Bench, Boards and Beyond: the Keys for Victory
The Clippers have proven to be a very deep, well constructed basketball team. The Lakers have proven to be overly reliant on their starters. In their last encounter, the Clippers outscored the Lakers in bench points 30-27, which doesn’t seem that bad for the Lakers. However, this came with Jamal Crawford sitting out with a foot injury. Crawford averaged 17.1 points per game off of the bench for the Clippers. Additionally, the Lakers also got 13 of those points from Jordan Hill, who won’t be playing against the Clippers after a season-ending hip injury, and the other from Jodie Meeks who went 3-13 to get there.
Behind Steve Nash and Chris Paul are quality back-ups Steve Blake and Eric Bledsoe. Blake is an intelligent enough defender, but Bledsoe may be one of the most athletic guards in the league with explosive quickness and his confidence is soaring following a successful stint starting in lieu of the injured Chris Paul. It should lead to an interesting match-up.
Aside from the instant points from Jamal Crawford, the Clippers have also found points from former Lakers Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom, who have thrived under Vinny Del Negro at the Clippers. The Lakers’ bench, on the hand, will be thin with the only ‘reliable’ scoring options being the streaky Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks. Meeks in particular needs a good shooting game to match the expected output of Jamal Crawford who scored 21 points in 31 minutes in his sole game against the Lakers this season.
The Lakers can weather the ongoing Clippers storm if they manage to control the rebounding battle. The Clippers rank a mediocre 16th in the league for rebounding while the Lakers thrive at 3rd. They’re currently weakened by the loss of Pau Gasol, but Earl Clark has performed admirably in his absence. Last time the two sides faced, Gasol had a shocking performance with a sorry 2 points and 4 rebounds in 27 minutes of action. Earl Clark didn’t see the floor during that game. Less than two months later, Clark is a starter for the Lakers and is a linchpin in the beat-up frontcourt. Over the past 10 games, Clark has demonstrated his prowess as a two-way player with 13 points and 8.6 rebounds per game; along with some savvy defense.
Clark’s minutes were limited to 27 in Tuesday’s win against the Suns due to inflammation in his right foot, and this could be a major concern if it’s still acting up against the Clippers. Sole rebounding responsibility would fall onto the banged-up league leader in boards, Dwight Howard. He hauled down 18 rebounds against the big Marcin Gortat on Tuesday and would be a sure-thing to wreak havoc upon the Clippers if not for his injured shoulder. However, the severity of the injury seems to be major and the Lakers have to be concerned about its health during what is bound to be a physical encounter against the Clippers.
For the Lakers, every game matters and every loss sees playoffs fade just a little bit more. After a shaky Grammy trip, and an unconvincing win over the Suns, they need this game going into the All-Star break to build momentum and inspire confidence among the team. The Clippers are looking to seal the first season series win over the Lakers in franchise history, already guaranteeing at least a tie by taking the first two games of the four they will play. Furthermore, a win would keep them in touch with Oklahoma City and narrow the gap between the 2nd and 3rd seeds of the West.
The Los Angeles derby has been a passionate display in recent encounters, and expect nothing different when these two sides meet on Thursday night.