Apparently the recommendation for this game was if you have won a major NBA award you should sit out. So Chris Paul (2006 Rookie of the Year), Grant Hill (1995 Rookie of the Year), Lamar Odom (2011 Sixth Man Award), Jamal Crawford (2010 Sixth Man Award), Chauncey Billups (2004 NBA Finals MVP), Kobe Bryant (2008 NBA MVP plus a couple of Finals MVPs) and Dwight Howard (2009-2011 Defensive Player of the Year) all took the night off, either because of injuries or simply to rest. Only Blake Griffin (2011 Rookie of the Year), Steve Nash (2005-2006 NBA MVP), Pau Gasol (2002 Rookie of the Year) and Metta World Peace (2004 Defensive Player of the Year) didn't get the memo, and Griffin and Nash at least had the good sense to sit out the fourth quarter.
(By the way, how amazing is that list for L.A. basketball? Eleven winners of individual NBA honors on the two rosters, several of them winners multiple times. Four rookies of the year alone, and neither Kobe Bryant nor Dwight Howard won the top honor for rookies. Wow.)
With all of those starters and regulars sitting out, the preseason game between the Clippers and the Lakers went from almost meaningless to completely meaningless. Still, it's fun to beat the Lakers 97-91, and it's especially fun to keep them winless in the preseason. And if nothing else the game was a chance to watch Eric Bledsoe play a lot.
And play he did. With Paul and Crawford taking the night off and Billups yet to return to game action after Achilles surgery, Bledsoe played 44 minutes in the game, including the entire second half. He responded with 22 points, 11 assists, 9 steals and 4 rebounds, missing a fairly unusual triple-double by a single steal. He was a one man tornado on the court, wreaking havoc wherever he went. It got to the point where Lakers point guard Steve Blake, a very steady ballhandler usually, would just get the ball to someone else to run the offense rather than face Bledsoe's on ball pressure. Bledsoe clearly has star potential in this league, and will be there sooner rather than later if he can find some consistency and a slightly better jump shot.
Aside from Bledsoe, the Clippers got some important contributions from unexpected sources. Matt Barnes continued his outstanding preseason play with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. He was plus 22 in 31 minutes for the game and to say that the Clippers were better with him on the floor instead of Willie Green would be a pretty solid understatement. Ryan Hollins had yet another good game as well, finishing with authority on three separate baseline jams and making a handful of solid defensive plays. And Travis Leslie had probably his best game in a Clippers uniform, scoring six straight points in the fourth quarter when the Lakers had closed the gap to within a point.
Blake Griffin was also very good in his 26 minutes, with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Most of his points came on jump shots, which he took with confidence and regularity. He also had one highlight reel left handed jam.
The Clippers have just one more preseason game left, tomorrow night against the Nuggets. Paul and Crawford will be back for that one, a final chance to work on some in game situations before next week. The added depth we've talked so much about seems real, and will come in handy when the season starts given that Billups and Hill are unlikely to be available for the opener, and there's some doubt about Odom as well. But in the long run all those guys will be back, and that deep bench will just get deeper.