Clippers teammates Caron Butler, left, and Chris Paul defend Lakers forward… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Blake Griffin was asked whether the Clippers, coming off a hard-fought win over the Miami Heat in overtime, planned to make another "statement" against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers on Saturday night.
"These statement games — I mean, it's big in college," the power forward said. But speaking of the NBA's abbreviated 66-game schedule this season, Griffin said: "We could win 10 statement games and lose the other 56."
Indeed, the Clippers downplayed suggestions that they have an advantage or even momentum going into the Lakers game at Staples Center merely because the Clippers topped a strong Miami team or because they twice defeated the Lakers in pre-season.
"Pre-season is all good and well, but it's really not the intensity of a regular-season game," point guard Chris Paul said after the team practiced Friday in Playa Vista. "This is a [Pacific] division game for us, a big game for us."
Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said one key to defeating the Lakers is "we have to control their rebounding … control them on the glass," and the Clippers have their work cut out.
Going into Friday night's play, the Lakers were first in rebounding among the 30 NBA teams, with an average of 46.8 rebounds per game, while the Clippers were last with 37.
Then there's Bryant. "Obviously you've got to make Kobe beat you from over the top, try to keep him off the free-throw line as much as possible," Del Negro said. "And like any good team, you want to limit their easy baskets."
The Clippers overall have to show better defensive moves "for longer stretches," he said. "We might do them for three, four, five, six minutes. We have to learn to do them for 10, 11, 12 minutes. We have to play a complete game, which I don't think we've done" yet this year.
With the Clippers acquiring Paul, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler in the off-season, forward Ryan Gomes is seeing less playing time, an average 13.8 minutes per game versus 27.6 minutes last season. But Gomes said he's accepted his role.
"I remain positive," said Gomes, who is averaging 3.1 points per game this season. "The opportunity will present itself. Maybe it will present itself a little more now" with the abbreviated schedule, which doesn't allow the starting players as much rest between games.
"Coming into this season, did I think it would be where I'm at now? No, but we've only played eight games," said Gomes, now in his seventh NBA season.
For now, "when you come out [of a game] and the coaches say you did what you needed to do, then I can go home and sleep at night and be happy with that," he said.