LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (0-0)
at LOS ANGELES LAKERS (0-0)
Tip-off: Tuesday, 10:30 p.m. ET
Line: Clippers -8.5, Total: 198
The NBA season tips off in Los Angeles on Tuesday night as the Clippers and their new head coach, Doc Rivers, go on the “road” to take on their arena-mates and rivals, the Lakers.
The Lakers come into the season feeling the effects of their attempt at a second coming of Shaquille O’Neal with Dwight Howard, who chose to leave L.A. in the offseason for the Rockets. The Lakers still finished the season with a solid 45-37 (.549) record and just snuck into the Western Conference playoffs as a seven seed, where they were swept in four games against the Spurs. The 2012-13 season was the first time in a very long time that the Clippers were the best basketball team in Hollywood, as they finished the season in the fourth spot in the West at 56-26 (.683). The Clippers were outplayed in the playoffs and were also knocked out in the first round by the Grizzlies in six games. The Clippers really put the Lakers in their place last season, beating them in all four contests, SU and ATS. It wasn’t even close either, as the Clippers outscored the Lakers by an average of 13.3 points per game. The historical domination has certainly not always been in favor of the Clips though, with the Lakers winning 143-of-196 (.730) games in this series over the series history. Future hall-of-famer, SG Kobe Bryant, missed the final few games of the regular season and the team’s playoffs due to a torn Achilles tendon and still has no definitive timetable for his return to the court.
The Clippers did well during the regular season but really disappointed with their first round loss against a defensive heavy team in the Grizzlies. Now the team has gone towards molding themselves around All-Star PG Chris Paul, who nearly handpicked Rivers to be the coach after he led the team to 23.9 assists per game (4th overall) and 101.1 PPG (T-8th in NBA). Paul himself was second in the league at assists (9.7 APG) and led the league in steals (2.4 per game) for the fifth time in six seasons. In his 27 career games against the Lakers, Paul has averaged 20.7 PPG, 12.0 APG and 2.3 SPG. One of his best skills is his ability to find open looks for shooters and with the additions of sharp-shooting guard J.J. Reddick (39% career 3-pt FG) and rookie guard Reggie Bullock (44% 3-pt FG in his final season at UNC), Paul will have even more weapons to go to. Perennial Sixth Man of the Year Award nominee Jamal Crawford (16.5 PPG last season) will continue to provide firepower off the bench as well. As far as big men on the team, high-flying PF Blake Griffin (18.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG in 2012-13 season) put up solid numbers last season but was not the type of star that could take over games on a nightly basis. Center DeAndre Jordan (8.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.4 BPG) played in all 82 games last season and will once again be in the five spot in the lineup, but Griffin will fill the role often with Jordan’s inability to defend against the pick-and-roll. SF Jared Dudley (10.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG) was acquired in the Eric Bledsoe trade this offseason, and he should be able to provide some more three-point opportunities and size to the team.
The Lakers know that the Kobe Bryant era is slowing coming to a close, but hope to have a few more opportunities at a title with him on the team. Bryant’s Achilles injury could slow him down once he does return, and he will be joining 39-year-old PG Steve Nash, who played only 50 games last season and had his lowest average for assists per game (6.7 APG) since the ’99-00 season. The Lakers will miss Bryant in this game as he has averaged 25.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 4.7 APG over his 64 career games against the Clippers. SG Nick Young (10.6 PPG last season with 76ers), who is mainly just a scorer, was acquired in the offseason and may play a large role early in the season until Bryant returns. PF Pau Gasol will look to have a better season and get back to being a leader on the team after struggling with Howard in town, scoring a career low 13.7 points per game and failing to average double-digit rebounds (8.6 RPG) for the first time since 2008-09. Gasol will be joined by newly-acquired C Chris Kaman (10.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG last season with Dallas), and the duo will need to work hard to make up for the loss of Howard and his league-leading 12.4 rebounds per game. The Lakers averaged 102.2 PPG last season (6th in NBA) running head coach Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense, but with all the new faces and Bryant out, this team may struggle to find someone to lead the team. The ability of Nash and Gasol to summon their past performances will be needed to slow down the Clippers and their recent stranglehold on this series.