The Los Angeles Clippers came into this season as one of the most highly anticipated teams to watch.
Last season saw glimpses of what the future of basketball could become in Los Angeles, as Blake Griffin burst onto the scene in his rookie season and immediately became one of the most popular players in the league, even rivaling Kobe Bryant.
What could add to the excitement that Griffin brings to the court? Pair him up with the perfect point guard to maximize his highlight potential.
Throw DeAndre Jordan into the mix, and Lob City was truly born. The Lakers’ days as the hottest ticket in town are definitely numbered.
The two teams met once already this season on a Saturday night. The game was as anticipated as any and featured Paul stealing the show on his way to a 33-point, six-assist night as the Clippers beat the Lakers 102-94.
Bryant got his in the game with 42 points, but it was clear that the Clippers were not going to be pretenders to the L.A. throne this season.
The Clippers are currently third in the Western Conference standings this season with a 9-5 record while the Lakers are on the outside looking in with a 10-8 record—currently not good enough to even make the playoffs.
These two teams are the hottest new rivalry in the NBA and we will see them matchup again on Jan. 25.
How will that game turn out? Will Kobe exact some revenge? Who has the advantage in matchups between the two teams?
The only thing we know for sure is that the game will be played in Los Angeles.
This is an obvious one. Paul is the best pure point guard in the league (and maybe all-time) while Derek Fisher is in his 16th season in the NBA.
We already saw Paul have a big game against the Lakers earlier this season, not to mention what he did to them in the playoffs last season when he was with New Orleans.
Paul is the most efficient isolation player in the league, averaging 1.25 points per possession (PPP). He is shooting 56.8 percent from the field when he isolates and only turns the ball over 2.1 percent of the time on those plays.
For some perspective, Russell Westbrook turns the ball over 17.3 percent of the time on isolation plays.
Paul loves isolating in big games or big moments. He isolated 13 times against the Lakers the first time they played. l expect him to become more of a scorer and do the same each time these two teams meet.
What do the Lakers get with Fisher? A veteran who is one of the best at drawing charges and who Kobe Bryant trusts to pass to for a big shot. That’s something, just not when you’re being compared to Chris Paul.
This one is also pretty obvious. Bryant is one of the best players of all-time and although past his prime, he still has showed he is one of the NBA’s elite, most recently with his stretch of 40-point games earlier this season.
Chauncey Billups is also past his prime and has been a good fit alongside Paul as one of the better wing pick-and-roll players in the league.
At the end of the day if you’re the Clippers, you’d rather not have an old point guard matched up with Kobe Bryant, no matter how good of a defender he is.
Bryant is one of the most physical 2-guards still today and now that he relies mostly on his back-to-the-basket game, he will certainly demand a double-team when these two teams meet.
Luckily for the Clippers, when you double Bryant that does not necessarily mean he will beat you with the pass. He is prone to still look for his shot when doubled and in games that can be perceived as “personal,” don’t be surprised if Bryant chooses this route.
It would have been more fun to type “Caron Butler vs. Metta World Peace,” but alas, Matt Barnes is now a starter for the Lakers with World Peace leading the Lakers’ bench, which is now dubbed “The Peace Corps.”
This matchup is actually closer than it looks on paper. Butler jumps out as the better player initially, but Barnes is a scrapper and does a lot of the little things for the Lakers.
Butler has been resigned to more of a spot-up jump shooter with this Clippers team and actually thrives in that department. Butler is averaging 1.05 PPP on spot-up shots this season, a lower number than expected from him, so look for that number to rise as the season progresses.
Butler is a very important part of this Clippers offense as he can also create offense for himself. He’s averaging 14.8 points per game this season with the potential to have nights where he goes into the mid-20’s if the matchup permits.
Barnes can be an X-factor in this series, but the edge still has to be handed out to the Clippers.
It might surprise some people that I picked the Clippers again with this matchup, but Pau Gasol quite simply isn’t the player he was a few years ago.
He has decided to expand his game into taking three-pointers more often this season which is nice, but for a player historically labeled as “soft," that might not be the preferred direction for the Lakers faithful.
Griffin is the best young post-up talent in the league right now and while his game has a long way to go, he still presents a big challenge for any defense.
Getting by almost entirely on natural ability, Griffin is averaging 21.0 points and 11.5 rebounds per game this season. Gasol has dropped down to 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds on the year.
The matchup is a close one, though, and depending on the night, could go either way. Since the acquisition of Paul, however, Griffin’s potential has gone to new heights (literally) and he’s displayed an ability to do so even when matched up against the NBA’s best.
Andrew Bynum has looked as good as any post player this year. It just goes unnoticed sometimes because we keep expecting the next time he comes down with a rebound for him to go down for 4-to-6 weeks with an injury.
When healthy, though, Bynum is as tough as anyone to guard in the low post. DeAndre Jordan is emerging as one of the better post defenders and shot blockers in the NBA this season, but he is no match for Bynum at the end of the day.
Bynum can make more of an impact on both sides of the court while Jordan is challenged on offense and has a tremendous problem shooting free throws (48 percent on the year).
Jordan is also a little too “shot block happy” and this results in a lot of offensive rebounds for the Clippers’ opponents. Bynum and Gasol love hanging around the rim when the other shoots and can dominate the Clippers if they match their physicality.
The bench looked like it was going to be a real weakness for the Clippers headed into this season. Brian Cook was the only backup big for Griffin and Jordan, and they had way too many combo-guards on the roster.
Their bench has since improved with the addition of Reggie Evans, who grabs more rebounds than anyone else while he is on the floor, and Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Mo Williams.
Williams is averaging 14.5 points per game this season and shooting the ball great (53.8-percent FG, 44.8-percent 3PT, 91.3-percent FT).
The Lakers bench since losing Steve Blake has really been suspect. They run a lot of their offense through Metta World Peace. This isn’t 2004. That’s not a good thing.
There’s far too much Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Darius Morris going around for the Lakers to ever feel comfortable when Bryant’s not in the game.
The Clippers are younger than the Lakers too and can play more minutes so they don’t need to rely on the bench as much. Part of what made the Lakers so good the past few seasons was that people said their bench looked like a starting unit.
The Lakers don’t have that luxury anymore and can’t rely on getting back into games when Bryant isn’t on the floor. Instead, they may need to keep the 16-year vet on the floor 40-plus minutes just to have a chance.
The Clippers are the better team this season. The Lakers are still king because of their history, but they are no longer the hottest ticket in town.
The Clippers are younger, more exciting and can even match the star power in which the Lakers always had the advantage.
The only thing that can save the Lakers this year would be Dwight Howard. That doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon.
For now, the Clippers are the team to beat in L.A. The games should still be close, but the Clippers showed already this season that they aren't afraid of the Lakers.
One thing is for sure, Kobe Bryant won’t go down without a fight (or a 35-shot attempt night).