The Clippers and Lakers meet Wednesday night for a Clippers home game at Staples Center in what could be unlike a typical NBA preseason game.
The teams are both expected to be among the best in the Western Conference, both upgraded their respective rosters in the offseason, and both played five testy and impassioned games last season, including two in the hurried exhibition schedule immediately after superstar Chris Paul was dealt to the Clippers from New Orleans.
But it’s still the preseason.
There will be no divisional title implications; no video montages under Jay Z’s “Run This Town”; and likely a limited number of minutes for key starters.
Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said Tuesday, “I probably will [rest some players]. I just don’t know who and how we’re going to do it yet.” And according to ESPN Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant (foot) and Dwight Howard (general soreness) are expected to sit out as well for the winless Lakers.
For the Clippers (3-3), it is about improving as a team. But with Wednesday’s matchup sandwiched between their 17-point victory over the Warriors and Thursday’s road game in Denver, it is also about managing the schedule properly.
“Right now we have three in four days and obviously that’s going to happen during the season,” Del Negro said. “But we want to manage it the right way right now because we’re nursing some injuries.”
According to Del Negro, Grant Hill and Lamar Odom have bone bruises in their knees and shooting guard Willie Green has some swelling in his right knee. Green started at shooting guard Monday, playing 18 minutes, while Hill and Odom sat out for the third consecutive time.
Matt Barnes, who is averaging 11.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in six preseason games, said, “We’re just kind of biding our time, trying to get everybody healthy and get ready for the season to start.”
The game will still carry a heightened meaning for Barnes after the 32-year-old forward spent the previous two seasons with the Lakers. “Any time you play against your former team, you’re a little more excited, but at the same time it’s still preseason,” he said after practice Tuesday. “You just hope you can get out of the game with everybody healthy and continue to improve.”
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Giving too much away. The Clippers open the regular season in a week against the Memphis Grizzlies. Two days later, they play the first of four regular season games against the Lakers. Given the proximity of the next matchup, it’s likely the teams will not want to give up too much in the way of offensive and defensive sets. Barnes called Wednesday’s game merely a “little tune up” for when the teams meet “for real” on Nov. 2.
Bi-partisan crowd. Much like last season, the Clippers downplayed the rivalry between the two teams, but the crowd at Staples Center certainly considers it a rivalry. Barnes, who has been on both sides, talked about it Tuesday: “I think it’s the anticipation of the fans in the city of L.A., knowing what kind of team we put together and knowing what they’ve put together and what kind of showdowns they’re going to see this year and tomorrow will be a small part of it.”
Getting past the preseason. While the Clippers are still putting sets in place and establishing better communication on the defensive side of the floor, it sounds like they are getting antsy for the start of the regular season.
“I hate to say [preseason games] don’t mean anything because they kind of do, but I think all of our guys are ready to get the real games underway,” Blake Griffin said.
Expect Del Negro to continue mixing in new wrinkles when it comes to the rotation. In Monday’s 88-71 win over the Warriors, he used Barnes, Green, Jamal Crawford, and Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt next to Paul.
DeAndre Jordan is averaging 13.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 26.3 minutes per game this preseason… Barnes, Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Caron Butler all played at least one season for the Lakers… Injured guard Steve Blake (foot) recorded his only career triple-double against the Lakers while he was a member of the Clippers. Blake played 29 games with the Clippers before signing as a free agent with the Lakers in 2010… Since 2009, the Clippers are 4-2 in the regular season against the Lakers when they are the designated home team… The Clippers beat the Lakers twice last preseason… Backup big men Turiaf and Ryan Hollins have combined for 30 points, 29 rebounds and three blocked shots in the last three games.