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Preview: Lakers at Clippers

The Clippers (54-23) are having one of their best years — if not the best — in franchise history. The Lakers could be nearing their worst (25-51).

The local teams will meet Sunday afternoon for a fourth and final time this season at Staples Center. The Clippers will move on to the playoffs while the Lakers will participate in May's NBA draft lottery.

The Lakers stole the season opener, stunning the Clippers 116-103.  The Clippers got revenge twice, beating the Lakers 123-87 and 142-94 — the latter being the largest margin of defeat in Lakers' history.

Pau Gasol (vertigo), Chris Kaman (calf), Steve Nash (back, ankle), Xavier Henry (knee), Jordan Farmar (groin) and Kobe Bryant (knee) are all expected to miss Sunday's game.

The Clippers will also play without Jamal Crawford (Achilles) and Danny Granger (hamstring).

Key matchup

Blake Griffin is having an MVP-caliber season, averaging 24.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists a game.

While he's been slowed recently with back spasms, Griffin is still a lot to handle for any team with his athleticism. Beyond his well-known dunking skill, Griffin has improved his jump shot and free throws, along with his defense.

With Gasol out and Kaman not expected to play, the Lakers will need a strong performance from Jordan Hill.

Hill was a big part of the Lakers' win over the Clippers back in October.  On Friday night, he notched his fourth double-double in eight games with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

On the season, playing primarily behind players such as Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre, Gasol and Kaman, Hill has averaged 9.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in 20.1 minutes a night.

Hill may not match up directly against Griffin, but then again the Lakers may prefer him defensively against the Clippers All-Star over the rookie Kelly.

X-factor

Chris Paul is averaging a double-double with 18.9 points and 10.8 assists a game. The Lakers know they've got to deal with one of the top point guards in the NBA.

The X-factor for the Clippers of late has been Darren Collison, who has filled in for injured teammates — including Paul, Crawford and Granger, often at two-guard.

While he stands at an even 6-feet tall, Collison and the Clippers' defense have managed to avoid any significant mismatches.

If the Lakers were playing Bryant at two-guard, that might be a problem, but with Jodie Meeks (6-foot-4), the size difference shouldn't be an issue for the Clippers.

Nick Young (6-foot-7) would be a mismatch for Collison, but with Young off the bench, the Clippers can counter defensively with players such as Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley and Reggie Bullock.

Meeks (15.4 points a game) and Young (17.2) have been big scorers for the Lakers this season.

Kent Bazemore (13.6 with the Lakers) is another offensive option, given the dearth of available big men.

Outlook

The Lakers have surprised a few teams, but the Clippers aren't likely to fall victim — not after giving up the season opener.

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Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

 

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