Both of the NBA’s STAPLES Center tenants face off tonight for the third time this season. The impressive Clippers have won both meetings thus far this season, against the usual winners of this local matchup. Even with all the television talking heads and Vegas odds-makers’ predictions, there is still plenty of dissent about the outcome of any game, especially one that may or may not be considered a rivalry game. But to beat Herm Edwards‘ dead horse, that’s why “We play to win the game.”
To throw our hat out there and predict the outcome of tonight’s LA showdown just before the All-Star Break, some of our LA Sports Hub staff have ignored any company line, to give their take on the Hallway Rivalry. There isn’t one possible scenario, but there will only be one winner.
In the two losses versus the Clippers this season, the Lakers have also lost the assist category. On November 2nd, 15 dimes by almost-Laker Chris Paul gave LAC a 24-15 edge in sharing for a 105-95 victory. On January 4th, Paul’s 13 assists, along with 30 points, including his team’s final 8, gifted the Clipps a 27-19 lead in philanthropy, as well as a 107-102 win. Per Kobe in his Suns’ post-game comments, “The little guy is always going to be a handful.” As Kobe stunned the world by consciously passing up his usual array of jumpers and fall aways so his mates could contribute in the W against Phoenix, he continued the transformation into his version of distributor. He also could have been practicing for a shot at beating the other home team. The Lakers cannot match the Clippers league-leading 40-point bench play, despite intimate knowledge of many of the former Lakers inhabiting the 2nd unit. The Clippers are 28-2 when leading after the first quarter, 30-2 after the 2nd, and 32-2 heading into the 4th, so the Lakers’s 8-man rotation must put points on the board. This is dependent on their best player explicitly sharing the ball, an attitude that builds team confidence, and creates a successful recipe for both LA teams.
There’s nothing like a little Lakeshow vs. Lob City showdown to celebrate the day of love. And something that I might love more than heart-shaped chocolates is the matchup between Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant.
It’s no secret that Paul makes things happen for the Clippers, not just scoring points himself but setting others up. The last two times the teams met, Paul had 18 points and 15 assists, and then 30 points and 13 assists, respectively. And that’s with Bryant guarding him.
But Bryant had huge games the last two times these teams met, scoring 40 and 38 points, respectively. Recently, however, he’s been playing a very different kind of game. Dare I say it, but Bryant’s shooting has been…down. Bryant has made just 1 of his last 30 3-point attempts over the last 13 games. And he’s been…passing. I’m interested to see how this new style of play will affect their game against such a team-oriented group as the Clippers. I actually think it will benefit the Lakers to spread the love around a bit.
But not enough to win. The Clippers are just too hot right now. With everyone back and healthy, the Clippers have been on fire the last few games. And now they have Chauncey “Mr. Bigshot” Billups back, which provides yet another factor with which the Lakers must contend. So my prediction: it’ll be hard-fought and close, but the Clippers will come out victorious in the end.
Looking at the first half of the season, the Clippers haven’t always played their best, but a big reason they are 12 games up on the Lakers is effort. The Clippers have played harder, faster, and smarter over the course of 60 minutes more often than the Lakers. But ultimately the Clippers are still a team trying to earn the respect of the Lakers and this town. They didn’t do themselves any favors in that regard last game when they hacked-a-Howard. Even though it should be a very real fear of VDN‘s that someone hacks DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin ( FT% .657) and it will work, look for Del Negro to put Howard at the line, a lot. Howard has gone 44-99 (44%) since their Jan 4th meeting. His trend is he will have 3 games above 50%, and then go in the tank for one. He has shot 50% or better the last 3 games.
Unless the changed Dwight Howard without the headband is the real deal, the Kobe who gets stuck in the air with no one to pass to will commit enough turnovers, and gift enough points, that Clippers will get this done on Valentine’s Day. The mood lighting will be dimmed for this Lakers home game. But the Clippers are playing like the team that has love for one another. Kobe and the Lakers just have those chalky, candy hearts with the words on them which no one likes that say “Never again.”
Clippers win by 9
Who is going to win LA Sports Hubsters?