During the off-season, the Los Angeles Lakers acquired two time NBA MVP Steve Nash and first team All NBA center Dwight Howard to join Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol on the most highly decorated super team in NBA history. It hasn't exactly gone so well on the season. It went particularly badly Thursday night.
With Pau Gasol out with a torn plantar fascia against out for their game against those pesky neighbors, the Los Angeles Clippers, here are the plus/minus numbers for the three remaining Laker mega-stars:
Kobe Bryant -35 in 39 minutes;
Dwight Howard -31 in 32 minutes;
Steve Nash -24 in 25 minutes.
Are you kidding me? The Lakers were losing a point a minute when their stars were on the floor.
As a longtime Clipper fan, in a way I'm disappointed. I mean, shouldn't the Lakers at least be putting up a fight in the battle of Los Angeles? Can't they even make things interesting? In three games so far this season, comprising 144 minutes of basketball, the Lakers have led the Clippers by exactly one point for exactly 63 seconds. And that was in the first quarter of the first meeting. The Lakers haven't led the Clippers in 138 minutes of basketball.
Is it possible that this is some sort of conspiracy? Are the Lakers rolling over against the Clippers, in some twisted ploy to suck the fun out of the games between the teams?
Well, guess what? It's still fun.
With Blake Griffin hitting nine of his first ten shots, the Clippers scored the first 15 points of Thursday's game, in front of the Lakers season ticket holders no less. I guess they team really took to heart my admonition in the game preview to jump on the Lakers early and take away their hope.
Save for another lackluster second quarter performance from the second unit (if you want to look for the dark lining around this silver cloud, I suppose the poor play of the reserves would be it), the Clippers thoroughly dominated the game. And while the Lakers pulled to within three behind the unstoppable Antawn Jamison, once the Clipper starters returned, order was restored, and the Clippers once again had a 12 point lead by halftime. The Lakers never again got the lead down to single digits.
Two end of quarter plays were particularly significant. After the Clippers had rebuilt a 14 point lead late in the first half, the Lakers ran off five straight to cut the lead back to nine with 20 seconds left. But Chris Paul engineered a wide open three pointer for Matt Barnes just before the halftime buzzer to push the lead back up to a dozen. At the end of the third quarter, Jody Meeks of the Lakers converted a four point play after being fouled by Barnes shooting a three, cutting the Clippers lead to 18 with 12 seconds remaining. The Lakers probably had no chance at that point, but a four point play to end the quarter would at least be something for the Lakers to build on. Instead, Paul hit a three to end the quarter, pushing the lead back to 21 and crushing any hope the Lakers had been foolish enough to harbor.
The Clippers made 16 threes on the game, their second highest total of the season. Chauncey Billups led the long range assault making 5-7 from deep and 7-10 overall, finishing with 21 points, setting a season-high in scoring for the second consecutive night. When Billups was missing 45 of the Clippers first 48 games, Ralph Lawler and Mike Smith would talk incessantly about how much Billups was going to help the Clippers. I myself thought he'd be an upgrade over Willie Green, but doubted he could have too big an impact on the team at this stage of his career. Well, if these last two games are any indication, they were right and I was wrong -- the addition of Billups is indeed going to be a big boon for an already terrific Clippers team. He is far and away the best long range shooter on the team, and he's in a position to get plenty of open looks playing with Paul and Griffin. Billups scored his 21 points in just 16 minutes during which time he registered a +31 in plus/minus. That's just nuts.
And while the bench was less than terrific as I've stated, the starters were, to a man, spectacular. Griffin (22 points, 10 rebounds), Paul (24 points, 13 assists) and DeAndre Jordan (11 points, 12 rebounds) all registered double-doubles, Caron Butler didn't miss by much (13 points, 8 rebounds) and we've already discussed Billups' exploits. There will be nights when the Clippers need their bench to play better than they have recently, but fortunately these last two games haven't been among them.
The 125 points ties for the most points the Clippers have scored against the Lakers since the two teams have shared a city. The 24 point margin of victory is the fourth highest against the Lakers in franchise history, and the most lopsided victory in the series since 1994. Most importantly, the Clippers have now clinched the season series with their city rivals for the first time in 20 years.
The Clippers, who only a week ago were staggering through a difficult stretch in which they had lost nine of 12, while Chris Paul was injured, and responded to that adversity admirably. They've now won four straight since Paul's return, and have essentially served notice that team that looked so vulnerable while Paul was hurt is not who they are. Paul is back, and the Clippers are once again the juggernaut they were in December. With Oklahoma City losing to Miami earlier in the evening, the Clippers are now just a game and a half back of the Thunder in the Western Conference standings, making up 2.5 games in the standings in the last five days. So it's going to be an interesting race at the top of the conference after the All Star break.
When the Clippers and Lakers meet on April 7 in part 4 of the battle of L.A., the Clippers will have a chance to sweep the season series with the Lakers. That hasn't happened since they've been in the same conference, not since the Buffalo Braves went 4-0 against the Lakers in the 74-75 season. But if the the first three games are any indication, it's going to happen this year.
|Final - 2.14.2013||1||2||3||4||Total|
|Los Angeles Clippers||31||33||37||24||125|
|Los Angeles Lakers||17||35||28||21||101|
For the Lakers perspective, visit Silver Screen and Roll. Be nice. And don't take any sharp objects over there.