Nothing would be sweeter for the Los Angeles Lakers than to head into All-Star weekend with a victory against their cross-town rivals. The only problem is the L.A. Clippers are good. Like, really good. Heading into Thursday’s Battle of L.A., the Clippers sit atop the NBA’s Pacific Division with a record of 37-17 and rank fourth in numberFire’s own team efficiency rankings. Plus, it doesn’t hurt when you’re led by an MVP candidate in Chris Paul, who is posting a ridiculous 17 point, 10 assist output per game on the year.
With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that the Clippers are 2-0 against the Lakers this season; with defensive turnover prowess and overall athletic ability that typically favors Lob City. In tonight’s matchup, if the Lakers turn the ball over too much and allow the Clippers to run a track meet, then the Battle of Los Angeles will turn into the Battle of Lob Angeles.
One reason the Clippers can be so efficient on offense, even when playing at an average pace, is because they force so many turnovers on the defensive end. In fact, the Clippers' 15.8 turnover percentage and 541 total team steals both lead the league.
Much of the thievery is thanks to the dangerous defensive duo of Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe, who together are one and two respectively in steal percentage. But don’t sleep on Blake Griffin either, who for a big man, is very adept at stepping out on passing lanes and disrupting offenders. The Lakers are typically a turnover-prone team, (29th in the NBA in TO%) so it’s essential for Team Yellow to play mistake-free basketball to prevent being run out of their own gym.
One thing the Lakers can bank on this season is being a successful team from the free throw line. This may seem like a surprise to some because their 69 percent free throw rate is very poor. But free throw factor is a measure of both how often a team gets to the line and how often they make them, using the formula FTM/FGA. Thus, due to the Dwight Howard factor, the Lakers attempt so many free throws that they actually become a very good team from the charity stripe. By advanced metrics standards, LAL needs to win the free throw battle - not only to accumulate points, but to slow down the Clipper juggernaut.
If you're looking for the Clippers perspective on this game, check out Yulian Fedulov's Clippers piece from yesterday previewing both yesterday's Rockets game and tonight's Lakers game.