On Saturday the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers will meet for the first time this season in a much-anticipated regular-season matchup. The two teams played twice during the preseason, but the intensity simply wasn't there. With the Clippers trying to claim the title of best team in LA and the Lakers looking to hang onto that distinction, this should be a highly-competitive game.
While the Clippers have shown flashes following a huge offseason that saw them land big names like Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler, they have gotten off to a bit of a slow start at 5-3. The Lakers have been inconsistent in their own right, but have stabilized and currently sit at a respectable 8-4.
This game may not actually prove anything about either team, but it is truly a symbolic battle for ownership of Los Angeles. Here are five players who will have the biggest impact on the high-profile clash.
F Pau Gasol (LAL)
After nearly being traded to the Houston Rockets during the offseason in a three-team deal that would have brought point guard Chris Paul to the Lakers, there was concern that Lakers power forward Pau Gasol would have trouble playing at a high level. Gasol hasn't been dominant, but he continues to be a consistent producer with 16.4 points and nearly 10 rebounds per contest.
Even with center DeAndre Jordan patrolling the paint the Clippers can be scored on inside. Too much of the offensive burden has landed on the shoulders of aging shooting guard Kobe Bryant, so I expect Gasol to become even more involved offensively in the coming games, particularly against the Clippers.
C Andrew Bynum (LAL)
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Despite missing the first four games of the season due to a suspension stemming from an incident in last season's playoffs, center Andrew Bynum has been the Lakers' most important player not named Kobe Bryant. Perhaps the extra rest at the beginning of the season paid off for Bynum as his balky knees have held up so far and his production has been great.
Bynum is currently averaging 17 points, 14 rebounds and over two blocks per game and may already be the best center in the league aside from Orlando's Dwight Howard. If Bynum can lock down the paint defensively and get involved on offense the Lakers have a great chance against the Clippers.
G Chris Paul (LAC)
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Clippers point guard Chris Paul very nearly ended up with the Lakers this offseason, but an agreed-upon deal was vetoed by the league office, allowing the Clips to swoop in and nab him. Paul has been as good as advertised and has been the ringleader of an explosive offense. His 16 points, nine assists and nearly three steals per game have been absolutely invaluable to the Clippers.
You have to believe the Lakers will be extra determined to shut down Paul after the developments of the offseason, but Paul can't allow what happened to affect his play. If the Clippers are going to win this game and succeed over the long haul, then CP3 will have to be at his best as a scorer and distributor.
G Kobe Bryant (LAL)
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Despite the fact that he is 33 years old and has to get pain injections in his wrist on a nightly basis, Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant is playing at an MVP level. He is unquestionably the reason the Lakers have had any success so far this season as he is dropping over 30 points per game as well as nearly six assists and six rebounds.
Gasol and Bynum can alleviate a little bit of the pressure on offense, but in terms of perimeter players, Bryant is all the Lakers have. Because of that he essentially has to carry the ball up the court, create his own shots and create shots for others. Also, he is often charged with defending the opposing team's best offensive player. Since Kobe is a jack of all trades, he'll need to come up big in all aspects on Saturday.
It could be argued that Clippers power forward Blake Griffin is more style than substance, but there is no question that he continues to produce with the best of them. He is currently shooting 53 percent from the floor while averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds. That type of production will be paramount against the Lakers.
Griffin won't have an easy time against the gargantuan front court of Bynum and Gasol, but he'll have to find a way to contribute in a big way offensively. While defense isn't his strong suit, Griffin will also have to put in a good effort in that aspect since the combo of Bynum and Gasol is perfectly capable of taking over a game. bleacherreport.com