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The Kings and Clippers Are Very Interesting Teams

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lakerskings01
lakerskings01

Today, I'm earning my lavish salary - the hard way. Any hack with a keyboard can bang out 800 words about crucial games against the Magic and Spurs. Those posts write themselves. What takes true talent, not to mention an unhealthy tolerance for tedium, is crafting a piece about an inconsequential, end-of-season set against the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers. To call these "glorified exhibition games" would be an insult to both exhibition games and the gripping Civil War drama Glory. Here I am writing about them all the same, silencing the doubters who said it couldn't be done.

Technically the Lakers could still catch and pass Orlando for home-court advantage in that theoretical Finals matchup. And I'm not one who thinks that prize to be valueless. Yes, the Lakers captured the 2009 title on the Magic's home court, but at this point it's safe to say that the world has changed since then. This year's Lakers are materially worse on the road than were last year's. Regardless, Orlando would have to lose at home tomorrow night to the 76ers, which is obviously not happening.

So the Lakers' playoff position is written in ink at this point. That doesn't mean they can't put these final games to good use. From a scouting perspective, the Kings and Clippers are helpful, down-market proxies for what the Lakers will see in the first round from the Oklahoma City Thunder. For instance, like the Thunder, the Kings have a powerful, athletic point guard who struggles from outside but vigorously attacks the rim. Trying to guard Tyreke Evans will help get the Laker backcourt acclimated to grotesque humiliation the challenge posed by Russell Westbrook. And like the Thunder, the Clippers have.... well, they have guys who play basketball.

Unfortunately, the Lakers won't have an opportunity to get their playoff rotation set (to borrow some baseball vernacular). Kobe Bryant is electing to sit out the back-to-back, undoubtedly a good idea given his compromised physical condition. And Andrew Bynum just resumed on-court activities and won't be back until the start of the playoffs, at the earliest. (Forgive the hedge: I'll believe Drew's back when I done seen him in a game.)

All of which leaves one overriding goal for the Lakers in this back-to-back: stay healthy. The team is living on a knife's edge as it is. One more significant injury and that's it. They're finished. Phil Jackson should play the key guys (Pau Gasol, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom) no more than 20 minutes each night. Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic and DJ Mbenga should be given ample floor time. Adam Morrison should get a warm farewell from the Staples Center crowd, just in case he doesn't find his way into a home playoff game.

On the subject of Phil, I do find myself wondering where head is at, as we careen toward the playoffs. He's made two kooky moves lately - first, the failure to call an endgame timeout in Denver, and then the play that set up a Gasol three-point attempt on Sunday. (I repeat: Pau Gasol three-point attempt.) The latter he's now explaining, in convoluted fashion, as a tactic intended to rehabilitate Derek Fisher (apparently the first option on the play) after his earlier failspasms, and honestly, the explanation only made things worse. My personal preference would be that Phil worry first about winning games, not about the apparently delicate mental state of his alleged coach-on-the-floor veteran point guard.

These two bizarre decisions, neither really defensible, suggest to me the thought process of someone who knows he's about to leave his job. They're Don Nelson moves. If they work, you get to be the eccentric genius. If they don't, whatever. Win or lose, you're done soon, and in the meantime at least you had a little fun experimenting.

I don't pretend to know all the dynamics and emotional cross-currents at work in the Phil-Jerry Buss relationship. I do think it very likely that Dr. Buss will, if he asks Phil back at all, require that he take a paycut. I think Phil has the same expectation and that he's pissed off about it. Which would be understandable, as nobody enjoys feeling devalued. But Phil's responsibilities to the Lakers and their fans require that he put whatever disgruntlement he's experiencing aside. That he seal it off from his in-game decisions. As much as any of the Laker players, he needs to pull himself out of his second-half slump.

With that bit of finger-wagging, I'm up to 750 words. Will anyone feel cheated if I knock off early? No? KTHX BAI.

Lakers

Kings

Clippers

RECORD

56-24 (3)

25-56 (27)

28-53 (23)

NET POINTS PER GAME

+5.0 (5)

-4.3 (25)

-6.6 (28)

PACE

92.8 (14)

94.0 (6)

92.6 (15)

OFFENSIVE RATING

108.8 (11)

105.2 (22)

103.1 (28)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

12.4% (4)

13.7% (19)

14.8% (29)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.29 (20)

0.29 (21)

0.29 (19)

Free-Throw %

76.6 (12)

72.6 (28)

72.9 (26)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.23 (12)

0.20 (21)

0.22 (15)

3PT% (Off.)

34.0 (24)

34.8 (17)

33.0 (27)

Effective FG% (Off.)

49.6 (15)

49.0 (24)

49.0 (23)

True Shooting% (Off.)

54.0 (15)

52.7 (24)

52.7 (23)

Off Rebounding Rate

27.5% (9)

27.8% (6)

27.2% (11)

DEFENSIVE RATING

103.5 (5)

109.7 (20)

110.1 (23)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

13.2% (20)

12.6% (23)

12.2% (26)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.26 (2)

0.32 (22)

0.29 (13)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.23 (21)

0.20 (5)

0.22 (12)

3PT% (Def.)

32.7 (1)

35.8 (19)

36.2 (22)

Effective FG% (Def.)

48.3 (5)

50.4 (19)

50.9 (21)

True Shooting% (Def.)

52.1 (2)

54.8 (21)

54.8 (21)

Def Rebounding Rate

74.5% (9)

73.5% (17)

74.0% (11)

Numbers in parentheses indicate league rank. All numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData.

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