- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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"Good players, No. 1 ...," D'Antoni said after practice Saturday as the Lakers prepped to face the Clippers for the first time since suffering the worst loss in franchise history, a 48-point drubbing by their city cohabitants on March 6.
On paper, the Lakers have good players too, only most of them won't be playing Sunday with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Chris Kaman, Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry all ruled out (in a bit of bright news, Nick Young is over his right ankle sprain and will play).
"... Doc does a good job of getting them out and running," D'Antoni continued. "Their transition is off the charts. Their bigs are fast, strong ..."
The Clippers are second in the league in fastbreak points per game, averaging 18.5 per contest. And while Gasol (vertigo) and Kaman (right calf strain) are out and Jordan Hill continues to play with a bone bruise in his right knee that's causing him pain, the Clippers trot out an MVP candidate in Blake Griffin and one of the league's most improved players in DeAndre Jordan.
Griffin is averaging 24 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.1 steals per game while shooting 52.9 percent from the floor. Jordan has upped his scoring from a year ago from 8.8 points to 10.4 points per game, his rebounds from 7.2 to 13.8, his blocks from 1.4 to 2.4 and his field-goal percentage from 64.3 to an almost unheard of 67.2 clip.
"... Chris Paul probably has been, arguably, the best point guard in the league for a lot of years ..." D'Antoni added.
While the Lakers have dealt with injuries all season long to Nash and Farmar and tried to piece together the position with Kendall Marshall, Bryant, Henry, the departed Steve Blake and even Kent Bazemore at times, Paul has owned the position for the Clippers, averaging a league-best 10.8 assists per game.
Not to mention, Paul was traded to the Lakers before the deal was vet- oh, well, let's move on before rehashing too many bad memories.
"... And they’ve got shooting," D'Antoni concluded. "There’s nothing that they’re missing."
The Lakers can actually compete with the Clippers in the shooting category, as they rank fourth in the league with a 38.2 percent mark from deep as opposed to the Clippers who are tied for 18th at 35.2 percent. Then again, the Clips' best shooter, J.J. Redick, is back in the lineup after missing two months because of a bulging disk in his back, so maybe that won't quite be such an advantage for the Lakers.
The fact of the matter is the Lakers and Clippers are two teams headed in distinctly different directions. Even though the Lakers shocked the Clippers with that 116-103 win on opening night, things have drastically changed. The Lakers (25-51) have long been eliminated from the playoffs, losers of 14 of their last 20 games. The Clippers (54-23) are just two games out of the second seed in the West, winners of 17 of their last 20.
"One thing, players do have short memories," D'Antoni said when asked how his team can forget what happened to them the last time they played the Clippers. "They’re ready to compete. Again, we know we’re facing some serious odds, being a little short-handed, but they’ll give everything they’ve got. Whether that’s enough, we’ll see. We got to make, obviously, some big shots. Some things will have to go our way. They have to play OK. But I do know for sure they’ll come in ready to compete."
Jodie Meeks said the beatdown they received from the Clippers was an aberration.
"There's not much to think about," Meeks said. "We didn't play well. We know we're not that bad of a team to lose by 48 or 50 points, whatever it was."
While the Lakers would rather forget most of this season, they'll still take their team history over that of the Clippers, who are in the midst of the most successful era in team history and only have a couple of Pacific Division titles -- not championships or even Western Conference titles -- to show for it.
ESPN.com's FiveThirtyEight recently revealed that the Lakers were the most searched for NBA team on Google in the last decade by a landslide. The Clippers were 16th.
"I don't think you change anything in one year," D'Antoni explained. "The Lakers have been the most dominant thing the last 50-60 years. That doesn't erase overnight, either. It would be a long (process), and I don't think it will ever erase. That's just the way it is. The Lakers are always going to be special and hopefully can get back there sooner than later."
But could those memories dull if the Clippers keep on marching though the spring with a deep playoff run while the Lakers are left sitting at home?
"It's a down year for us, no doubt about that, but it would be hard to catch us," Meeks said. "The tenure that the Lakers have had over the last 40-50 years, it's hard to catch that in one season. So, I don't think they should be worried about that this season."
No, the Clippers won't be worrying about the Lakers. It's not like they'll be matching up against them in the playoffs. And apparently, the Lakers won't be worrying about the Clippers, either.
"They're going to compete," D'Antoni said. "Whatever it takes for them to trick their minds into competing 100 percent, they'll do. I'm not worried about that."
2dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne