You can forgive the Los Angeles Clippers for having a little extra motivation when playing the Lakers. For so many years, for literally decades, the Lakers lorded over the city, winning many championships and reducing the Clippers to little more than an afterthought.
So even though the Lakers are a very poor NBA team at this point, the Clippers get up for them like it's the playoffs. They say they don't, but just look at the results. Three times last season the Clippers beat their STAPLES co-tenants by 20 or more -- and two of those were 40 point wins that featured 50 point leads.
Tonight was more of the same. The Clippers have beaten plenty of bad teams this season, but rarely have they shown the killer instinct that they did so often last season. Or maybe it's not a killer instinct so much as the Lakers simply rolling over. The final margin was only 25, but only because garbage time was not particularly kind to the Clippers.
The Lakers are a poor defensive team -- ranked 29th in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Consider also that Ronnie Price and Wesley Johnson, arguably the team's two best defenders, were out for this game. What do you get when you take the two best defenders off a a bad defensive team? A truly terrible defensive team.
I lost track of the number of times that a Clipper was so wide open that they couldn't decide what to do -- they literally had too much time and were too open. Jeremy Lin simply is not going to be able to stay in front of Chris Paul, least of a ll a motivated Chris Paul. And for those of you who were concerned that Blake Griffin has seemed less explosive and less willing to take the ball aggressively to the basket this season, old Blake was back, at least for one game.
It's not every NBA game where the defense is so porous that you get the equivalent of a layup line dunk, but that's what happened with Blake late in the first half.
It was Griffin's most impressive dunk of the game, but hardly his only one. He finished the game with 27 points on 9-13 shooting, nine rebounds and eight assists -- and didn't play in the fourth quarter. For their parts, Chris Paul had a 24-11 points-assists double-double and DeAndre Jordan had his own double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds -- they both sat the third as well.
That other LA basketball superstar? Kobe Bryant had four points on 2-12 shooting. That tied a career low against the Clippers for Bryant -- set in 1996 in his eighth game as a professional. Midway through the third quarter with the Clippers up by thirty, it looked like a real possibility that Bryant would be held scoreless, but he managed to make a couple of baskets before Byron Scott gave him the rest of the night off.
The question isn't whether the Clippers can embarrass the Lakers -- we know they can do that. But can they bring the same level of focus and execution against good teams? Can they only destroy bad defenses? Or can they also break down the good ones?
There are two games left in this season-long nine game homestand, back to back matinees this weekend against the Mavericks and the Heat, both far superior to the Lakers. Let's see if the Clippers can take some of this momentum into the weekend and register a couple of elusive quality wins.