Commentary

What's in a name? Just ask the Heat

Clippers had better parlay talent into wins, or 'Lob City' may be all that's remembered

Updated: January 12, 2012, 1:07 AM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Are we already sick of "Lob City"?

The Los Angeles Clippers say they are. Twitter isn't far behind; the #LobCity hashtag already feels overused and worn out. I'm not even sure the T-shirts are cool anymore.

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
AP PhotosBlake Griffin says the Clippers aren't defined by their nickname "Lob City." Perhaps better play on the defensive end will help fans think otherwise.
That's the nature of catchphrases in this quick-twitch era: One minute a video is going viral, the next it's making people sick.

Fortunately, the backlash has been relatively mild for the Clippers: rolling of eyes from fans who'd prefer it if they just played better defense, and a few choice quotes from other NBA players should the Clippers preen a little too much after a thunderous dunk.

It's nothing like the vitriol the Miami Heat encountered last year and will probably have to endure for as long as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- the so-called "Big Three" -- chase championships together.

And it's nothing like what the Lakers experience every time they set foot in an opposing arena and the "Beat L.A." chants get going.

But for a franchise that's been mostly a punch line the past few decades, it's a bit strange to feel the weight of expectations, and -- yes -- maybe even a little backlash against their success.

"This whole 'Lob City' thing is kind of funny to me," Clippers general manager Neil Olshey told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "It really is coming from everybody else. It's not like we're doing some kind of marketing campaign for 'Lob City' and trying to sell ourselves as an entertainment venue. We're trying to win games."

"If people are going to spend that much time worrying about whether we're going to catch a lob, that's fine with me, because they're not doing their job defensively," Olshey said.

That's been the party line in these parts since "Lob City" hit a tipping point and entered the civic lexicon within the first 48 hours after the Clippers acquired Chris Paul on Dec. 14 in a trade from the New Orleans Hornets.

Have fun with it, but don't embrace it. Let others run with it, but don't be defined by it. Above all else, win, or the moniker is all people will remember about this season.

"It's unfortunate," Blake Griffin said of the "Lob City" nickname last week. "It's one of those things where we understand it, but that's not what we're about. Before the game we're not going out thinking, 'All right, it's 'Lob City' tonight.' We're just trying to win games and trying to get better."

[+] EnlargeClippers Buildings
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireAfter years of mediocrity, it's a little weird and wonderful that the Clippers are feeling the weight of expectations, and, dare we say, maybe even some backlash against their success.
Still, these things have a way of sticking to a team. Just ask the Heat, who come to Staples Center tonight with an 8-2 record after losing 111-105 in overtime to the Golden State Warriors last night in Oakland.

Wade, James and Bosh may always be defined by their disco-party introductory news conference in Miami in the summer of 2010 … just as James will always be judged by the way he made his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and sign with the Heat.

For the most part, all three players were pretty likable before they joined forces. After the way the marriage was consummated, however, they and their running mates became one of the most polarizing teams in professional sports.

During a particularly low moment last March, the normally poised Wade remarked, "The Miami Heat are exactly what everyone wanted … losing games. The world is better now because the Heat is losing."

Could that kind of backlash ever slap the Clippers?

Probably not. Whatever ill will they might be feeling now has more to do with a collective "Lob City" fatigue than anything personal.

The only kernel of truth to it is something the Clippers were going to feel anyway: Win games and make the trade for Paul worth it, or "Lob City" is really going to feel played out.

"I think we could be one of the elite teams. I really do believe that," Clippers guard Chauncey Billups said. "We haven't been blessed with a lot of time, obviously, with the lockout. So we've kind of got to learn on the fly. But I think guys are willing to go all-in to do this.

"It's just that, contrary to what you guys might believe, you just don't put talent in a locker room and then boom. It just doesn't happen like that. There's a certain process that you've got to go through to become a good team."

This is where today's Clippers and the Heat of 2010-11 start to find real common ground.

As good as their best players are, the fall-off to the second-tier group is fairly precipitous. Depth is an issue for both teams. The margin for error is slim. And the time to figure it all out is short.

[+] EnlargeMiami Big 3
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireThe Heat and their "Big Three" are the reigning champs of failed expectations. They'll be remembered for the 2010-11 season and beyond not for a title, but for the Hollywood-like introduction of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.
The Heat have filled out their roster with veterans willing to take less money to make a run at a championship. The Clippers have looked to role players like Reggie Evans and Solomon Jones. Both teams could use more depth.

"Where we lost a lot of depth [in the Paul trade] was Chris Kaman," Olshey said. "It's very hard to replace a 29-year-old 7-foot All-Star. The luxury of having Chris Kaman come off your bench is immeasurable. That was going to be our strength.

"Our strength was going to be our bigs. Now it's shifted to the guards. So instead of bringing Kaman off the bench, we're bringing Mo Williams off the bench."

It's probably too soon to say whether the Clippers can get by with such a thin frontcourt. Brian Cook is the primary backup to Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Evans adds toughness and intends to use all of his six fouls every game.

Still, it's a bit disconcerting that the Clippers are last in the league with 35.3 rebounds a game.

"We've only played [seven] games. That's not a big enough sample size to know what we need yet," Olshey said. "We need a big enough sample size to evaluate our own roster, before we go use the last bullets in our gun to decide what we think we need."

"We're always going to be looking to improve the team," he said, "but I think for now we need to spend more time building on existing chemistry than changing components of the roster."

It took the Heat until the NBA Finals to find their stride last year, and even then they came up short.

The Clippers have even less time to work with this year.

"I just keep preaching patience to these kids," Billups said. "But not too patient, like, 'Awww, we're going to be good, we're going to be good.' No, you want to get there as soon as you can, but you just have to know that it's a process."

"I've always felt like that," he said. "Most of the teams I've been on, we've been pretty good. But I'm always going to play with a chip on my shoulder every night."

They'd better, or #LobCity won't be trending for much longer.

Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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