Five things to watch in Lakers-Clippers matchup
1. Will the Lakers quickly bounce back from their poor performance against Washington? It's highly doubtful that the result between the Lakers (15-6) and the Clippers (5-17) will remain in question. But as the Lakers' 115-108 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday indicated, the outcome required more of an effort than necessary.
The Lakers opened a 19-point lead and displayed dazzling plays on offense only to crash and burn in the second half and force themselves to squeak out a victory. With the Lakers playing the first of six consecutive games away from Staples Center on Friday against the Chicago Bulls, a stiffer test awaits than in an alleged road game at Staples Center. So there's no need to make this game more challenging than it should be. Despite the Clippers' inconsistency this season, however, part of their four-game home winning streak involved upsets against the Oklahoma City Thunder, New Orleans Hornets and San Antonio Spurs, proving that the Clippers are, if nothing else, quite effective in rearranging the Western Conference standings. I don't expect the Lakers to join that list, but they shouldn't consider it an impossibility.
2. The Lakers need to take advantage of a depleted Clippers lineup: If the Lakers think it's been tough having to absorb injuries to Andrew Bynum and Theo Ratliff, they can at least take comfort in knowing that they're not the Clippers. The Times' Lisa Dillman reports that Clippers center Chris Kaman will remain sidelined after an MRI revealed he has a bone bruise in his left ankle. Brian Cook will serve the second game of a two-game suspension. And Clippers guard Baron Davis is listed as questionable for Wednesday's game because of a sore left hamstring.
A similar scenario happened last season when Kaman's absence because of a back injury allowed the Lakers to feast on an athletic but ineffective DeAndre Jordan. But in Davis' case, the Lakers might actually hope he starts in place of Eric Bledsoe. I'm sure Derek Fisher wouldn't mind, especially considering he managed to spark Davis in a unnecessary rampage last season. Nonetheless, the Lakers are well aware of how a thin rotation makes it more difficult to play aggressive and energetic basketball. No better way to exploit that lack of depth than to strike early.
"Very explosive in the paint, mostly jumps off of two feet," Odom said to Bresnahan about Griffin, who is averaging 20.2 points and 11.8 rebounds. "He's a little more skilled than people give him credit for. Great hand-eye coordination, catches the ball well."
It will be a good test for Griffin matching up with the likes of Odom and Pau Gasol, who have helped the Lakers to a second-best mark of 47 points in the paint per game but on Wednesday night will go up against a team that is just half a point behind the Lakers' production inside. Griffin isn't the only one to look out for inside. Clippers forward Craig Smith brings tremendous bulk and can be a difficult matchup because of his physicality. The Lakers' main strength includes their inside presence, but both Odom and Gasol admittedly have played less aggressively to avoid getting into foul trouble and to try to maintain their energy.
4. Who will match up with Eric Gordon: Ron Artest or Bryant? Artest spent last off-season getting down to 245 pounds, hoping he'd have better mobility and speed in defending quicker players. Though he held Kevin Durant to 35% shooting in the first round of the playoffs last season, Artest feels he can't rely on his strength alone when he guards Durant next time around. Gordon is another player whose smooth shooting stroke, finesse drives and quickness could give Artest a strong indication of whether he's making progress. If the Lakers' play against Washington indicates anything, Artest still has a ways to go. After scoring 23 points on eight-for-17 shooting, Gilbert Arenas said, "Ron had me frustrated with his strength, but I had him frustrated with my speed a little bit.
A Bryant-Gordon matchup could also be enticing. With Bryant showing an increase in driving to the hoop and operating in the paint, it appears he's restoring the spring he had before his knee complications. Gordon and Bryant are also quality defenders. And though locking in on someone defensively so solidly skilled might take away from their offensive performance, Gordon's talent might entice Bryant to take on the challenge. Whoever guards Gordon, whether it's Bryant or Artest, has an important task considering that the Clippers are 1-10 when Gordon scores fewer than 27 points. That means the Lakers can tolerate Gordon scoring so long as it comes at the expense at team balance, but not to the point where he becomes unstoppable.
5. Can Steve Blake's scouting report pay off? Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said it's customary that he and his coaching staff ask players if they're willing to divulge extra information about their former teams to help the scouting report. So when the Lakers prepared for Portland in early November, backup guard Steve Blake was more than willing to share all the state secrets regarding the Trail Blazers, whom Blake played for during the 2005-06 season as well as from 2007 to 2010. The Clippers then acquired Blake in a trade last season along with Travis Outlaw and cash for veteran power forward Marcus Camby, so it shouldn't come as a surprise if Blake volunteered again.
Jackson, in a joking manner, gave all the credit to assistant coach Chuck Person for the Lakers' 121-96 victory over Portland, but it wouldn't surprise me if the extra help from Blake could lead to another dominant performance. After all, what better way to top his triple-double as a Clipper in last season's finale against the Lakers?
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Clippers guard Baron Davis might not play against the Lakers on Wednesday because of a sore left hamstring. Credit: Kirby Lee / U.S. Presswire