(Don’t care that this was a foul, still awesome)
Today’s preview will be a bit different, as Brian Kamenetzky of the Land O’Lakers Blog talks Clips-Lakers with me. First, I ask BK.
BM: With Derek Fisher aging but the Andrew Bynum back in the lineup, how have the Lakers done against quick point guards like Bledsoe? How good is Derek at funneling opposing pgs to desired areas? Has the shot blocking of Bynum and Gasol been an effective deterrent?
BK: I tend to see the whole talking point of the Lakers being unable to guard quick PG’s to be a little overdone. Yes, Derek Fisher on an island is going to get beat off the dribble by every other point in the league, but that’s true of virtually anyone. I once aked Aaron Brooks, about as quick as they come, if he could guard Aaron Brooks. He said no. The bigger question is how the unit works together, defending the pick and roll, switching and recovering, and so on. And things like directing penetration to the places the Lakers want it to go.
While Fisher certainly struggles to keep players in front of him, he’s still their best guard at busting through a screen, and definitely has the best understanding of how to direct an opposing player towards help. To say he’s a brilliant defender would be, at best, disingenuous, I just tend to think his shortcomings are overblown. It’s as if the elite PGs in the NBA build their stats only by playing the Lakers, and everyone else shuts them down. Last year, the Lakers eliminated Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, and Rajon Rondo.
Clearly they, from Fisher on down, can’t be that bad.
As for the deterrent, Bynum is certainly capable of making an impact, as he did Tuesday against the Hawks, when he blocked three shots and altered countless others. Gasol is, when his legs are under him, an underrated defender. So much of it is based on getting the defense set, which means avoiding turnovers and bad shots at the other end. When the Lakers get teams into half court sets, they’re pretty effective. Sometimes dominant.
BM: A rare road win in Portland, another team like the Clippers that likes to throw a lot of alley-oops. How aware were the Lakers in stopping the oop? Do they do anything differently on defense?
BK: There was a first half mid-post P and R where LaMarcus Aldridge slipped off the screen, behind the defense, and threw down a lob from Andre Miller… but that’s the only one ringing a bell. The Lakers certainly can be victimized by a solid back door cut, whether because their attention periodically wanders on that end or they feel compelled to overplay penetration.
But I don’t think they’re any more prone to the oop than any other team. At least in the halfcourt. In transition, the floor tends to open up a little more, particularly when the Lakers are feeling generous with turnovers.
BM: After losing to the Cavs on the road, rumors with Melo, what do you think of the Lakers inactivity around the deadline?
BK: It would have been nice to use the trade exception earned in the Sasha Vujacic deal, worth about $5.5 mil, to acquire a little more depth. Perhaps a wing capable of creating his own shot (an O.J. Mayo type), or some help with the point. In the end, though, improving themselves significantly through a trade would have required someone deciding to do the Lakers a favor- not generally the reflex of G.M.’s across the league- because the Lakers just don’t have many assets to offer appealing to other organizations outside core players on the team (meaning a trade of Andrew Bynum). Nobody, for example, was beating down Mitch Kupchak’s door to take on Ron Artest’s contract.
At some point, the Lakers will likely have to find another big to take the “Break In Case of Emergency” backup center role currently occupied by the still-injured Theo Ratliff, who may miss the rest of the year, but that’s a move truly on the margins they can address when the need arises. With in an extremely high payroll making it tough to add more salary, and it’s easy to see why they didn’t make a move. Even more fundamentally, though, looking at three straight Finals appearances and consecutive titles, the Lakers simply aren’t interested in busting up the team.
Nor should they be, really. Sure, the Lakers haven’t met expectations, but they’re still at the center of any legitimate championship conversation. A third straight Larry O is still viable.
Brian turns the questions to me now.
BK: What impact does moving Baron have for the Clippers, on the floor and off? How does Mo Williams fit in?
You asked me to keep this short, and then asked a question that I could write 30,000 words on. Is this some sort of torture?
Moving Baron really was all about the future of the franchise. After all, the Clippers aren’t making the playoffs this year. The Clippers saw that Baron’s contract was preventing them from pursuing free agents this year and the following year. By bringing in Mo Williams they save at least $8.5 million and more likely $12.5 million and even more if you count the salary of the draft pick that they gave up to get rid of Baron.
There is one sneaky tenet that this trade assumes though, that players will want to come to the Clippers to play. I know there is Blake and Eric Gordon, even the other rooks Aminu, Bledsoe (and maybe Willie Warren) have potential. But there still is the fact that Donald Sterling owns the franchise. Not only a poor historical precedent from a effectiveness standpoint, but also not someone famous for being a good guy, you know?
