Sizing Up Lakers Against Clippers in the Battle of LA for Early 2012-13
Honestly speaking, the Lakers vs. Clippers “rivalry” in the NBA has failed to carry much weight over the years. However, now that the Clippers drafted Blake Griffin, traded for Chris Paul and added a formidable bench unit, the Battle of LA has been a legitimate topic of conversation.
Last season, the Los Angeles Lakers (41-25) finished just one game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (40-26) in the Pacific Division. Each team made their way to the second round of the playoffs, but got no further as the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder moved on.
Early this season, there appeared to be a changing of the guard in Los Angeles. The Lakers sputtered to a 1-4 start after losing the first three games of the season, which led to the firing of head coach Mike Brown.
Meanwhile, the Clippers got off to a great start. After back-to-back bad losses to Golden State and Cleveland, the Clips rattled off a six-game winning streak (beating the Miami Heat once and the Spurs twice during that span).
The Clippers appeared poised to run away with the Pacific Division, but a recent four-game slide humbled the team back to what is now a 9-6 mark.
The NBA season still has many months to go, but how do these two rivals stack up against one another this early in the season? Read on to find out.
All statistics in this article are accurate as of Nov. 29, 2012.
Scoring Edge: Clippers
In truth, the scoring numbers between these two teams is relatively equal. The Clippers rank eighth in the league averaging 99.5 points per game, while the Lakers rank 13th averaging 99.1 per game. In this case, the ranking of each team is misleading because the Lakers only score 0.4 points per game less on average, but they’re ranked five spots lower than the Clips.
Even though the ranks may be misleading, the Clippers have had the more balanced offensive attack thus far. They have seven players on the roster averaging more than eight points per game. The Lakers have just four players averaging more than eight, all of whom are starters: Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace.
Bryant has been incredible this season. He’s averaging 27.7 points per game while shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from three-point range. To put that in perspective, Bryant shot 43 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from beyond the arc last season. He’s scoring far more efficiently this season when compared with a year ago, but even so, the Lakers’ scoring output may be relying too heavily on Bryant.
Howard is averaging a solid 17.9 points per game, but he’s shooting 47.8 percent from the free-throw line (a career low). Additionally, Howard’s field-goal attempts have been all over the map. So far this season, he’s attempted fewer than 10 shots five times. He’s been significantly better offensively when he gets a lot of touches, but for whatever reason that doesn’t always occur.
World Peace has looked rejuvenated at times this season, which is a great sign for Lakers fans. However, the Lakers simply need more production off the bench. Antawn Jamison has been virtually nonexistent, averaging just 5.5 points per game.
The Clippers have a slight advantage in the scoring department because they have the best point guard in the game running the show. They’re a better passing team, and as a result, they have more players involved offensively.
We’ll have to see how the Lakers respond and adjust when Steve Nash returns from injury.
Rebounding Edge: Lakers
When you have Dwight Howard on your roster, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be one of the top teams in terms of rebounding no matter what. That’s certainly been the case for the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
The Lakers are third best in the NBA in rebounds per game (45.9) and defensive rebound percentage (75 percent). Howard and Pau Gasol are setting the tone on the defensive end of the floor by rebounding the basketball and preventing second-chance efforts for opposing teams.
The Clippers, meanwhile, have struggled rebounding the basketball. Despite having Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the roster, two of the league’s most athletic big men, the Clippers rank 26th in the league in rebounds per game.
The Lakers out-rebound their opponents by an average of 6.2 boards per game, while the Clippers get out-rebounded by an incredibly slim 0.2 rebounds per game margin.
It may be an underrated statistical category, but the Lakers are one of the league’s most dominant teams as far as rebounding is concerned.
Defensive Edge: Neither
The Los Angeles Lakers allow an average of 95.5 points per game. The Los Angeles Clippers also allow an average of 95.5 points per game. So there’s no advantage one way or another on that front.
The Clippers have held opponents to 43.2 percent shooting from the field, while the Lakers have held opponents to 43.5 percent shooting from the field. Again, there’s no definitive advantage for either team.
