difficult to assess their long-term future.

Antwan Jamison
AP Photo/Reed SaxonSteve Blake and Antwan Jamison, bench saviors?

If the Lakers hope to advance in the playoffs, they won't be carried by Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake the way they were Sunday night, when they combined for 43 points off the bench. They might break out a podium game, but they won't carry the team through a series. Bench players normally suffer the biggest dropoff in road games, and the Lakers will start any series they play on the road. They also won't get as many shot opportunities with Bryant as they did in playing more than 34 Kobe-free minutes each on Sunday.

Blake had a season-high 11 field goal attempts. More than anything it meant he had a chance to shoot his way back into it after starting 1-for-4. He was 5-for-7 in the second half.

"Sometimes people don't realize how tough it is to come in and play 30 minutes and get only one or two shots," Nash said. "But the more looks you get the more comfortable you feel and the more confidence you get from your teammates."

In other words, Laker fans shouldn't get too comfortable with a line of 16 points and eight assists from Blake. For that matter, they can't expect many nights of 19 points and 12 assists from Steve Nash when he doesn't handle the ball this much.

What's looking more likely come playoff time is a duplication of Dwight Howard's 12 points and 17 rebounds. Howard's rebounding totals have become the most dependable numbers in the NBA. Sunday night was his 14th consecutive game with at least 12 rebounds.

"I've been in better shape," Howard said. "The better shape I'm in, the more active I can be on both ends."

That was about his only reference to offense. But it's notable he wasn't complaining after he didn't record a single shot attempt in the second half, his field goals frozen at four makes in six shots. Instead he's talking about the things the Lakers believe are the most important for him to handle.

"For me, it starts on defense," Howard said. "Just making sure I control the paint. Making sure I come out with a lot of energy and just protect the basket for these guys."

"Dwight was great," Nash said. "I think for us, we've got a game plan that's going to be centered around him being down there and making it difficult for guys. so we can make keep the ball on the sidelines and baselines. It's really difficult to contend with him. Even if there's a breakdown, having him back there obviously helps our defense a ton."

It didn't help it enough to hold the Kings to less than 100 points. And the last time the Lakers faced one of their likely NBA playoff foes, the Oklahoma City Thunder scored 122 on them.

So while it's becoming easier to envision the Lakers in the playoffs, it's still hard to see them advancing.

The Clippers, meanwhile, have been playoff locks since they ran off a 17-game winning streak at the end of 2012, only to find their postseason credentials called into question recently. The doubt even emanated from the tattooed throat of former teammate Kenyon Martin, who said after he was on the losing end of a 93-80 Clippers victory over the Knicks that the Clippers "can't do it in the playoffs, so it doesn't matter."

The Clippers still need to figure out what it is exactly that they want to do. That's why they let a Knicks team without the injured Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire hang around far too long. The Clippers were plodding through an afternoon that was more arduous than enjoyable for everyone involved. Then, deep into the third quarter, a soaring Blake Griffin dunk, in which he reared back and hammered home a fast-break lob from Chris Paul, brought everyone to life. The fans woke up, and the Clippers started making snappier passes and extra efforts. Jamal Crawford hit a 3-pointer. Griffin grabbed an offensive rebound and threw down another dunk.

Griffin said he didn't "try to put a whole lot extra on it,", which is probably for the best because if he brought the ball back any further he might have separated his shoulder.

"We definitely feed off those, though," Griffin said.

Chauncey Billups said, "Those are like four- or five-point plays for us."

It's important for the Clippers to remember how the sequence began: with Griffin jamming an attempted screen on the sideline, which allowed Crawford to steal the ball from J.R. Smith and start the three-on-one break. A power forward making defensive plays out by the hashmark is a playoff-worthy effort.

That might seem a fluky way to hope for postseason success, but that also happens to be the method playoff darkhorse darling Memphis employs: generating turnovers. There's no reason that can't be the Clippers' M.O. They lead the league in steals per game (just less than 10) and can get the ball in the hands of the game's best point guard running with the two best finishers (Griffin and Jordan).

They say they want to be defensive oriented, but they haven't consistently acted like it. In other words, they haven't played with the mindset Dwight Howard has adopted lately.

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