The soul of Los Angeles is not at stake on Friday night when the Clippers “host” the Lakers at Staples Center.
First off, Los Angeles sold its soul for year-around 70 degree weather long ago.
Second, Los Angeles is a Lakers town. Trust me, I live there, and while Clippers fans are no longer afraid to admit that in public; while the Clippers are the better and more entertaining team as I write this; while there is a passion for the Clippers, the Lakers are the true love. And that’s not changing because of 17 games.
But that doesn’t make Friday night’s showdown any less compelling.
The Clippers want to establish their dominance in Los Angeles and atop the Pacific Division (which they already have by 9 games over the Lakers, the Clips bigger concern in Golden State).
The Lakers are 15-16 with their next five games against Western Conference playoff teams — Clippers, Nuggets, Rockets, Spurs and Thunder. This is where Los Angeles has to start its run if it really plans on making a serious one.
So what decides this game? Here are three things to watch:
1) Tempo and turnovers: The Lakers may play for Mike D’Antoni but they don’t want to get in a pure track meet with the younger, more athletic Clippers. The Lakers have to defend then push the pace off the misses they make. If the game is pure 1980s up and down the Clips will run away with the game.
And the Lakers can’t turn the ball over. The Clippers lead the league by forcing their opponent to turn the ball over on 16.4 percent of their possessions. That’s what fuels the breaks and the alley-oops and the SportsCenter highlights. Because they have athletic big men behind them the Clips perimeter defenders can gamble with pressure. Steve Nash is capable of handling the pressure, but what about Chris Duhon and Darius Morris? What about Kobe Bryant (he can’t feel the pressure and go into hero mode)? The Clippers also are aggressive with their athletic big men showing out on picks late in the clock, can the Lakers make them pay for that with precision?
2) Lakers defense on the pick-and-roll: The Clippers are as dangerous a pick-and-roll team as there is in the league. Chris Paul is smart and patient and can pick you apart. They have shooters on the wings. They have Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan rolling hard to the rim. What CP3 does as well or better than anyone in the game is recognize the mismatch after a switch on the pick and make you pay for it.
On the season the Lakers have done a good job containing then pick-and-roll ball handler (they shoot just 36.6 percent) but the roll man is another issue, they shot 56.9 percent. The Lakers make the initial help move but nobody helps the helper — move the ball and you can make them pay. Can the Clippers do that like they did on their streak?
3) The Lakers bench can’t totally suck: This is pretty straightforward — the Clippers have the deepest team in the NBA, the Lakers bench is… we’ll be kind and call it inconsistent. This could be the kind of game that is close for the first quarter, then the benches come in, Jamal Crawford exposes Jodie Meeks, and the Clippers are up 12 by the time the starters return. And the Lakers can’t dig themselves out of the hole.
The Clippers need their bench to make sure they win this, the Lakers need theirs to make sure they don’t lose it.