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Lakers-Clippers matchup, Five things to watch

April 04, 2012|By Mark Medina

Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers (34-20) visit the Clippers (32-21) Wednesday night at Staples Center:

1. This game has big-picture implications. We'll break down some of the particulars in some of the notes below. But it's not hyperbole to say this game bears great significance in the 2011-12 season. The outcome significantly enhances the playoff seeding in two ways.  The Lakers hold only a 1 1/2 game lead over the Clippers for third place in the Pacific Division. Whoever wins this game also owns the series lead, something the Lakers haven't lost since the 1992-93 season. Should the Lakers and Clippers finish with the same record at the end of the season, the winner of tonight's game would still get a higher seed. Beyond that, there's also the hype factor.

Debating whether the Lakers-Clippers game is a rivalry or not is simply semantics. The matchup lacks much history. But who cares. They don't like each other. Both teams have L.A. buzzing. And it provides a early glimpse on how they might fare should they meet in the postseason. There's no need to hide behind that reality.

2. Will Andrew Bynum play? After missing one game because of a sprained left ankle, Bynum told The Times' Melissa Rohlin that he will "try to" play Wednesday against the Clippers. The Lakers list him as day to day, but my hunch is Bynum will play. He didn't limp at all when he was in the locker room before the Lakers-Nets game. This game is also pretty important. The bigger question involves, how will Bynum actually play? Though he's averaged a career-high 17.9 points in his first All-Star season, his rebounding numbers have plummeted to 8.3 boards a game. Considering he's averaged 11.9 this season, that's a clear sign that he's lacked effort lately both on the glass and in getting back on defense. It also remains to be seen whether he'll finally show more respect to Coach Mike Brown.

3. There will be lots of chippiness. The Lakers and Clippers immediately set the tone in their first preseason game. Matt Barnes pushed Blake Griffin to the floor and accused him of flopping. Then, in the first actual game, Griffin pushed rookie Darius Morris while dunking, prompting Coach Brown to earn a technical. The second game featured Metta World Peace tussling with Griffin for a loose ball, while Pau Gasol rubbed Chris Paul's head. There's no reason to think the animosity will suddenly stop. But here's the key: the Lakers must bring this physical play to counter anything the Clippers pull. They can't, however, get too consumed by it. 

4. Ramon Sessions faces another tough test. After racking up his third double-digit performance in the past week, it appears Sessions has grown more comfortable in numerous ways. He's looking for his own shot. Sessions moves off the ball well when Kobe Bryant has possession. Sessions knows how to connect with Gasol well by communicating constantly and delaying his dribble to create more spacing. But there's some inconsistency. The Lakers shot 33% in the second half. Though he helped hold Deron Williams to a six-of-15 shooting night Tuesday against New Jersey, Williams made two late-game three-pointers. That marked a far improvement than when Russell Westbrook lit Sessions up for 36 points last week. But it remains to be seen how Sessions will fare playing underneath Chris Paul's screen-and-roll coverages.

5. Can the Lakers keep up with the Clippers? There are several signs that suggest they'll have a problem doing so. They've played three games in the past four days. Bryant and Gasol have acknowledged fatigue catching up to them. And no matter how much the Lakers tried controlling the pace last week against Oklahoma City, they couldn't keep up with the Thunder's speed. OKC is a much more disciplined team with sharper roles, but the Clippers still push up and down the open court. The only way the Lakers can only counter that is by controlling the tempo.

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Andrew Bynum says he's going to 'try' to play against Clippers

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Email the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com. Follow the Lakers blog on Twitter.

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