Baron Davis led the Clippers to a win over the defending champs.
The purple and gold entered Staples Center a consensus fave against L.A.'s "other team," what with a superior record, ownership of nine consecutive wins against their local rival, franchise history firmly on its side, yada, yada, yada. This chatter has gotten to Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy --particularly when generated on 710 ESPN, it would appear-- who thinks talking heads haven't taken into account enough his team's injury history over the years. (And lord knows Dunleavy's done his best to tell people about it whenever possible, so those reminders falling on deaf ears is understandably frustrating.) Now at full strength --save Blake Griffin-- he thinks the Clips can hang with the defending champs. Certainly appeared a believable theory last night, if nothing else.
Of course, the Lakers are dealing with health issues of their own right now. Kobe Bryant's sprained right index finger. Ron Artest kicking off the cobwebs from a concussion. Lamar Odom, Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga shaking various bugs. Luke Walton out with a back injury. And of course, Pau Gasol, day-to-day with a hamstring injury. The Lake Show largely succeeded over its opening eleven games sans the services of El Spaniard, but didn't emerge a beatdown-handing juggernaut until he was back in the fold. The O.C. Register's Kevin Ding felt this game served as a harsh reminder of that reality, one not lost on many a scribe. My brother felt Gasol's ability to move the ball is desperately missed in an offense turned gummy and Ball Don't Lie's Kelly Dwyer was often astonished by the lack of flow:
- And while I salute the Clippers for bringing the defensive intensity, the Lakers more or less abandoned their sideline triangle for either a series of fruitless screen and roll attempts (you're telling me anyone has to guard a Ron Artest and Josh Powell two-man game?), or Kobe Bryant one-on-one rat-a-tat. Kobe was brilliant in this game's third quarter, scoring 17 points with two assists, but it was fool's gold. He kept trying to score on isolation or screen/roll plays after that, good shots rimmed out or wouldn't fall, and the Lakers never got back into a rhythm after that. I'd say the team missed Pau Gasol and his work in the apex, but in a stadium with Kobe, Phil Jackson, and Derek Fisher(notes), this team should have known better.
Bryant's "rat-a-tat," as Dwyer put it, has been a security blanket for the Lakers during short-handed or ineffective stretches over the years. Fair to say, Kobe's proven adept at pulling his team's butt outta hot water over the years. As the Time's Mike Bresnahan describes, whether the result of a faulty finger, the Clippers D or just an off-night, Kobe wasn't able to play Superman, those iso-heavy possessions continually came up dry:
- Bryant tried his best to put the team on his back, scoring 14 consecutive points during one stretch in the third quarter. But his shot wasn't falling. "He was just looking to ride that streak he got going in the third quarter," Jackson said. "He never could regenerate that again."Bryant missed badly on a three-point attempt in the fourth quarter, the ball bouncing hard off the back of the rim. On another fourth-quarter play, he stepped out of bounds while trying to drive against Rasual Butler. On another, he missed badly on a left-handed runner, a product of his favoring his broken right index finger. Bryant made one of five shots and had four points in the fourth quarter. The Lakers were the antithesis of teamwork in the first half, struggling to put together eight assists while the Clippers had 17 en route to a 52-43 halftime lead. It didn't help that Bryant made three of 13 shots in the first half.
"There was just too much individual play," Jackson said.
Or "boneheaded.", as Andrew Bynum described it, and perhaps that lack of sense may have included taking an opponent lightly. Putting enough credence in past success that execution and focus lower on the list of priorities. Well, as ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin reminds us, that only works if the other team rolls over, and the Clippers clearly weren't intimidated. Between a scorching Baron Davis (the one Ramona Shelburne suspects is "bona fide") and the emergence of role players like "Rhino" Craig Smith when Davis got some rest, you can still make a reasonable argument the Lakers remain the superior team (I certainly would), but it's impossible to present a case for anybody but the "underdogs" as the top performers during last night's showdown.
Did I mention Pau Gasol was missed? A day of strength/conditioning workouts left his hammy pain-free, so perhaps that's a good sign for a quick return. In the meantime, Bynum has a shot to step up.
Coby Karl has been waived by the Cavs.
Lotta reactons to Gilbert Arenas' indefinite suspension. LOTTA reaction. Like, enough that Ball Don't Lie's excellent compilation represents a yeoman's effort. And not just from the media. GM's like Otis Smith are offering two cents. Chauncey Billups has an opinion. And the story will only grow bigger if Javaris Crittenton did in fact draw a gun on Arenas, as the Washington Post is reporting. Or if TMZ.com's report of locker room surveillance cameras --poured over by techie geeks as we speak-- catching the whole thing on tape is accurate.