Friday night fight night as the Clippers play Lakers in the final game of the hallways series! Andrew Kamenetzky of the Land O’Lakers Blog stops by to talk Lakers and Clippers before the match-up
Breene Murphy: The Lakers have been playing great recently, and Kobe has been the most emotionally exuberant in a while, what do you attribute it to? Bynum’s health? Lakers getting more home games? End of the season wake up call?
Andrew Kamenetzky: All of the above, really.
The All-Star break couldn’t have come any quicker for the Lakers. They looked like a team in need of a break from the game, from each other, and from anything basketball-related. Derek Fisher later admitted the negativity from fans and media regarding their inconsistent play was getting to everyone, in part because they shared the same frustrations. The time off allowed everyone to recharge, plus there was a team meeting following the Cleveland debacle, and the sitdown was apparently effective.
Individually, Matt Barnes is steadily rounding into form after returning from knee surgery and Ron Artest and (to a lesser degree) Steve Blake have played better in March, which has helped matters. Still, no one player has made a bigger difference than Andrew Bynum. The kid has been flat out redunkulous. Since the All-Star break, he’s averaging 11.8 points, 13 rebounds and nearly three blocks. In his last five games, 14 points and 15 rebounds. That’s insane, when you consider the other scorers and rebounders alongside him. And beyond the stats, his overall defensive presence has been off the charts. He’s altering and changing shots on a regular basis, and beyond those in the lane. He’s aggressively stepping out to the elbow, the free throw line, and even further out to bother shooters. In the meantime, the basket has been exceptionally well-protected.
The metaphorical “finish line” in clear sight also helps. This team’s core has played a LOT of basketball for the last few seasons, which makes the regular season physically and (especially) mentally draining at times. With the playoffs in close proximity, plus the welcome challenge of jockeying with teams in both conferences for home court advantage, they’ve discovered a second wind.
BM: Due to DeAndre’s health, the Clippers have been going with Kaman and Blake in the front court. How have the Lakers handled other strong front courts, like Chicago (with Boozer and Noah) and Memphis (Z-Bo and Marc Gasol)? Do the Lakers alter their play?
AK: Like most teams, even those as big, long and talented as the Lakers, a tougher opposing front court provides a more difficult challenge. It’s certainly easier to score down low against Nenad Krstic than, say, Joakim Noah. Having said that, I’ve never noticed the Lakers’ significantly alter their game plan in reaction to a noteworthy 4 and 5. They (rightfully) have confidence in Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom and will put eggs in the basket of those three every day of the week.
As for the effect of an opposing talented front court, it’s typically most dependent on the individual big man’s style. If the big in question is overly physical, Pau Gasol can sometimes be bothered (although no longer to the degree of his “soft” reputation). But if it’s possible to match Bynum against the bruiser, that may solve the problem, especially the way Drew is playing right now. If it’s a mobile big, the matchup may not be ideal for Bynum, but Gasol and especially Odom are fine. And in the meantime, all three Laker bigs can provide major mismatches of their own and move the ball extremely well. The Lakers’ interior passing is the best in the league, hands down.
In terms of the specific matchup tonight, Blake Griffin has struggled all season against the Lakers, one late-game surge aside. Unless the rook can figure out a way to be more effective in the Hallway Series, I think the edge remains with the Lakers, the kid’s obvious talent acknowledged.
BM: Eric Gordon is back for the Clippers and in his two games against the Lakers he’s played well (27.0 ppg on 62 percent shooting). Kobe is obviously having another great season, but have you seen slippage defensively? Are opposing shooting guards a common weakness for the Lakers?
AK: I wouldn’t say slippage is really a problem for Kobe, even though I don’t think his defense has been consistently great this season. In the recent loss against Miami, for example, Kobe corralled Dwayne Wade for most of the game. There were struggles down the stretch, but we are talking about one of the league’s premier talents, so being able to check him at all, often without help, speaks to the skills still intact. He’s also been effective against Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook, despite the speed and age disadvantages. When engaged, Kobe is still among the best wing defenders in the game.
If anything, there is a tendency to disappoint defensively against the Sam Young’s and Xavier Henry’s of the world. (Not randomly selected dudes, as both Grizzlies have enjoyed big games with Kobe checking them.) The less respect Kobe has for a player, the more the assignment gets ignored, even when the C-Lister in question is clearly heating up from the open looks. This situation has presented itself on several occasions, often to detrimental effect.
But a marquee matchup tends to motivate Kobe, and Gordon would certainly qualify. It wouldn’t shock me if Ron Artest gets his share of cracks at Gordon. His defense has been excellent of late and the crossmatch would lessen the load on Kobe. Then again, Artest has also struggled against Gordon’s quickness at times, so Kobe shadowing him is probably inevitable at some point, unless Ron is truly in a zone.
Keys to the Game
- Chris Kaman’s Jumpshot. Andrew Bynum has been playing very good interior defense. In the 10 games before Bynum’s two game suspension (he knocked Michael Beasley of the Wolves out of the air), he averaged 13.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game, and if Chris Kaman is making his jumpers, Bynum’s presence will have to be pulled further out, providing more space for Blake, Gordon and the rest of the Clippers to get into the paint.
- Mo Williams. Derek Fisher plays as effective defense as his body will let him. He’s smart enough to draw charges, and funnel players, but he’s 36 years old and doesn’t have the foot speed to deal with a guard like Mo Williams. If it weren’t for the Lakers bigs in the paint, this would be Mo’s ideal matchup. And with Kobe on EJ and Pau on Blake, the Clippers might need to rely more heavily on Mo.
DeAndre Jordan: pneumonia, questionable
NOTE: Due to extenuating circumstances in Bloggerdom, the Clippers/Lakers recap won’t be up until tomorrow morning.