Where some advantages start to present themselves is defending the three-point shot. The Lakers have held opponents to 34.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc, while Clippers opponents have shot 37.6 percent from down town. That’s not an overwhelming difference, but shooting higher than 37 percent is much better than shooting higher than 34 percent.
Even though the Lakers have been better defending the three-point shot this season, the Clippers have been better in two key defensive categories.
The Clippers, led by the exploits of pickpocket Chris Paul, lead the league in steals per game, averaging an impressive 10.5 per contest. In addition to that, the Clippers average 6.6 blocks per game (good for eighth in the NBA). Their ability to disrupt offenses and create turnovers is a huge part of why this team has a winning record.
The Lakers' 7.7 steals and 5.5 blocks per game put them in the middle of the pack in both categories.
Going back to the previous slide, the Lakers' defensive rebounding prowess needs to be taken into consideration as well. You can’t be a good defensive basketball team if you allow second chance opportunities. The Lakers prevent those opportunities 75 percent of the time.
With the Clippers leading in steals and blocks, and the Lakers leading in defensive rebounding and opponent three-point percentage, both teams win two categories. There’s no obvious winner either way, so we’ll have to wait and see which team separates itself moving forward.
Bench Edge: Clippers
As far as bench production in the Battle of LA, there’s literally zero argument. The Los Angeles Clippers’ bench, led by Sixth Man of the Year frontrunner Jamal Crawford, is vastly better than that of the Los Angeles Lakers.
In 15 games off the bench so far this season, Crawford is averaging 17.5 points per game. That’s more than Jordan Hill, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks have combined to score off the bench for the Lakers this season.
The Clippers have also received great production in the second unit from Eric Bledsoe and former Laker Matt Barnes. Their bench ranks sixth in the NBA in scoring, averaging 38.9 points per game.
The Lakers’ bench, by contrast, ranks 29th in the NBA in scoring, averaging just 21.1 points per game. That's only better than the lowly Portland Trail Blazers' awful second unit.
Again, there should be no argument here. The Clippers bench is better, period. Let’s just move on.
Strength of Schedule Edge: Clippers
Not only have the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the rival Los Angeles Lakers so far this season, but they’ve accounted for two of the San Antonio Spurs’ three losses, one of the Memphis Grizzlies’ two losses and one of the Miami Heat’s three losses.
In other words, the Clippers have been giant-killers so far. They show up to play big games and beat elite teams. Granted, they’ve lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Hornets, but their wins have been far more impressive than the Lakers’ wins thus far.
The Lakers have only beaten two teams that currently have a winning record (Brooklyn and Golden State). The combined record of the other teams they’ve defeated so far this season is 30-47. Also, the Lakers have lost to bad teams like Portland, Sacramento and Indiana (without Danny Granger).
Again, there shouldn’t be an argument. The Clippers' wins so far this season carry more weight.
Team Chemistry Edge: Clippers
Team chemistry is a difficult aspect of the NBA to gauge unless you’re in the locker room with the players. However, when compared with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Clippers clearly have the edge.
The Lakers have had the young season marred by frustrating losses, a failure to meet lofty expectations, a coaching change, injuries and new additions playing well below their usual standards. Their collective body language speaks volumes about their state of mind.
The Lakers' record stands at 7-8, ranking them third in the Pacific Division. This team knows they’re better than what they’ve shown so far.
However, even if the Lakers right the ship and get some semblance of chemistry, they still have to reintegrate Steve Nash when he returns from injury. Nash looked absolutely lost with the Lakers at the start of the season, so hopefully ditching the Princeton offense and being reunited with Mike D’Antoni will create for a smooth transition.
There’s still plenty of basketball to go in an 82-game regular season. A 1-4 start, injuries and a coaching change have defined the Lakers’ struggles so far this season, but they’ve notched a 6-4 record since that time despite so many question marks.
The Clippers had a chance to really put a strangle hold on the Pacific Division early, but a four-game losing streak really hurt them in that regard.
Overall, both basketball teams in Los Angeles are serious threats in the Western Conference, and both should be in the conversation come playoff time.
The Battle of LA is finally a legitimate rivalry, which is only a positive for the NBA and their fans.