What better way to start the break down of the Western Conference’s Pacific Division than the Los Angeles Clippers vs. the Los Angeles Lakers?
Yeah, I didn’t think there was a better one either — just asking.
Last season, the Clips lost the regular season series against the Lake Show 2-1 and finished one game behind them (Lakers 41-25/ Clippers 40-26). After semifinal departures from both Los Angeles teams in the 2012 playoffs, the Clippers and the Lakers are looking to one-up each other as they one-up themselves.
The Lakers have reloaded with superstar power as they traded the second best center in the NBA, Andrew Bynum, to the Philadelphia 76ers and received the reigning No. 1 center in the league Dwight Howard in a four-team trade involving the Orlando Magic, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Denver Nuggets and the Lakers.
Steve Nash finally got out of the sinkhole known as the Phoenix Suns and found himself on one of the most successful franchises in league history when the Lakers traded three first-round picks for the 38-year-old Canadian point guard.
The Lakers didn’t stop there as they signed Antwan Jamison — who will fill in the role of Lamar Odom, which the Lakers drastically missed last season — and Jodie Meeks — who is a shooter, something else the Lakers’ bench didn’t have last season. For his career Meeks is a 37% shooter from the three-point line. He could be a dangerous player no one ever mentions until he’s hitting daggers.
Whew, with all the additions and no subtractions except for bad bench players or talent replaced with better talent, the Lakers have only gotten better and are a preseason front runner for the NBA Championship.
How do the Clippers contend with the team they share the Staple Center with?
Easy, they sign two former Sixth Man of the Year award winners in the previous mentioned Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford, veteran Grant Hill and big/tall bodies in Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf to replace the big guys who went elsewhere in Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin. Currently, Martin — who is a free agent — is not signed anywhere, but he should be by time the season starts.
Odom was miserable in Dallas and wanted to return to LA. He isn’t a Laker, but he is in LA with a team that could contend with anyone. He helps the Clips incredibly because they needed an inside/outside scorer who can do anything he wants on either side of the court. I’ve said it many times, Odom is the most versatile player I’ve ever seen.
Hill has never scored less than 10 points a game in his 17-year NBA career and is one of those guys who is more than happy to fill in any role a team needs him to for team success. Yes, he is 39-years-old. No, he does not have 39-year-old legs like the 32-year-old Kobe Bryant does from playing basketball year round for 16-NBA seasons, World Games and the Olympics.
Crawford is what the Clippers needed the most — a guy who can come off of the bench and score. He is a streaky shooter at times and has been known to chuck the ball up on a prayer. Good thing he’s on a team full of veterans who will settle him down and help him be part of a winning team instead of a good player on a group of young, inexperienced players like Crawford is used to.
Let’s not forget, no one in last year’s starting five left. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups are all back with a full training camp under their belt. Remember, last season the group was thrown together in a few weeks after the lockout ended.
Billups, who was injured for most of the 2011-12 season, is rumored to be in great shape and way ahead of the rehab curb. This is awesome news for the Clips since the cagy veteran is a great defender who is known as a clutch shooter and a definition of the term leader.
The starting five brings a little bit of everything to the team that the other can’t. Paul is the mastermind who carves up defenses with his handles and passes. Griffin is a great rebounder and we all know what he does on highlight reels. Jordan needs to step up from last season, but he was a top shot blocker. Butler is a good defender who runs the floor and can score from anywhere on the court. Billups can hit the big shot and will play the role of point guard part B since he can run a team and find an open man as well.
It seems like both teams put their money where its mouth is and put together strong teams.
Against each other, on paper, I’d like to pick the Clippers but I can’t.
Howard is the best big man in the league defensively and will cause a lot of problems for a team who loves to go to the basket. I hope it doesn’t come true, but I could see Jordan becoming almost useless unless Griffin draws a double team. With Pau Gasol on Griffin, I don’t know if Howard would need to.
Nash is old, but he is still fast enough to stick Paul. However, Nash has never been a good defender and would lose Paul in the shuffle somewhere. The problem is when the teams go the other direction, can the Clippers defense stop Nash who will want to run and find a cutting Bryant, Ron Artest, Howard, Jamison or Gasol. They all run the floor well.
When it comes to the bench productivity, I think the Clippers are the deepest team in the league. I will not say any teams bench is going to top the red, blue and white in LA.
I think it simply comes down to Howard. Bryant and Gasol are going to get theirs since Nash is going to find them in open spaces they’ve never had before. No one is going to be able to stop this.
If Howard remains the crusher he has been on both sides of the court, I don’t think the Clippers have the personal to beat him, especially since he’s been working with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on his low post offensive game.
This is one of those cases I hope I’m wrong. The Lakers are not going to walk all over the Clippers by any means. I see every game being competitive and possibly open to go either way until the last buzzer.
If that’s the case, I hope the ball is in the hands of Paul or Billups for Clippers’ magic to happen.
Tags: Andrew Bynum Antwan Jamison Blake Griffin Caron Butler Chauncey Billups Chris Paul DeAndre Jordan Dwight Howard Grant Hill Jamal Crawford Jodie Meeks Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Kenyon Martin Kobe Bryant Lamar Odom Los Angeles Clippers Los Angeles Lakers Reggie Evans Ronny Turiaf Ryan Hollins Staple Center Steve Nash