Clippers vs. Lakers: Finally an intriguing matchup

By Matt “Money” Smith
FOX Sports West and PRIME TICKET

For the first time in a long time, the contest between the Lakers and Clippers this Sunday on PRIME TICKET contains some serious drama and compelling storylines.

I understand it’s not playoff-level suspense, a Jordan Chase going down in a season-ending episode of Dexter type cliffhanger, but for a regular season game, it’s at the very least on the level of a Sami vs. Deena blowout in the kitchen on the Jersey Shore.

I am well aware the two teams are on opposite sides of the Western Conference Standings. The Clippers currently rest in 13th place with just one more win than the Lakers have losses. While a long shot, there is some hope that the current slide of the Portland Trail Blazers, who in eighth place with a 20-19 record aren’t getting better, you combine that with the Clips not only playing better, but just using the eyeball test, being better, than any of the teams ahead of them, has provided the smallest of openings. That has Vinny Del Negro’s bunch looking at every contest before their brutal 10-game road trip as a must win.

The way the rest of the year lays out, the Clippers are going to have a heck of a time finishing out 28-17 to put them at .500. But it doesn’t look like it will take a 41-41 record to grab that eight spot. And when you consider the Clippers 1-13 start to the season, if they were to sneak in with a 39-43 record, they would have done it by going 38-30 after stumbling out of the gate. By no stretch would I consider a team that was playing at a rate to give them a 47-win season a pushover in the least. These next two weeks will tell the Clippers whether or not they’re going to accomplish the inconceivable and make the playoffs, or once again hope the white ping pong balls bounce their way. It starts up in Golden State a team right ahead of them in the standings, and is followed up with another test on Sunday against the school bully that’s been kicking them around the building since it opened.

As for that bully, they can say whatever they want about focusing on every game, taking them as though they’re playoff contests, but that’s not how this team is thinking. They’re at the stage now where they want to get to the playoffs as quickly as possible, and as healthy as possible. I’m sure the Lakers would like home court advantage, but they’re good enough to win a game on the road in order to gain it back no matter who the opponent might be.

The team is streaking, having won six in a row, but you wouldn’t know it based on the conversation about their play and their focus. They lost Matt Barnes for eight weeks with a knee injury, Andrew Bynum is still in the “getting better” phase, and Pau Gasol looks to have hit the wall a little bit early this year and clearly needs a some rest. Down five in the loss column to the Spurs for the best record in the league is a big hole indeed, but as I said, the Lakers know they can get a win in San Antonio if that’s what it comes down to in the postseason.

In the game Sunday, it won’t be so much Lakers vs. Clippers that gains top billing, but Lamar Odom vs. Blake Griffin. These two are battling for that All-Star selection, Odom contributing to a team with one of the best records in the league while posting modest numbers (15.6 points/9.7 rebounds/3.0 assists) while Griffin is perhaps behind only LeBron James as the most exciting player in the league. Odom desperately wants to make his first All-Star team, and this has been his best shot at it his whole career. Meanwhile, it’s hard to keep the first rookie since Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson to average 20 points and 12 rebounds per game from playing on Feb. 20 at STAPLES Center. His totals are better than Odom’s in every category (21.8 points/12.7 rebounds/3.4 assists) but of course he’s playing for the 13-win Clippers and not the 29-11 Lakers.

If I were a coach, I might keep an eye on this head-to-head matchup when making my decision of who ought to get the invite. If you’re kind hearted, you could make the case Griffin will be a perennial All-Star for years to come, and this might be Odom’s last shot at getting the nod.

If you just want to see the better player get in, and don’t care much about the emotions involved there’s no question it’s an obvious choice, and it’s not the guy with his own TV show.