Script has flipped in L.A. hoops
LOS ANGELES -- Mike Brown walked into Staples Center on Monday night with a new, unwrapped ironing board under his right arm and a suit bag draped over his left arm.
The Los Angeles Lakers coach stopped by Target on his way to the arena because he had forgotten a key piece of his pregame ritual of pressing his game day suit.
Of all the differences between the Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers this season, this sight was far from the most noticeable, especially two hours before the tipoff of their preseason opener, but it was certainly the first indication that these are different times in Los Angeles basketball.
Long gone are the days of Phil Jackson walking into the arena with his 11 championships, and the mystique surrounding a team that had won back-to-back championships and had gone to three straight NBA Finals. That team, swept out of the second round of the playoffs by the Dallas Mavericks last season, is long gone.
Name tags were needed for half the players on the Lakers' current roster before Monday's game with newly signed players such as Troy Murphy, Josh McRoberts, Jason Kapono and Gerald Green walking into the Lakers' locker room for the first time while draft picks Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock prepared for their first NBA game.
In the Clippers' locker room, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin sat in opposite corners while Chauncy Billups, Caron Butler, DeAndre Jordan and Mo Williams headed toward the court after getting stretched out. An NBA standings chart divided into both conferences hung in the front of the locker room. It looked similar to last season except for the fact that the Clippers were No. 1 in the Western Conference while the Lakers were all the way at No. 13.
Considering no games have been played, it may have been simply a coincidence but considering how crazy this offseason has been in Los Angeles would anyone be shocked if that's how this condensed 66-game season ended?
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Any game between the Lakers and Clippers in the past used to have as much suspense and drama as a romantic comedy. There may be different characters and storylines through the years, but you always knew how the movie would end. All you have to do was look up at the rafters of Staples Center for the spoiler alert.
The Lakers have won 16 NBA championships and honored 14 Hall of Famers. The Clippers don't even have a division title or a jersey worthy of retiring. The Los Angeles Sparks have more banners and jerseys hanging from the Staples Center walls than the Clippers do.
In a span of six days, however, everything has changed. The script has been flipped and we don't exactly know how this movie will end. This comedy has suddenly turned into a suspense thriller.
Now the question, "Are the Clippers better than the Lakers?" isn't rhetorical or the setup for a joke. In fact, after the Clippers beat the Lakers 114-95 Monday night it would be hard to say the Clippers aren't the better team.
If nothing else, they are certainly the more exciting team with Paul giving fans a sneak peak of what they can expect from "Lob City" this season after connecting with Griffin and Jordan in the second quarter. Billups also got into the act by feeding Griffin for a monster off-the-backboard dunk that drew a technical foul after he hung on the rim.
When Paul was traded to the Clippers last week a video crew caught Griffin smiling as he chest bumped Jordan and yelled, "Lob City!" Since then variations of red-and-blue "Lob City" shirts have been made, long before a single lob pass was ever attempted.
As much as Billups likes the nickname, he would rather see Clippers fans wearing championship shirts by the end of the season, which is a reality almost as unthinkable as the Clippers selling out their season tickets last week and creating a waiting list for the first time in team history.
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"We're definitely going to be a very exciting team but if that doesn't equal wins, for me, that doesn't matter," Billups said. "We're focused on the right things right now."
It's too early to say exactly how successful "Lob City" will be, but if the debut is any indication we could be in store for something special this season. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said it's only the beginning of things to come.
"Of course there's excitement and things going on," Del Negro said. "It could have been easy for us to sit back and say, 'OK, let's build this thing' but when you have an opportunity to get a guy like Chris and Chauncey, I'll take the heat. We're going to struggle at times, there's going to be some bumps in the road but my feeling is life is too short, let's see what we could do."
Perhaps the only thing that has gone wrong for the Clippers this offseason is Griffin failing to copyright "Lob City," the phrase he popularized and will be seen on thousands of shirts at Staples Center this season.
"I didn't, I should have," Griffin said. "Missed opportunity. It's a business lesson for you guys."
Arash Markazi is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLA.com.