Don’t confuse this with a pure salary dump. Baron Davis has great vision and has been playing his best as a Clipper in the last few months, but he’s not what he used to be. Sure, he hasn’t been launching long threes, but his shot still isn’t good. He’s really only a threat when he’s going to the basket or on the break and the Clippers need more space around the bucket, they’re not standing around the perimeter like the Magic. DeAndre doesn’t take shots outside of 5 feet, Aminu has lost his touch from deep, Bledsoe hasn’t quite found it yet, Eric Gordon is still injured. This team needs some outside shooting, especially from the guard position. Mo Williams fills that role. Additionally, after a few years playing alongside LeBron he’s accustomed to playing off the ball, which will be of help considering that Bledsoe will need experience running the point.
Williams is much younger and this trade, as Olshey said, was contingent on Mo waiving his first player option (after this year). If Mo stays the length of his contract, which seems likely, he’ll be 30 when it ends.
BK: What do you think the Clippers did effectively in the first two games against the Lakers to keep the games so close, and can they replicate it Friday night?
BM: The biggest influence on the game hasn’t been so much what the Clippers have been doing, but how the Lakers guard Blake Griffin. When Lamar covers Blake Griffin, BG has no problem getting good looks, he only really struggles when he has Artest or Gasol on him. In the first matchup, Artest took over at the end and led to some timely steals. In the second game, the Lakers went away from Gasol covering Blake half even though Blake went 1 for 9 in the first half and the switch resulted in a Clipper victory. But with Bynum back, the Lakers don’t have to worry about Gasol as much, so I’m hesitant to believe that Blake and the Clippers will fare as well.
BK: One of Neil Olshey’s big selling points on Vinny Del Negro was that his Bulls teams always were stronger in the second half of the season than the first. Has he had that sort of impact on the Clips? In what ways have they improved this year as group?
BM: I do think it’s admirable that the VDN Bulls played their best basketball in March and April, but I’m wondering how much of the VDN Bulls’ improving records had to do with the timing of the teams’ road trips. Bulls have the Circus Trip in November and Lakers fans understand the annual February Grammy’s trip that the Clippers have to endure. But the timing of road trips, both for those Bulls teams and the Clippers this year, could be a partially masking factor for improvement in the case of the Bulls or regression in the case of the Clippers.
Young teams struggle on the road and the Clippers are no different, their woes exacerbated over the course of this last road trip. It’s true that they were really improving during their home heavy stretch in January, but the Clippers have reverted to their early season problems. They turn the ball over, they have terrible third quarters, and they look lost on defense.
The Clippers lost Eric Gordon, who is almost as integral to the team’s identity as Blake Griffin, so the regression is due to his absence as well, but the last two weeks have been frustrating. Randy Foye has taken over EJ’s role, playing off the same flare screens and used as a ball handling guard on occasions when Baron was on the bench, but he has no where near the consistency that Eric does, which is evident when he’s throwing up 3 for 13-ish stinkers like he has two of every three games on this road trip, Then, overcoming the obstacles for the rest of the team is near impossible.
The Clippers don’t have the same margin of error that better teams do, and minor improvements can’t make up for huge absences when there isn’t a system capable of filling in for the injured players. I have no idea what the Clippers would do if they lost Blake.
4) Now that Kaman is back in the lineup, what are the Clippers getting out of their frontcourt combinations?
Evaluating the front court combos is difficult at this juncture because Kaman has been slowly added back to the rotation. He played 10, 18 and then 25 minutes in the last three games, his last game being his most effective on the offensive end. He scored 14 points on 6 for 11 shooting. Blake Griffin is still getting his points (26 points on 56 percent shooting), which is a nice change for Blake and Kaman from the beginning of the season. There are still times when Blake, because he’s such a good passer, will throw Kaman an entry pass into the post, but Blake’s not used to dealing with that kind of offense and he doesn’t seem to cut or space out enough, limiting Kaman’s effective space. Something that can be worked out in time though, and because of Kaman’s injury, they haven’t had that yet.
However, DeAndre only played 16 minutes in the last game and 22 minutes the game before and hasn’t been as productive in either game. To be fair, DeAndre hasn’t been as good lately, but it’ll be interesting to see how this will affect his development.
Thanks to Brian for the questions, much appreciated. Check out their site.
Eric Gordon: right wrist, day to day
Matt Barnes: knee, doubtful