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Clippers

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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

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As many have heard, the Clippers recently covered up the Lakers’ championship banners and retired numbers at Staples Center, something that will be done for Clippers home games this season.

I have no problem with the Clippers trying to make their home games feel more “Clipper-ish”.  What I do have a problem with are the steps they are taking to do so.

Covering up championship banners is one thing, but covering up retired numbers of Lakers’ legends, including that of the great late Chick Hearn is ridiculous.  I don’t even want to start with the fact that the jerseys are covered with a picture of guard Jamal Crawford.

clippers-banners-close-up-500x250

The decision, which was reportedly that of Doc Rivers, raises some questions as to the thought process behind it.   Considering he was the head coach of the Boston Celtics, the move makes sense since he was associated with the Lakers’ rivals, but one has to believe he would not be okay with the move if another NBA team played at TD Garden and covered up the Celtics’ championship banners for their home games.

A rivalry with the Lakers is nothing new for Rivers, who coached the Celtics in the 2008 and 2010 Finals, prevailing in 2008.

“Listen, I think this is our arena when we play,” Rivers told the Los Angeles Times. “So I just thought it would be good that we show our guys. No disrespect to them. But when we play, it’s the Clippers’ arena as far as I know.” – Sports Illustrated article

Let’s face it, the banners being covered up is not just to make the arena feel more like a Clippers’ game.  It is clearly an attempt to step out of the shadow of the Lakers’ storied history and try to create a new identity for themselves.

Although, there are other alternatives to accomplish that, such as hanging a banner of your own, which is usually something that get’s you noticed.  Or even moving out out of Staples Center to Anaheim or back to San Diego is another option.  As long as the Clippers stay in Los Angeles, they will be known as the other basketball team in LA.

Yes, Staples Center belongs to the Clippers too.  It also belongs to the Sparks (WNBA) and Kings (NHL) as well.   Stop and think how people would react if those franchises decided to start covering up other team’s banners to make their game feel more like a home game.  It is silly to even think about.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, this move is irrelevant.   You can’t cover up the reputation of the purple and gold.  Covering up banners only puts more emphasis on the fact that the Lakers have won 16 NBA titles and that the Clippers have to hang glorified Fathead posters in an attempt to make people forget about the Lakers at their home games.

Fans of the Clippers that I have spoken to have all surprisingly been against the covering of the banners, even to the point where they called it childish.  All fans will have different opinions on it, but I’m sure that their fan base would be more than happy with not bringing any attention to the Lakers, which is what this has resulted in.

The Clippers will be one of the top teams in the league this season.  They have the talent and coaching to do so, it’s just unfortunate that this move can be seen as something Donald Sterling would have done years ago when they were down and out.

Let’s just hope that statues aren’t the next thing to be covered up or that Doc Rivers forces the Team LA store to not sell any Lakers gear during home games.

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Now that the NBA Finals have ended, the basketball world’s attention shifts to the off-season. Beginning with the NBA Draft yesterday and continuing with the beginning of free agency next week, the next three months will shape how the 2013-2014 NBA season goes down.

There might not be a team with a more uncertain future heading into the off-season than the Lakers. Will Dwight stay or will he go? (Here’s my opinion from yesterday in case you missed it)

Do you upgrade an aging roster? Stick to what you have? Get rid of everyone? What exactly should the Lakers do?

Let’s take a look at three options Los Angeles really has this off-season, and which is going to be best for the franchise.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers

Re-sign and Build Around Dwight

The most obvious solution would be to go all in and put everything you have to bringing Howard back to Los Angeles. While injuries caused a dip in his production this season, there is no doubt Dwight is a top ten talent in the NBA and the best center in the league when healthy. Howard is a game-changer, especially on the defensive end of the court. With a player like that in the fold, you have a solid core for the next 5-10 years that you can build around.

With gobs of cap space coming in the summer of 2014, and a very impressive list of free agents, the Lakers could secure Howard and be back in contention within a year.

That is of course if the big man wants to be back in the Purple and Gold. Reports have recently surfaced that the Lakers are a long-shot to bring him back. According to ESPN:

Howard is willing to forgo the extra $30 million the Lakers can pay him to play for a coach and in a system he feels will better use his skillset, one source said.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Boston Celtics

Sign-and-trade Dwight for Depth

So if there’s no bringing him back, what can the Lakers do? Another idea that has been thrown around lately has been the concept of sign-and-trading Dwight to a team of his choosing to bring back some assets in return. While Howard would obviously have to agree to sign with the team he is going to, getting something in return is better than allowing Dwight to walk for nothing. (Contrary to popular belief, the Lakers can send a player out in a sign-and-trade, they just can’t bring a player in via sign-and-trade.)

With reports that Chris Paul and Howard want to form their own super team, the most talked about sign-and-trade has D12 going to the Clippers in exchange for Eric Bledsoe and Blake Griffin. Which sounds like a decent deal, except for the fact that the Lakers don’t want to send Howard to their rivals (if you can even call them that) down the hall, and the contract owed Griffin is going to become increasingly tough to justify if all he ever does is dunk and make Kia commercials.

If the Lakers are going to move Howard they need to take advantage of this opportunity and bring in a young talent that can help transform the franchise. A trade that gets the Lakers younger and more talented in exchange for Dwight would be the main objective of the franchise.

So what trade accomplishes these goals? That’s easy. A three-way trade between the Lakers, Clippers, and… (drumroll please) the T’Wolves! Minnesota happens to have a very talented young power forward who most people (Minny included), don’t expect to stick around past his opt-out after this season. A trade sending Dwight to the Clippers, Blake Griffin to the Wolves and Bledsoe and All-Star Kevin Love to the Lakers makes sense for all involved.

Paul and Howard get to team up in Clipper uniforms, Ricky Rubio gets the perfect alley-oop target, and the Lakers get two young, dynamic players to upgrade their roster. Which sounds like the perfect trade, meaning it will be almost impossible to pull off.

Andrew Wiggins 2

Blow it Up and Start Over

So if Dwight doesn’t want to come back, and the Lakers can’t get the right assets in return with a sign-and-trade, what option lies behind the proverbial door number three?

Blow it all up and rebuild. Let Dwight walk. Trade Pau. Amnesty Metta. Don’t bring Kobe back to play this year. Tank, tank, tank, tank, tank. (Then fire D’Antoni, I beg of you.)

If we’ve learned anything from the OKC’s and Spurs of the league, it’s that drafting talent is as important as signing talent. Unless you have Lebron James, you just can’t win in the league today without cheap, young talent.

In Los Angeles, it’s title or bust every season for the Lakers. And with a championship looking less and less likely next season, blowing it up for a franchise-changing lottery pick (Andrew Wiggins anyone?) could be the best route to take.

With ridiculous amounts of cap space next summer, the Lakers could potentially have a great, young talent on a rookie contract and two or three max players in the starting line-up with him. Doesn’t that seem like the best option towards a quick rebuild back into title contention?

The Lakers have some big decisions to make in the next couple of weeks. Will they look for instant gratification again, or decide to finally bite the bullet and rebuild for the future? Either way, you can guarantee it will be an interesting summer in Laker Land.

Belal Abdelfattah is a sports addict, sneaker junkie, and Laker Nation contributor. Follow him on Twitter over at @ItsBelal_A

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