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Lakers 108 - Clippers 97

Well that was unexpected, and quite a bit of fun.  Too bad citizen John R was watching the season premier of Lost - he missed a pretty good game.

Although I was pleased that the Clippers were able to keep the game relatively close throughout, I don't really think the outcome of the game was ever in doubt.  The Lakers are probably the most talented team in the league, and the Clippers are missing their 4 best players - the Lakers lacked focus for long stretches, and the Clippers made runs during those times.  But still, it's pretty remarkable that given all the factors in this game:

  • the NBA standings going in;
  • the obvious talent disparity on the floor;
  • 42 and 15 from Andrew Bynum, shattering his career high;
  • a triple double from the injured Kobe Bryant;
  • a season high from Lamar Odom;
  • the best shooting night of Luke Walton's season

the Clippers led after the first quarter, trailed by only three at the half, and pulled within 7 with about three minutes to go before finally losing by 11. 

Phil Jackson is a hard one to figure, but surely he's none to pleased with his team's defensive performance.  As Lakers assistant Frank Hamblin told Patrick O'Neal at halftime, the Lakers were getting killed by the Clippers pick and roll.  Go back and read that sentence again.  I'll wait.  The Lakers were getting killed by the Clippers pick and roll.  This is not Chris Paul and the Hornets we're talking about.  This is not Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.  Bear in mind, the pick and roll often involves a point guard and a big.  The Clippers are playing their FOURTH STRING point guard and their THIRD STRING BIGS - and the Clippers were never any good at the pick and roll to begin with.  Yet in the first quarter, DeAndre Jordan and Brian Skinner were rolling straight to the rim for dunks. 

In addition to the porous defense, if I'm Phil Jackson I am berating my team about the mental lapses.  Mike Smith is definitely one of the brighter NBA analysts out there, and he nailed a couple of insights tonight.  He noticed right away when the Lakers started playing to get Andrew Bynum 40 points rather than playing to win the game, and the Clippers cut the lead from 16 to 7 in less than 2 minutes.  I'll tell you another thing - it's an absolute disgrace that Bynum got his precious 40 on a play where he never even ran past his own free throw line on a Clippers break with two minutes left in a 9 point game.  I'm not the coach, but if I were, I'd say "Congratulations on scoring 40.  Way to light up a front line that wouldn't even be on the floor except for injuries.  You're benched next game and if you ever cherry pick again I'll fine you."

Now, like Frank Hamblin, instead of praising DeAndre Jordan, I'm going to start by criticizing his poor fundamentals on defense and rebounding.  I know we're excited about DJ career highs of 23 points and 12 rebounds, his 4 blocked shots, his 11 for 12 shooting, his 8 dunks, and deservedly so... it is exciting.  But please don't overlook the fact that his counterpart scored 19 more than he did in 7 fewer minutes.  If he'd scored 4 and Bynum had scored 23, we wouldn't really be all jacked up about DJ - but the net effect is the same.  Now, it's true that Bynum is a terrific player who had a career game, and that not all of those 42 points were scored against Jordan.  But many, many of the points were.  And frankly, way too many of them were on plays were Jordan simply didn't get to Bynum in time - either offensive rebounds, or help and recover situations on defense.  Bynum got 8 offensive rebounds in the game.  Yes, he's crazy long and can simply go over a lot of players to grab offensive boards.  But Jordan is crazy long too - if he is aware of where Bynum is, and boxes out when the shot goes up, no way Bynum gets 8 offensive boards.

Having said that, what a display of dunking from DeAndre Jordan.  Just after the draft, someone was criticizing the Clippers choice of Jordan and called him 'Just a dunker.'  You know what?  That's cool.  I'm good.  I'll take that.  Because he's just the best dunker the Clippers have ever had - by far.  Like I said before, Mike Smith had a couple of salient observations today, and one of them was to point out that DeAndre was simply catching the ball cleanly today.  It's true - how many times this season have the Clippers thrown the ball to DJ and he's just not handled the pass?  Or maybe he had a chance for a follow dunk, and couldn't quite corral the ball?  I don't think it's that he has bad hands - he appears to have good hands in fact.  But he's been too nervous or too excited in earlier games.  Tonight, near the offensive rim at least, he grabbed everything.  His offensive rebound, gather and dunk on Pau Gasol in the fourth quarter was pretty embarrassing for the Spanish All Star.  DJ made it look like he wasn't even there. 

It was just two days ago, in the recap from the last game that I wrote, in ALL CAPS, 'don't throw the lob.'  The Clippers, prior to this game, had shown absolutely no talent for it.  Suddenly tonight, everyone is Andre Miller.  Hey Clippers, THROW MORE LOBS!  Fred Jones, Mardy Collins, Eric Gordon - everyone was throwing lobs and DJ was getting them.  It helps when your margin for error on the pass ranges from 10 feet up to about 12 feet off the ground.  The one from Gordon to Jordan in the fourth was truly spectacular - Dwight Howard, take-your-breath-away, hit-your-head-on-the-rim awesome.  And I'd like to take another moment to thank the Lakers defenders - we've seen many times this season that all you have to do to break up that play is get in the way, so thank you for standing back and watching and providing Clipper fans with a season's worth of highlight dunks in a single game.

