The Big Picture:
Searching for a fun Christmas drinking game to take the edge off a long day of food, family and your “sports fan” uncle from the Midwest talking about how great Lew Alcindor was before he joined ISIS?
I’ve got the perfect holiday stress antidote. In the first quarter of the Clippers-Lakers nightcap, chug some nog every time you hear or see a lazy injury-related sports metaphor invoked to describe the Clippers. If I know ESPN announcers, you’ll hear enough about the “limping/stumbling/hobbled/decimated” Clippers to be drunk enough to withstand your uncle’s rant on Cassius Clay midway through the third quarter. If that doesn’t work, just take a tequila shot every time someone asks “is this REALLY a rivalry?” You won’t last till halftime.
I’ve officially become spoiled as a Clippers fan, because for the first time in the Chris Paul era I am not looking forward to watching them play on Christmas (which before Chris Paul was basically unimaginable). Well, unless Mo Speights shows up in something like this.
From a fan perspective, this game is a no-win proposition for Clipper Nation. If Chris doesn’t play, there’s a good chance our 11-game winning streak against the Lakers will vanish, and our cries of “our two best players are on crutches!” will fall on the deaf ears of Laker Twitter. If Chris does play, the whole time you’ll just be thinking “is this worth playing Chris for?” while hoping the training staff has evolved from the “leeches first” medicinal approach of the past few seasons. Sure, if the reserves go off and Austin shits all over the baby Lakers, that could be great—but the risk/reward ratio on that doesn’t quite add up.
How weird will it be for Clipper fans to watch a Laker-Clipper Christmas game without the involvement of Kobe Bryant, either on the court or more recently in street clothes doing that weird thing with his mouth where it looks like he’s eating his tongue?
The long and short of it? Yes, it will be kind of weird. If it wasn’t for the injuries to Chris and Blake, this game would have finally crystalized the miraculous (if played-out) role reversal of the two franchises. The Clippers, the perennial playoff contender with an All-Star laden roster and competent, big-spending owner; the Lakers, the forgotten team with a promising but volatile young nucleus whose incompetent ownership may be even worse than we imagined.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Kobe, if you’re reading this—Clipper Nation would welcome you back for one more season with the Lakers. You deserve it. The fans deserve it. My fear of Brandon Ingram’s further development deserve it. Please. Ballmer will pay for it.
In terms of stoking the hallway rivalry, Clipper fans are going to miss Kobe. He was kind of the perfect sports villain for us, and Lakers fans’ deluded loyalty to him made it all the more perfect. Making things weirder, there’s been multiple comparisons between the baby Lakers and our baby Clippers of the early 2000’s. Which I’ve been repeatedly mentioning to my therapist.
But the cult of Lakerdom is still the absolute worst. And lucky for us, arguably the Lakers most promising young star makes even fellow millennials hate everything about millennials. Seriously, who does this?
- Key Number: A simple one—12 of 13. As in, the Lakers have lost 12 of their last 13 games, with the only victory coming against the mighty 76ers. That miserable stretch has thrown a Mozgov-sized wet blanket on what was once a promising start for the Lakers, one that had the NBA hipster community thinking 8-seed. In fairness, point guard/Biber from Atlanta impersonator D’Angelo Russell was injured for most of that stretch and has just recently returned.
- Another Key Number: 18.9. That’s what Lou Williams averages for the Lakers, which leads the team. You read that right. Lou Williams is the Lakers’ leading scorer. That’s fucking crazy.
- Will Chris Play? The biggest subplot. Keep in mind this will be the third game in a four-game-five night stretch the NBA stuck the Clippers with over the holidays. Doc may lean towards giving Chris an additional night off, even if he’s capable of playing, and keeping him for Monday against a better opponent in the Nuggets. But Christmas means lots of eyeballs on those All-State ads...
- Let Ray-Ray be Ray-Ray: Raymond Felton has played well for the Clippers, excelling as a backup distributor, scorer and defender. Along with Mo Speights and Austin, he’s anchored a surprisingly effective second unit. But with Paul and Griffin out of the lineup, Jamal Crawford has served as de facto playmaker more than Felton has late in games. Will Doc hand over the reigns to Ray-Ray in the fourth?