Don’t Tell Me This Isn’t A Rivalry: Battle of L.A.
In a game that featured 6 technical fouls, 1 ejection (McRambis), 6 or 7 scrums for loose balls, 10 unnecessary “I really want no part of a fight” stare-downs, 30 chest thumps, and a fired-up Pau, the Los Angeles Lakers outlasted the Los Angeles Clippers for a 96-91 victory @ Staples Center, Wednesday night. Leading up to the meeting, we had players from both sides proclaiming Wednesday’s meeting as “just another game”, but anyone that watched the game would be able to attest to a playoff-type atmosphere and vibe throughout the crowd, building, and on the court. The game was significant enough that Chris Paul decided to test out his sore hamstring, after previously missing the last 5 games. Blake Griffin didn’t disappoint, as he provided an array of crowd pleasing slashes, dunks, and displays of his freakishly unparalleled athletic ability. Aside from the 180°, cork-screw, over-the-shoulder shots over Pau, Griffin makes plays like this that simply make other physically gifted athletes look like run-of-the-mill guys you’d see playing at your local 24-hour Fitness:
Caron Butler and Mo Williams were hot from beyond the arc (7-14 3pts.), but the Lakers’ perimeter defense was able to harness that deadly Clippers’ starting backcourt duo (CP3 and Mr. Big Shot) to the tune of 3/16 fgs., including 0-5 (combined) from 3-point land. Seldom-used rookie, Andrew Goudelock, came in and provided the offensive spark (14 points on 5/8 fg, 2/3 3pts) the Lakers have been in search of. Metta World Peace and Reggie Evans battled as though every possession meant more than it being “just another game” on the schedule. In fact, Metta played the one of the more complete games he’s played in 2 seasons, despite what the box score may tell you. And then there’s that Kobe guy. He shot a bit less, forced the issue into the big’s early and often, and paced the action of the game in a play-making role before hitting timely jumpers and free throws down the stretch. His 7 turnovers not only remind us of his limited ball-handling control, undoubtedly influenced by his wrist injury (even if he would deny it), but also highlight the fact that these Lakers are still in need of a serious upgrade at the point guard position.
For all of those continuing to point out his increased ball-handling under Mike Brown’s new offensive system, what alternative do they have? The Lakers don’t have anyone (not-named-Bryant) that can consistently create their own shot or make a play off the dribble. In fact, for a team already lacking in athleticism and speed around the perimeter, the losses of Shannon Brown’s ability to slash from the weak-side of the offense and Lamar Odom‘s capability of fulfilling the play-maker’s role have never been more evident. Put simply, get some guards that can penetrate and play-make, and Kobe can go back to his natural position/role. Trust me, Kobe would much prefer to be in his “attack-mode” than initiating the offense, anyhow.
The Clippers still have some roster issues of their own. Although Reggie Evans is a guy any team would love to bring off the bench, the Clippers lack interior defense outside of a weak-side blocks. Not that you can discredit DeAndre Jordan for the manner by which he blocks shots, but his 5 total rebounds and inability to consistently defend 1-on-1 in the post without committing fouls are only magnified by Blake Griffin’s (surprising) inability to do the same. You’d think someone with his unrivaled athletic ability, quite frankly, would be a better defender and consistent shot-blocker. That’s not a knock, that’s simply a fact. Not to knit-pick, but as a fan of basketball, I’d much rather see Griffin continue to develop/improve his game instead of resting upon said athleticism. Something, a guy like Amar’e Stoudemire never did, for instance. GM Neil Olshey, with his glut of quality guards, should still be looking for a veteran big man.
Lakers fans, time for a reality check of your own. Don’t let the success of an absolute must-win situation, where everyone rallied, and a few players played about as well as could be asked, make you forget the explicit holes in that roster across the hallway. Sure, Goudelock contributed a spark (last night), but the Lakers have needed to address that position for the past 3 years. As Kobe (naturally) declines, his advantage over his opponent minimizes, and lessens his ability to make up for the short-comings of the point guard position. Not kicking dirt of Fish, as he could be an absolute beast off the bench, but there’s a reason why Mitch Kupchak was willing to trade two major pieces (Pau/Lamar) from a back-to-back championship roster (aside from the obvious) for CP3. Kupchak, and everyone else paying attention to the ‘tea leaves’ (as Max Kellerman often says) realized that even as revitalized as Kobe looks, he (and the Lakers in general) would be FAR more efficient with even a slightly above-average point guard running the show. Those rushed jumpers would be slightly more relaxed, passes would be delivered to shooters in a better rhythm, and the overall pace of the offense would be different if say, someone like Deron Williams were at the point. The rumors have been circulating for months, so no need to re-hash what you can ‘Google’ on your own… but you’d think Kupchak and Baby Buss are going to have to make a decision about whether to continue pursuing Dwight Howard or to go ahead and address the other (more pressing ) team needs at some point in the near future, wouldn’t you?
No, a title was not won, last night. Nor was this nonsensical “Battle for L.A.” many amongst the media have been hyping. Folks, Los Angeles is a Lakers town. It has been for the past 35 years, and will likely remain as such in the future. That’s not to say these Clippers cannot be every bit as viable in the ‘present’, as the teams are currently constructed. Lakers fans and players can ‘act’ as though the Clippers are not relevant, but if that were the case, those same Lakers wouldn’t have acted as though it meant so much once the ball was tipped. If the playoffs started today, the Lakers would be in the 7th seed, while the Clippers would sit in the 4th. Thankfully, for each of these teams, they still have 45-50 games to get things situated…but each GM has only has until March 15th (3pm. est.) to make any significant improvements. The Lakers and Clippers wrap their 3-game season series up on April 4th (Clippers home game), and it will be interesting to see how the complete rosters will fare against each other heading down the stretch. I, for one, would absolutely LOVE the fireworks and potential star-power of a future playoff meeting between the two co-tenants of Staples Center. Barring a 1st-round exit by either team, I may just get my wish.
Jabari A. Davis