Los Angeles Lakers (15-16) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (25-8)
The Clippers-Lakers battle for Los Angeles is getting serious. Serious enough to ask Kobe Bryant about it. And seriuos enough for Kobe Bryant to laugh such a question off.
The real serious issue is that the Clippers are far and away the better team at this point of the season. With the Lakers struggling through all the changes on the roster and on the coaching staff, this is still a team coming together. The Clippers though are a team that feel very put together. They ran through a perfect 17-0 December and have a deep bench that could rival many starting lineups.
Of course that was before the calendar turned to 2013. The Clippers have lost two straight and for a championship team in the spotlight, that always seems to raise questions.
An easy way to fix that problem is to right the ship against the cross-hall rivals at Staples Center in a nominal Clippers home game.
Like the Nets in the New York area, the Clippers are trying to crash the party with an established rival with generations of fans.
Except the Clippers actually have a team that could win a championship. And matching a 10-point win from earlier in the season would be another big win for legitimacy for the Clippers.
Other Storylines to Watch
-No secret, the Lakers are going to be active in the trade market to improve their team. Josh Smith has already been attached to the Lakers and the Lakers are going after him again. It does not seem like Atlanta is willing to deal quite yet.
-Jamal Crawford has been outstanding this season. So good that he has re-established himself as the front runner for Sixth Man of the Year. Kobe Bryant gave Crawford his endorsement for the award so far this year. And you will find few complaints.
Tonight's Other Games
Sacramento Kings (12-20) vs. Toronto Raptors (12-20)
The Kings have a Monday deadline to inform Virginia Beach if they are interested in moving. As of 5:30 p.m. on Friday, it does not seem like the Kings will make that move. But who knows what is really going on with the Maloofs these days?
Brooklyn Nets (17-15) vs. Washington Wizards (4-26)
Andray Blatche had a strange career in Washington, D.C. He put up some great numbers and got plenty of opportunities, but did little else. He certainly did not mature. Eventually the Wizards dumped him using their amnesty clause. But Blatche has looked like a different player in a different atmosphere and has been a big contributor for the Nets this season.
Cleveland Cavaliers (7-26) vs. Charlotte Bobcats (8-23)
The Anderson Varejao trade rumors should be swirling up again soon with the deadline now only a mere two months away. Varejao seems almost certain to be moved to a Playoff team who needs rebounding help and they could be getting an All Star. The early favorite might be Minnesota who has already had brief discussions with Cleveland according to several reports.
Atlanta Hawks (20-10) vs. Detroit Pistons (12-22)
Charlie Villanueva seemed stunned when Sacramento's Isaiah Thomas called him a dirty player. Frankly, many in the NBA might be more surprised that Villanueva is playing. Once in the doghouse, Villanueva is now averaging 16.5 minutes per game and has appeared in 24 of Detroit's 34 games. Villanueva has played decently too with 8.4 points per game on 45.3 percent field goal shooting.
Chicago Bulls (17-13) vs. Miami Heat (22-8)
The Bulls are still figuring out who steps up to replace Derrick Rose and how they might fit in the future. Luol Deng has stepped up and Carlos Boozer had a big game against Orlando on Wednesday. But their futures do not seem so secure with the Bulls figuring out how to move ahead with Rose back in the lineup. For what it is worth now, Deng appears likely to stay and is entrenched in Chicago.
Indiana Pacers (19-13) vs. Boston Celtics (14-17)
The Celtics are going through a transition with all the moving pieces still coming into this proud team. The losing and the sub-.500 record are not sitting well with several Celtics. Most of all Rajon Rondo. There are reports that some of Boston's old guard are upset that the locker room is so light after losses. Something it appears needs to change.
Portland Trail Blazers (16-15) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (20-9)
Nolan Smith had a very strong career at Duke but has struggled to catch on in the NBA. He is playing only 8.2 minutes per game and is falling behind Damian Lillard. He also is not producing. So the question is whether some other team believes he can work for them. If some team believes that, it seems like Portland will move him.
Philadelphia 76ers (15-18) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (24-7)
The Thunder know how to win in the regular season. Everyone knows that this team has their eyes set on defeating the Heat. That is where Oklahoma City knows this path ends. And so you see a guy like Russell Westbrook trying to fight his natural inclination to be a scorer and be more of a distributor, particularly late in games. The problem might be swinging to the other end of the pendulum. There is a balance.
Houston Rockets (18-14) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (16-14)
The Rockets added some help by signing Patrick Beverley. Beverley contributed $300,000 to his buyout from Spartak St. Petersburg. While overseas, Beverley averaged a team-best 14.0 points per game for Spartak in Euroleague play. Beverley should give the Rockets some point guard help.
Utah Jazz (16-17) vs. Phoenix Suns (12-21)
The Jazz have been a bit down lately with the news Mo Williams will miss significant time after surgery on his left thumb. Williams has been out for a few weeks now and the Jazz have played up and down. Utah looks good in the post and with its front line, but inconsistent back court play could derail Utah's Playoff hopes.