5-on-5 roundtable: Our writers preview the Clippers-Lakers matchup
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Chris Paul and the Clippers will try to keep Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and the Lakers winless when the two teams take the court Friday night at 10:30 ET on ESPN.
But before they do, our 5-on-5 crew weighs in on the big basketball topics dominating the debate in Los Angeles.
1. What's wrong with the Lakers?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: They spent so much time worrying about offense in the preseason that their defense lapsed. You never heard them even discuss it. Now it's become the biggest issue with the team.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Nothing a defensive lobotomy couldn't fix. Help defenders are slow, provided they even know their intended destination. Anybody with a pulse and one good hand can penetrate the paint against the Lakers. Time will rectify some of these problems, but this is not the fastest or healthiest of teams.
D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog: Nothing! Eight quarters has to be a new record time for the sky falling in Los Angeles, right? Mike Brown has never coached a team to a defensive rating worse than 13th in the league, so let's give him a little time with the best defensive player on the planet, shall we?
Chris Palmer, ESPN.com: Let's see, the players don't appear comfortable with the offense, they've been careless with the ball, and the defense has been downright shabby. Then there's the matter of misusing Steve Nash, who looks out of place off the ball. Bad sign: the Lakers are averaging just six fast-break points a game. They're nowhere near on the same page.
Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: Popular answers are Mike Brown and the Princeton offense, but what I see is a new team that hasn't yet found an identity. The Lakers are a work in progress on offense and aren't showing they can play the top-level defense needed to compensate. Until one or both of those things change, expect further struggles.
2. Which L.A. team is better right now?
Adande: The Clippers. They have something that works, and they know it. And they don't go to pieces when the second unit comes in.
Arnovitz: The Clippers look like a team that's logged some time together. They have a lot of guys who can move the ball and quite a few who can shoot it. The defense wasn't perfect in the opener Wednesday night, especially low, but there are clearly some defined principles at work.
Foster: The Lakers, but I suppose it depends on which Steve is running things. With Steve Nash, the Lakers have the ability to be one of the most dynamic offenses in the game so long as they actually read and react instead of taking predetermined turns. With Steve Blake? Give me the other Blake and the Clippers.
Palmer: Small sample size, but the Clippers bring more energy, have a much deeper bench and, at the moment, have fewer weaknesses. Despite a whole cast of new players, the Clippers don't appear to have any chemistry issues like the Lakers do.
Soriano: The Clippers. They have more continuity, better on-court chemistry and a clearer understanding of how to execute their schemes. If that's not enough, they also have a win this season -- over a playoff team, no less -- while the Lakers are 0-2 in games they were favored to win.
3. Which L.A. team will be better at the end of the season?
Adande: The Lakers, because they have a better chance of winning the conference finals, if they can get there. Their starters have been there before. Most of the Clippers haven't.
Arnovitz: If the core can stay comparative healthy, the Lakers have the talent to win big series against the best opposition. Intelligent players have a way of finding solutions to problems, so most of the stuff that is plaguing them now will be addressed and long forgotten by spring.
Foster: The Lakers. They may not have the overall depth of the Clippers, but defense is the path to sustained regular-season success. Until we see the Clippers establish some sort of defensive continuity in their starting lineup, the Lakers are the safer bet.
Palmer: The Lakers, but not by much. They simply have too much talent not to be a dangerous team. Things will come together, but it will take time. But the Clips are no slouch and are faster, more athletic and have a far better bench. If they played a seven-game series right now, the Clippers would win. In May, I'd take the Lakers.
Soriano: The Lakers. The Clippers have superior depth and are more comfortable to start the season, but the Lakers' top-end talent is better. I'll bet on them reaching their potential by May.
4. What is the Lakers' biggest obstacle this season?
Adande: Time. As in the time it will take them to come together on offense and defense. Also, the time Kobe, Nash, Gasol and World Peace have logged in the NBA, which will make them susceptible to injuries.
Arnovitz: Durability. The thin, ineffectual bench is going to tempt Mike Brown to play Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant more minutes than they can absorb. Dwight Howard doesn't look 100 percent. Can he get there?
Foster: Teams that really push the pace. The Lakers should bowl over the league's slower, less athletic clubs, but things might get a little dicey when they're forced into a track meet. Bonus answer: Metta World Peace. He is a certified disaster in this offense.
Palmer: Chemistry and defense. It's simply going to take time for them to jell. Remember how long it took the Heat two years ago? But defense is a bigger issue. The woes start in the backcourt with Nash, who has offered no resistance against the speedy guards the Lakers have faced. Howard is a game-changer defensively but hasn't had much impact in that area. It's pretty obvious he's not 100 percent.
Soriano: Concerns about the offensive system are real and valid, but collective age and health remain the keys to the Lakers' season. This team carries too shallow a roster to have any of their top players underperform due to mileage or, worse yet, not be available at all due to injury.
5. What is the Clippers' biggest obstacle this season?
Adande: Frontcourt defense. The Clippers gave up 60 points and 30 rebounds to Memphis' starting frontline in the opener. While they won't face many trios that good the rest of the season, they're bound to in the playoffs.
Arnovitz: Building an elite defense. The Clippers ranked 18th in defensive efficiency last season, which won't get a team a top-four seed. They're projected to improve somewhat, but landing in the top 10 will require a quantum leap by DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. They're fast and athletic, but they're also young. Nuances like timing and decision-making take a while to master.
Foster: Their head coach. Do Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and a host of other veterans alleviate some of the concerns with Vinny Del Negro? Absolutely. But unless those guys can actually put Eric Bledsoe in the game or develop some better defensive schemes, Del Negro will continue to be a serious impediment to the Clippers' success.
Palmer: Proving they can execute and close out games. Giving Chris Paul the ball and letting him take over is a good strategy but not sustainable. They have to know you can't play the final five minutes like you played the first 43. A polished go-to move or two from Griffin wouldn't hurt either. They made strides in late-game execution last season, and that has to continue for them to be a real threat.
Soriano: It's a cliché to knock Del Negro, but the Clippers will have to overcome his coaching if they're to be a true contender. He is a fine motivator, but when it's time to make the adjustments or draw up the plays that can mean the difference between winning and losing, he has yet to show he is up to the challenge.