Lakers 113 - Clippers 92

After this game, it is clear that this version of the Clippers cannot compete with the good teams in the league.  I'm not even particularly ready to declare that the Lakers are good.  But I do know that the Clippers are bad.  At least until Sam Cassell gets back, if you can force Chris Kaman into a tough night (as Andrew Bynum did tonight, blocking three of his shots and holding him to 6 for 19 shooting), the Clippers have little else they can do.

There was a time when I doubted Phil Jackson as a coach.  I definitely thought he was overrated.  Certainly he had some distinct advantages in achieving success, with Michael Jordan in Chicago and Shaq and Kobe in LA.  But the last few seasons he's made a believer of me.  The guy can coach - particularly on the offensive end.  

The Lakers second unit (Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Trevor Ariza, Vlad Radmanovic and Chris Mihm) is just as unlikely as any team the Clippers can put on the floor.  But they run the triangle, they move without the ball, they pass, and they get good shots.  Sure, a couple of those guys can actually shoot, and that helps.  But it is the movement and the passing that you notice.  I enjoy watching the Lakers play significantly more when Kobe is on the bench.  Some people like a great one-on-one move.  Give me a cut off the ball and a couple quick passes any time.  Well-coached teams get good shots, regardless of who they put on the floor.  Did you see the Spurs the other night, missing both Duncan and Parker?  They still got good shots.  

MDsr is a defense-first coach, and the results are evident - on the offensive end.  The Clippers do far too much standing - neither the ball nor the players move a lot.  Most offensive sets are designed to isolate whatever matchup the coach thinks is most advantageous.  Sure, it can be effective at times, and the Clippers are far from the only NBA team to employ the strategy.  But it ain't pretty.  And it didn't work tonight.

With the exception of the third quarter, when Corey Maggette scored 21 of his 27 points in a fine individual effort, the Clippers struggled mightily on offense, as they do most nights.  They finished the game shooting 38.8%.  And while the Lakers defense is improved versus a year ago, it's certainly not their strong suit.  But with Bynum's size and length bothering Kaman, and so much firepower wearing nice suits behind the Clipper bench (including Tim Thomas sitting out with a sprained ankle), it was extraordinarily difficult to get the ball in the hoop.  In falling behind 29-11, the Clippers had 2 points from Knight, 2 points from Ross, 6 from Davis and a single free throw from Kaman.  When 10 of your 11 points after 11 minutes have come from Knight, Ross and Davis, you're in for a long night.  The Clippers ended up with 15 in the first quarter, and 7 of those were second chance points.  That means the Clippers got  8 points, 4 buckets, running their 'offense', and I use the term loosely.

Still Maggette's 3rd quarter outburst threatened to make it interesting.  His 21 points included 9 of 10 from the line, 6 points in the lane, a three pointer early in the quarter, and a 3/4 court heave as time expired.  That unlikely shot (which never should have occurred - Maggette had dribbled the ball off his own foot before retrieving it, so it should have been a backcourt violation before the shot even went up) cut what had been a 19 point Lakers lead to 6 at the end of the quarter.  The Clippers, closer than they had been since early in the first quarter, should have taken all the momentum into the fourth.  

Instead, the Lakers outscored them 14-1 to start the quarter, building the lead right back up to 19, and the game was over.  

No one save Maggette looked particularly good for the Clippers tonight.  After Corey's 27, Kaman had 18 points, but he took 19 shots to get them.  He did have 16 boards (7 offensive) for yet another double-double, but if you like offensive efficiency, then Andrew Bynum was your preferred LA based NBA center tonight, going 7 for 9.  Bynum also blocked 6 shots while Kaman had none.  Davis and Dickau each had 10.  Most of Davis' points were trash truck stuff, just hanging around the lane and picking up the garbage.  As I said in pre-season, I like his passing a lot - he had one great bounce pass to Maggette for an assist.  Seems like 10 points and 5 rebounds maybe warranted more than 19 minutes for Paul.  As for Dickau, I tend to like the team better with him at the helm right now simply because they are so desperate for offense, and Dickau for Knight is an obvious upgrade on that end.  But the team has trouble regardless - Dickau was after all the point guard in the fourth quarter when the Lakers put the game away.

I am looking forward to the time that Sam Cassell can once again play, just to see if this team can find any semblance of an offensive identity again.  Until that time, we can expect more ugly losses.

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