The Los Angeles Clippers face the Lakers on ESPN tonight in the second installment of this season's Battle of LA. I had a chance to send some questions to Bruce Bowen, the former San Antonio Spur and current NBA analyst for the World Wide Leader. Bowen appears regularly on SportsCenter, NBA Tonight and NBA Coast to Coast. He also hosts the NBA Lockdown podcast with Israel Gutierrez. You know who he is: he used to play great defense and shoot corner threes, now he wears bow ties and talks hoops on TV. You can read his ESPN bio if you like. You can follow him on twitter (@bowen12). You can listen to his podcast.
And below you can read his answers to my questions.
Lakers at Clippers / Battle for LA at 7:30 p.m. PT on ESPN & WatchESPN
Commentators: Dave Pasch, Hubie Brown, J.A. Adande
Steve Perrin: As they learn to play without Chris Paul, the Clippers have benefited from a homestand against some struggling teams which includes the Lakers, losers of nine of their last ten. Only six of the 17 opponents between now and the All Star break are above .500 and they'll get J.J. Redick back tonight. What's a realistic goal for the Clippers in the 20 games they're expected to be without CP3? Twelve wins? Thirteen?
Bruce Bowen: Well, I think 13 is realistic. You look at the fact that Blake Griffin is continuing to evolve as a foundation piece there and I think this is a great opportunity for Doc Rivers to really implement his defensive concepts - even more so because you don't have the luxury of a point guard who averages double figures and double-figure assists. You don't replace Chris Paul even with the job that Darren Collison is doing right now. You just can't replace the impact that Chris has, not only just from a scoring standpoint, but also getting other guys involved. But you can still control the process of effort on the defensive end - learning the defensive calls, spending more time on it at practice. I think they'll do a good job of benefiting from those types of things more than anything else.
Perrin: The Clippers have Chris Paul (28) and Blake Griffin (24) signed until 2018. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant (35) and Steve Nash (39), both currently injured, signed next season. The Lakers always seem to find a way, but are we witnessing a sea change in Los Angeles basketball?
Bowen: ::Laughter:: You've seen the Clippers continue to improve and I think it's because of the direction management has gone. There's a lot of new faces within the Clipper organization but the biggest thing, I think, was for them to go out and get a bona fide coach that has won at the NBA championship level. I think that was key. It really solidifies all the questions of how for real are the Clippers? Is this just another stunt? Things of that nature. Do they want to put a product on the floor where people can just come and say we had a good time? I think it's more about getting better as an organization, solidifying what you have. If that wasn't the case, I think we would have seen DeAndre Jordan gone a long time ago.
Perrin: Even after Paul's return, the Clippers have a gaping hole on their roster regarding back up bigs. Should they take a chance on Andrew Bynum? If not, do you see them making a move, and if they don't make a move, can they thrive in the playoffs with so little behind Griffin and Jordan?
Bowen: I don't think it's necessarily about getting a big to back up what they have already. I mean, you look at the great teams, you don't have three and four big men that can necessarily start on any another team. You work with what you have, that's the nucleus. Those are the foundational pieces - Paul, Jordan and Griffin. It's not about going out and getting anybody else, it's about focusing on what your team can do and building the culture within your team. Andrew Bynum is a head case that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole because of the example he's shown in other places. In L.A., once he became an All-Star, he became disgruntled. In Cleveland, he was disgruntled. In Philadelphia, he didn't even play. I think his record doesn't bode well for him right now as far as someone I would want on the team that's not the strongest mentally. I say that because the distractions would be catastrophic because of all the things that have already transpired there. Doc Rivers is trying to build their mental game as well as their physical one. I don't think that's necessary for them as far as the direction they are heading.
Perrin: The "just a dunker" criticism of Blake Griffin never made much sense to me, but he certainly has always had weaknesses in his game. From my perspective he has made significant strides this season. Where do you think he has improved the most, and what does he still need to work on?
Bowen: I think he's improved at becoming a basketball player. All that work that he's put in the past three seasons on becoming better and adding more to his repertoire instead of the label of what people want to talk about - just a dunker. What I mean by that is - it's the basketball moves, it's the ability to be able to go one dribble with the counter if he's stopped or after one dribble, if he's stopped, having the counter-move to the counter that he already has. Those are situations where you look at if a player is not able to be athletic, can he still score? Will he figure out a way? You look at players like Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett - they always had a counter to a move that just comes natural. And some of it with Kevin, it was work with Kevin McHale early in his career and you still see the results of all that work. Even now, when he's older and passed his prime years in the NBA.
I've enjoyed the process of watching Griffin improve. Sometimes a player can hit a tough shot, but I don't see him making many tough shots. I see him making basketball plays. I guess the best way to sum it up would be - if he can't dunk, can he still score the basketball and how can he do it? I see him improving on his low-post game, his jump hook, his drop step, things like that, recognizing what's going on and not moving too fast to get to his counters. He's allowing it to happen as it comes about during the course of the game. When you do that, it really shows improvement and trusting what you've been working on. It's starting to become second nature.
Perrin: As for the Lakers, my feeling is that they're destined to be mediocre at best for the rest of Kobe's extension, and that they're OK with that -- it'll be Kobe's farewell tour, and it will still be a great show, even if there won't be a lot of playoff wins. Do you see a way for them to be competitive in the next two seasons?
Bowen: It's hard to say right now because you don't know what they have going on. Mitch Kupchak has been a part of that winning organization for quite some time and they've always figured out a way to work something out where the next thing you know the Lakers are still relevant. I wouldn't count the Lakers out just yet as far as being relevant in the league and being more than mediocre. It's not until that we get on into that time that we'll see. They have free agency coming up. There's a lot of room for them to work with even with the contract that Kobe has. You still have to room to go out and get an impactful player.
My sincere thanks to Bruce for sharing his expertise with us. Hopefully the Clippers will get the big win tonight on the Worldwide Leader.