Image: Jeff Gross | Getty Images
Pau Gasol defends Blake Griffin
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

January 10, 2014 — 7:30PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: ESPN / Watch ESPN / TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Since both superstars and team leaders of their respective teams, SG Kobe Bryant for the Lakers and PG Chris Paul for the Clippers cannot play tonight, the media attention to this matchup is definitely as hyped as it should have. However, that does not deter away from how important this game is for both the Los Angeles Lakers (14-22) and the Los Angeles Clippers (25-13) tonight. The Lakers have to win tonight to finally lift their ship up from rock bottom after losing their last 9 of 10 games. Meanwhile, the Clippers have to make sure they maintain the 4th seed in the Western Conference while Paul recovers from his injury.

The only Laker who has played at a very high level during this losing streak is C/F Pau Gasol. Ever since fully recovering from his respiratory issues, Gasol has averaged 21.8 PPG and 11.6 RPG in his last 5 games. Gasol has shown what he can do when he is fully healthy and receives the ball near the paint where he can attack, without getting double-teamed.

The cause for C Chris Kaman not playing meaningful minutes has boggled all Lakers fans mind throughout this season however. Kaman has a high basketball IQ and similar to Gasol, has very crafty post-game and can shoot a mid-range jump shot well also. Per 36 minutes, Kaman has averaged 16.6 PPG and 11.9 RPG despite his limited minutes on the floor. Mike D’Antoni said this morning during his interview with Mark Willard and Mychal Thompson that he just does not have minutes to give Kaman right now. Well, since the Lakers have lost 9 out of their last 10 games without playing him, they might as well give him playing time, especially alongside, to try something different.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Clippers come into tonight’s match-up as the overwhelming favorites vs. Lakers, something Los Angeles basketball fans are clearly not used to. Without, Paul, the Clippers are led by their 2 post players, All-Star PF Blake Griffin, and C DeAndre Jordan. Griffin has greatly improved in his all-around game, averaging 22.0 PPG and 10.3 RPG, but his improvement and on-court leadership skills will be greatly tested for this game and the upcoming weeks. Jordan has dominated on the defensive end, 13.5 RPG and 2.4 BPG, which are among the league leaders this season.

Projected Starters

PG - Darren Collison Kendall Marshall [Advantage: Clippers]

SG - Jamal Crawford / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Clippers]

SF - Jared Dudley Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Clippers]

PF - Blake Griffin Pau Gasol [Advantage: Even]

C - DeAndre Jordan Robert Sacre [Advantage: Clippers]

Notable Bench Players

Clippers: F Matt Barnes, G Willie Green, F Antawn Jamison, G Darius Morris

Lakers:  G/F Nick Young, F Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly

Bench Advantage: Lakers

Injury List

Clippers: Out-PG Chris Paul, Out-SF Reggie Bullock, Probable-SG JJ Redick

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-PG Steve Blake, Out-G Xavier Henry, Out-PG Jordan Farmar, Probable-G/F Nick Young

Keys for Lakers Victory

Defense/Rebound : The Lakers’ defense once again had a poor effort defensively, allowing 113 points, 61 of those points coming in the 2nd half to the Houston Rockets. To make matters worse, the Lakers allow the most offensive rebounds in the NBA, giving up 13 rebounds per game. Their exposure on the boards comes from not having enough players who are strong enough to battle in the post to grab rebounds and a lack of effort. Instead of going small all of the time, the Lakers have to change their rotation to get more players on the floor who are capable of stopping drives to the basket and grab rebounds. Tonight will not be easy at all, as they have to battle both Jordan and Griffin to grab as many rebounds as they can. Putting Kaman in the game will alleviate some of that issues. That, is if D’Antoni decides to play him.

Bottom Line

At this rate, the Lakers will not beat anyone anytime soon. Hopefully, the Clippers decide to not take the Lakers seriously tonight and play down to their level to give the Lakers a puncher’s chance at tonight’s game. However, too many injuries have hampered the Lakers to the point where their spirit has decreased significantly from the beginning of the season. The Clippers are in a battle for a high playoff spot, and it would be hard to think that a Doc Rivers coached basketball team will lay an egg once again vs. Lakers like they did during the opening night of the season.

Prediction

Clippers: 120-102