Dear Basketball Gods,
Hi. My name is Brian Kamenetzky. I'm a writer with ESPNLA.com, and would really, really, really like you to arrange for the Lakers and Clippers to meet in the playoffs this season. I'd appreciate it, and think the entire hoops-loving population of Los Angeles -- we're a big demographic, but you already know that, of course -- would, too.
If you need some sort of offering, perhaps multiple pairs of Jordan XI's or a selection of really good Kobe swag, I'm sure that can be arranged.
Lakers win a critical game Wednesday night at Staples, 113-108. In the process, they take the season series with the Clippers and put themselves in strong position to lock down the Western Conference's third seed. Here are five takeaways ...
1. Kobe Bryant is a bad man.
He'll be the first to tell you after a game that when opposing coaches don't send double-teams when he has the ball in good spots, he's going to do his thing. In the first quarter, he got the ball in those spots, the doubles didn't come and Bryant absolutely torched the red, white and blue in the process. After missing his first three attempts, Kobe closed the first 12 minutes with seven straight buckets. Step-backs, midrange looks, shots from the block, others from the elbow. Heading into the second, Bryant had 16 points and three dimes. At halftime, he had 18 points on 11 shots. From there, he hit 3-of-5 in the third and two massive baseline jumpers (one from each side) in the fourth to help seal the win.
Thirty-one points on 19 shots, plus six assists. What was great, too, was the control. With Ramon Sessions doing good work distributing and Andrew Bynum dominating down low, Bryant picked his spots and didn't force anything. Defensively, he conceded a few too many shots to a few too many shooters, but overall he was a monster and appears to be shaking his extended midseason shooting slump.
2. Andrew Bynum owns DeAndre Jordan.
Blake Griffin might be the one who produced the most YouTube clips Wednesday, but nothing tops what Bynum did to DeAndre Jordan in terms of pure ownership. We saw it in the preseason when Bynum basically used D.J. as a 7-foot traffic cone, and Wednesday was the regular-season version. Bynum scored the game's first points with a turnaround hook from seven feet, scored again on a layup after getting deep position on the block, then a third time on the break. By the end of the first, he had 11 points. In the second quarter, Bynum hit all three shots he took over 5:28 of burn. Things didn't get any better for him in the second half, as Bynum continued getting good position on Jordan and the Lakers began clearing out the strong side of the floor just to get him isolated.
Jordan's frustration became clear in the third quarter, when Sessions drove the lane and when Jordan was forced to help Sessions made the quick dish to Bynum. Rather than concede a sure layup, Jordan pushed him in the back. And-1. It got so bad, Vinny Del Negro went with a woefully undersized Kenyon Martin on Bynum. He finished the third with 29 points and the game with 36 on a robust 13-20 from the floor.
It was refreshing, too, to see the Lakers attack a mismatch over and over and over again, even down the stretch. Normally, they choose the path of most resistance.
3. Blake Griffin's act is counterproductive against the Lakers.
Because he's such an athletic freak and makes genuinely funny commercials, I'd like to like Blake Griffin. I really would. He doesn't make it easy, though.
Wednesday night, Griffin earned himself a couple of spectacular highlights, both at the expense of Gasol. First came the soaring putback dunk for the LAC's first points. Then there was the massive poster job on Gasol in the third. Either could have been an offensive foul, particularly the second play, when Griffin cleared Gasol out with an elbow to the face. Probably an offensive foul, but one that rarely gets called. What hurts Griffin against L.A. is the posturing and preening accompanying each play. And the shove in the back on Gasol running full speed on the break. And the headlocks, and so on.
The Lakers are like the Incredible Hulk. Don't make them angry. You wouldn't like them when they're angry. Rather than get the Lakers out of their game, that sort of stuff tends to galvanize them. Beyond that, it would help if Griffin contributed more than artwork for the wall. He was strong on the glass (14 rebounds) but when not dunking, Griffin missed virtually every shot he took, and was a minus-16 for the game.
4. Mike Brown keeps putting Steve Blake in positions where he can't succeed defensively.
Offensively, Blake wasn't exactly a force in his 15 minutes of burn. Five points, two assists, though he wasn't a disaster, either. On the other hand, he was picked on defensively, particularly when asked to play next to Sessions and check the Clippers' 2-guards. Nick Young in particular beat him up pretty good, as the LAC recognized the matchup and went after it aggressively. If Twitter was any indication, fans were annoyed, many at Blake. But as much as it's nice to have a stable rotation, something everyone has wanted to see from Mike Brown all year, it's unfair to put players in a position to fail, as Brown did tonight with Blake, and then be surprised when they do.
Put some of it on Blake, some of it on Brown and some of it on the front office. Remember, the Lakers let Shannon Brown walk and decided to enter the season without an actual backup shooting guard.
5. The Lakers got caught switching on Chris Paul far too often in the second half.
And it almost cost them. It seemed like every time you looked up, Paul -- brilliant again tonight in the final two quarters, as he's been all year -- had a big in his face. Nobody has the ability to scramble a defense like Chris Paul (one reason why the Lakers wanted to trade for him, if you recall), but nonetheless, the Lakers never figured out how to stay in a more favorable alignment against him.
Overall, the Lakers had too many breakdowns and moments when a perimeter player expected help in a certain place only to find a vast empty space for a penetrating Clipper to move. The LAC shot about 46 percent, and all the defensive confusion contributed to 18 offensive rebounds, a major reason the Clips were able to make a game of it.