Are the Lakers better than the Clippers?
To make the playoffs, the Lakers need to be better than seven teams in the Western Conference.
In looking at five of the 14 teams already, the Lakers were ruled better than the New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz but not as good as the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs.
Are the Lakers better than the Clippers?
Chris Paul is arguably the best point guard in the NBA. Darren Collison is arguably the best reserve point guard in the NBA.
Even with Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar in top form, the Clippers have the advantage over the Lakers -- and just about every other team in the league.
In addition to his ability to score with the game on the line, Paul is a pass-first point guard. Nash is historically the better shooter, but he’s nearing the age of 40 and is no longer on the same level.
Collison is a feisty reserve, capable of starting. The Clippers also have Maalik Wayns for spot minutes.
The Lakers are deeper at the point than they were last year but not on par with the Clippers.
If Kobe Bryant returns in full from his Achilles’ tendon tear, he gives the Lakers one of the top guards in NBA history. But when the two teams play on opening night Oct. 29, the Clippers should have the advantage.
The Clippers likely start J.J. Redick at shooting guard to help spread the floor. Under normal circumstances, he probably wouldn’t get the primary defensive assignment on Bryant -- at least when (and if) the Lakers All-Star is back to full strength. Small forwards like Jared Dudley and Matt Barnes would likely get the call opposite Bryant.
Jamal Crawford is the best reserve on the two teams at the position and is certainly capable of starting. Depth for the Clippers in the backcourt is not an issue. They can also play Willie Green, Reggie Bullock, Dudley, Barnes and even Collison at the two.
Behind Bryant, the Lakers boast a long list of players who will fight for minutes, including Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry and Darius Johnson-Odom (the last two are camp invitees who still have to make the team), as well as point guards Blake and Farmar.
The Lakers are better than the Clippers at shooting guard with Bryant playing as well as he has the last 17 seasons. Whether that’s who the Lakers have in Bryant remains to be seen.
The Clippers might start Dudley at small forward with Barnes playing big minutes as a reserve. Both are capable defenders. While Dudley is a more consistent shooter, Barnes plays exceptionally well without the ball.
Bullock, who is a rookie, might not get many minutes this season. The Clippers may also play Antawn Jamison and Crawford at the three if needed.
The Lakers will likely start offensive-minded Young with Johnson backing him up as the stronger defender.
Shawne Williams, Marcus Landry and Elias Harris, each fighting to make the final roster, bring shooting and toughness to the position. Harris still needs to develop his outside shot but brings versatility to the floor.
Bryant could also play some small forward, although in general, the Clippers have the advantage.
Blake Griffin is one of the best power forwards in the league. Athletically, he’s unmatched. While he needs to refine his game with a more consistent jump shot, truer fundamental and stronger defense -- he’s still at least in the top few players at his position.
If the Lakers start Pau Gasol at four, the Lakers have the advantage in size and skill. Gasol is coming off an injury-plagued season playing a secondary role in the post to the departed Dwight Howard.
The Clippers also have Jamison and rookie Brandon Davies. The team has also been linked in reports to the physical forward Lou Amundson. Byron Mullens could see time at power forward.
For the Lakers, Jordan Hill could start with Gasol moving to center. If not, Hill adds athleticism, rebounding and shot-blocking to the team’s bench.
Elias Harris and Ryan Kelly are young reserves for the Lakers at power forward, with both fighting to make the team. Small forwards Williams and Landry can also play at the four.
The Clippers have the edge at power forward but not by much if Gasol has a resurgent season.
DeAndre Jordan might be the key to the Clippers’ season. The team is reliant on him as their defensive anchor but Jordan shot less than 40% from the free-throw line last year.
At his best, Jordan is a talented shot-blocker and athletic dunker. Will teams counter that by sending him to the line repeatedly?
Behind Jordan, the Clippers have another athletic center in Ryan Hollins. In addition to regular foul trouble, Hollins isn’t much of an offensive threat. Mullens can shoot and score but isn’t as strong a defender.
Griffin may play minutes at center for the Clippers. If the team does sign Amundson, he too could play a role at the five.
The Lakers may start former Clipper Chris Kaman, who is far more skilled offensively than Jordan, although he’s not nearly as athletic.
Gasol could start with Kaman off the bench but either way, both will play significant minutes at center. Hill can also play five along with Robert Sacre. The Lakers have also invited Eric Boateng to camp, although he’ll have to show a lot very quickly to make the team.
The Lakers are more reliable at center and thus have the advantage.
Who is Better?
Last season the Clippers won 56 games, the Lakers 45.
A strong season will see the Clippers win between 55 and 60 games. The Lakers may be hard pressed to exceed or match 45.
If Bryant returns quickly and to his norm, and if both Gasol and Nash stay healthy, the Lakers may be an underrated team in the West.
A lot has to go right, but even at their best, the Lakers are unlikely to catch the Clippers in both the Pacific Division and Western Conference.
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Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.
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