While much has been made of the Clippers ascension to the top spot in the L.A. sports hierarchy, the other occupant of the Staples Center is the last of the Lakers concerns as they head into the All-Star break. At 25-28 and 2.5 games out of the No. 8 seed out West, the Lakers just need wins against anyone at this point.
However, despite the incredible amount of off-the-court turmoil surrounding the team, they have played better in recent weeks. The Lakers come into Thursday night's game with an 8-3 mark in their last 11 games, even with Pau Gasol out and Dwight Howard's latest problems with ... it's hard to even keep track anymore honestly, but presumably several people, if not the entire NBA.
Silver Screen & Roll, SB Nation's Lakers blog, looks at the developing but sometimes fractious chemistry between Howard and Nash.
The Clippers, meanwhile, are just starting to find their legs again after a tough stretch in January where they lost 8 of 11 games. But now that Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Blake Griffin are back in the line-up, they can resume their sights on one of the top two seeds out West, which would at least give them home-court advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Clips Nation, SB Nation's Clippers blog, has a look at how a resurgent L.A. team made quick work of the Rockets on Wednesday.
The most intriguing match-up on Thursday will come in the back-court, where Mike D'Antoni will have to figure out where he can hide Steve Nash on defense. In the last meeting between these two teams, a 107-102 Clippers victory in early January, Kobe Bryant embraced the challenge of defending Paul. However, that was several re-inventions ago, and it's unclear whether Kobe has the legs to be the team's primary playmaker, scorer and defender over the course of a 48 minute game.
The Clippers will likely try to push their advantage when the second units come into the game. Led by Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, the Clippers bench is one of the deepest and most athletic units in the NBA, which could cause serious problems for a thin and injury-plagued Lakers group of reserves. It's also another opportunity for Lamar Odom to play against his former team, although the days of the former Sixth Man of the Year putting scares into his opponents have likely come and gone.
Nevertheless, he's still a link to the Lakers last two championships in 2009 and 2010, which suddenly seem like a lifetime away. The Clippers are -3 point favorites for a game that tips at 10:30 p.m. ET on TNT.