Clippers at Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers will head into the All-Star break in very different places in the Western Conference standings. While the Clippers sit in the Lakers’ customary position atop the Pacific Division, the Lakers, who play host to the Clippers at their shared arena on Thursday, are still outside the top eight in the West. The Lakers will be aiming for back-to-back wins heading into the break.
The Lakers have begun to pick things up over the last few weeks and have won eight of their last 11 despite injuries to their big men. Kobe Bryant has remade himself as a distributor while fellow All-Star Dwight Howard plays through a torn labrum in his shoulder. The Clippers have won three in a row and easily dispatched of the Houston Rockets in their return to Staples Center on Wednesday. Chauncey Billups returned to the lineup in that one, giving the team a fully-healthy starting lineup.
TV: 10:30 p.m. ET, TNT
ABOUT THE CLIPPERS (38-17): The Clippers have taken each of the first two meetings between the Staples Center rivals this season, posting a 105-95 win as the road team on Nov. 2 and grabbing a 107-102 triumph as the home team on Jan. 4. Chris Paul averaged 24 points and 14 assists in the two contests. The Clippers put together one of the best first quarters in NBA history on Wednesday, going 17-of-22 from the floor en route to 46 points in the frame. Caron Butler and Billups combined to go 5-for-5 from 3-point range in the quarter. The Clippers have averaged 105 points in winning the last three games and have held opponents to 91.3 points in that span. They will be playing the second night of a back-to-back against the Lakers but did not have any player log more than 32 minutes on Wednesday.
ABOUT THE LAKERS (25-28): The Lakers are assured of being under .500 at the All-Star break but are a much better team than they were only a few weeks ago, when a loss at Memphis dropped them to 17-25. Bryant did not even record his first field goal until late in Tuesday’s game and finished with only four points as the Lakers held on for a 91-85 win over Phoenix. Bryant has averaged 8.7 assists in the last three games and is handing the ball off frequently during the recent surge while Steve Nash spots up for outside shots and Howard works the low block. The Lakers have also turned in some of their better defensive efforts of late, holding opponents to 96.3 points over the last 11 games. Los Angeles is getting good production out of role players like Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace and Earl Clark, which gives Bryant some freedom to try new things in the offense. The star guard did not even record a field-goal attempt in the first half on Tuesday, passing up open shots in favor of passes to the likes of Jamison and Clark.
1. Bryant scored 38 points the last time the teams met and has averaged 26 points in 62 career games against the Clippers.
2. Clippers F Blake Griffin is shooting 62.8 percent in four games since returning from a hamstring injury.
3. Howard is averaging 15.3 points and 12.7 rebounds in the last three games.
Clippers 101, Lakers 95.