Call whatever you want between the Lakers (0-6) and the Clippers (3-3) but don't call it a rivalry. In fact, it's ridiculously silly to even brand the Clippers a "rival" in Los Angeles when you consider numerous factors. For one, how many people would even mention Clippers when you ask them to associate sports and L.A.?
But as impressive are the Lakers' starting unit this season, the roster for the Clippers is the deepest this side of Denver. And what's interesting about a lot of their supporting players is they don't need the ball to be productive. Guys like Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes, Grant Hill, and Ronny Turiaf are all unselfish players who don't need plays called for them to produce. Not sure how much their depth would matter in the playoffs when rotation is generally tightened, but it's a blessing for any coach to have that much options available on demand.
Not saying that Mike Brown has zero options with his bench. It's just that the margin for error for the Lakers' second unit isn't as wide as the Clippers. Let's face it, the success of the Lakers bench will rely on the success of Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks, Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill each minute they're on the floor.
It's possible that Brown will adjust his rotation as the season moves along once he sees which combination of bench players go well with certain members of the starting unit. But there's no doubt that these 4 guys are the pillars of the second unit. Therefore, it's crucial, especially when you keep in mind the collective age of the starters, for the bench to find their nitch and rhythm quick or the Lakers could face a long uphill battle in the standings out west around January. That would be the last thing they need when they're trying to save their starters for what is expected to be a more grueling post-season run.
Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard will miss tonight's game but Jordan Hill will likely return to action after suffering a herniated disk against the Golden State Warriors on Oct. 7th. Bryant missed yesterday's practice due to a sore foot that was kicked during the game against the Kings last Sunday. He is listed as day-to-day but according to Lakers.com, Bryant will sit out the rest of pre-season. Howard complained of having soreness all over his body after having a superb debut but participated in some drills during practice.
Steve Nash may have looked like he'll be skipping some games after colliding with Sacramento Kings' Isaiah Thomas last Sunday, but the tough Canadian says he's ready to go.
Vinny del Negro is also thinking of resting some of his starters tonight. But that will probably boil down to a last-minute decision. So this game could be a showcase of benches and final spot hopefuls.
With 2 pre-season games left on schedule, including tonight, look for Brown to focus on his final roster. That means that he'll be keeping an extra eye out on Robert Sacre (eventhough most peg him as a sure thing), Andrew Goudelock, and Darius Johnson-Odom.
It's also possible that Brown could limit Nash' minutes tonight so he could better determine if Steve Blake or Chris Duhon should have the point guard backup role. Neither veteran has roused the coaching staff yet which should be a bit of a concern with only 7 days left until opening night.
Other than that, the Lakers will continue to work on their overall game and see if they can start hitting those open shots for a change.
In case you're wondering, the Lakers won last year's regular season series against the Clippers. Actually, they haven't lost a season series against them since the 1992-93 season. Says a lot about this so-called rivalry too doesn't it?
Matchup of the Game
Bench vs. Bench: Since there's no telling who will end up playing for the Clippers tonight, it's a safer bet that these 2 benches will go at it longer than the starters for both teams. Odom (knee), Hill (knee) and Chauncey Billups (torn Achilles) are out for the Clippers so Laker fans will get to see a ton of Crawford, uber-athletic Eric Bledsoe and former Laker-enforcer Barnes against struggling Jamison, Meeks, Hill and Sacre. Should be interesting how the Laker bench respond tonight.
Keys for the Lakers
> Tempo: This was Del Negro's strategy each time he faced Brown last season, so I don't expect him to change his style much tonight. With Nash on the floor, the Lakers shouldn't have any problem controlling the pace as long as they command the...
> Defensive Boards: This has been one of the weaknesses for the past 6 games which in turn contributed heavily in each and every loss. But without Howard, it becomes a bigger challenge for the entire frontcourt. Hill's return should lighten the load a little bit, but we'll see if conditioning affects his energy around the glass.
> Hit Open Shots: It's already the 7th exhibition game. And if you add practice time, the Lakers are running out of excuses why they're still struggling making even wide open shots. You can't fault learning the new offense since Nash has done an excellent job at getting the ball to the open man. They might get a pass for having young shooters but that's not the case for the Lakers. I guess we'll see what happens tonight.
Tonight at Clippers
Tip-off at 7:30 p.m.
TV: TWC Sports Network
Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN
LAKERS: Kobe Bryant (foot), Dwight Howard (sore), Steve Nash, (tweaked ankle – will play), Metta World Peace (dislocated finger – will play) and Earl Clark (groin).
CLIPPERS: Chauncey Billups (Achilles), Grant Hill (knee) and Lamar Odom (knee).