DeAndre Jordan has almost no offensive game at all beyond dunking, but neither did Andrew Bynum as a rookie.  Let's face it - a seven footer with that kind of length, and with little or no college experience, has simply never been required to develop any technique - they just were too big for their opposition in high school.  Dwight Howard is another example - he still has a long way to go on his footwork even after 4 and half seasons, but he's certainly come a long way.  Now, you never know who's going to continue to develop and who isn't.  But I'll tell you this much - passion for the game is a huge factor, and DeAndre Jordan seems to have that.  Mike Smith's predecessor as the Clippers broadcast analyst, a certain redhead, was not nearly as insightful as our lovable Mormon.  But he did say one thing about Michael Olowokandi that always rang true to me:  Bill Walton said that Olowokandi would never be a great basketball player, despite all of his physical gifts, because Kandi didn't love playing basketball.  Well, DeAndre Jordan loves playing basketball.

Here's a quick set of impressions on the other seven Clippers in this game:

  • Brian Skinner looked terrible.  His straightaway jumpers all hit the backboard, he was overmatched by Bynum and Gasol (who both probably have a foot on him in standing reach) and he missed a simple put back dunk. It's really astounding how much size matters, and how much bigger the Lakers are than other teams.  Skinner used a size advantage over Milwaukee to score 18 last week, and he was also bigger than Minnesota's front line (the Wolves are the anti-Lakers - they are the least long team in the NBA).  But he was just tiny against the Lakers.  It's not really his fault.
  • Al Thornton had a poor shooting game, and I saw some derogatory comments in the game thread, but really I thought he played fine.  The ball wasn't going in, but he mostly took good shots.  He also had 4 assists, which is an encouraging number for him, and 3steals that were all pure hustle.  I had no problem with Al tonight.  He just had a tough night with his jumper.  He made his first one, and he made his last one, and he missed about 6 straight in between.  But I'll tell you this - the occasional 7 for 20 night from this season is a vast improvement on the occasional 1 for 15 night from last season.
  • Eric Gordon was back to struggling with his jump shot after a great second half on Monday.  But Gordon is one of those guys who always finds points.  He finished with 16 on 15 shots.  Not the greatest efficiency certainly, but not bad on a night when he went 5 for 15.  And was it my imagination, he did he get a couple calls tonight?  Is it possible the kid is beginning to garner some respect in the Assoc?
  • Mardy Collins continues to play well.  He's so much better offensively than he was when he first joined the team it's not even close.  And I'll tell you this:  sometimes you see a guy forced into an NBA game, and you just cringe.  For me, Jason Hart falls into that category.  The best you can hope for from Jason Hart (and this is essentially what he did for the team two seasons ago in the last couple months) is that he will not make too many mistakes.  Play defense, start the offense, handle the ball - that's it; that's the absolute ceiling on the guy.  He will literally never create an opportunity on offense, and if he only misses two out of three wide open jumpers you count yourself lucky.  Hell, Brevin Knight pretty much falls into that category, albeit in a more efficient manner.  Mardy Collins is surprisingly not that guy.  He makes plays - his size creates matchup problems, he's got a nice handle, he finds open shooters, and he's actually making some shots.  If Jason Hart plays again this season, I'll be very surprised and disappointed.
  • Fred Jones played only 11 minutes and was 0 for 3. I thought he played fine - his shot wouldn't fall.  He's on his second 10 day contract, and the Clippers will have a decision to make in a little over a week about the rest of the season.  It's pretty clear that he can help the team more than Jason Hart.  It will be interesting to see if the Clippers are willing to pay a little money to keep Jones around.  If they want/need a roster spot, there's always Cheik Samb, who can't seem to get into games while Kaman, Camby AND Randolph are hurt - which makes me think he's not going to be seeing a lot of minutes this season.
  • Ricky Davis only played 18 minutes and was the only Clipper with a positive plus/minus (he was plus 7).  He made his only jumper.  It's surprising that MDsr does not feel compelled to play one of his only veterans more right now, but it's a very pleasant surprise to me.  Ricky Davis may or may not be on this team next season, and certainly doesn't figure prominently into the Clippers plans barring a major rejuvenation, so it's good to see the minutes and the looks going to....
  • Steve Novak.  Man can this guy shoot.  I'll post more on him tomorrow, but suffice it to say that I think MDsr really has something with this guy.  You look at Jason Kapono, Kyle Korver - a shooter with size has a place in this league.  Is he a good defender?  Certainly not.  But niether is Kapono or Korver.  I would love to see him continue to get 12 to 16 minutes on a healthy Clippers team.

A fun game.  An introduction to DeAndre Jordan.  A coming out party for Andrew Bynum.  Surprisingly competitive.  I can watch Lost on iTunes.