Updated: December 26, 2011, 10:14 AM ET

1. Unwrapping A New Reality In L.A., NBA

Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- So this is how it goes. The Lakers not as awe-inspiring as they once were, the Clippers not as exciting as we thought they'd be.

Good luck finding any beholders who could see the beauty in the two games the L.A. teams played. Certainly not this one.

Those are two games' and one flight's worth of observations. And yes, I'm aware they don't sound that enthralling. Maybe we should settle in and get used to it. More often than not, this season will be about winning on the off nights, when a team is in its fourth city of the week and the legs are saying, "no more."

For me, catching the 5:45 p.m. PT flight from Burbank to Oakland meant leaving the Lakers' 88-87 loss in the fourth quarter and listening to their last-minute collapse to the Chicago Bulls on the radio. But I'd witnessed enough to get a grasp of what was going on.

I'd already seen six of Kobe Bryant's eight turnovers. I'd picked up the sense that the Lakers are like the Spurs teams we've watched the past decade or so. They're going to beat you with savvy more than with flash. When the Lakers were at their best Sunday was when they ran the offense through Bryant and Pau Gasol, and when Derek Fisher was disruptive on defense. The old standbys, all the guys with the multiple rings (give or take Luke Walton).

But they're not likely to make many plays that make fans jump out of their seats at the arena or rush to post videos on YouTube. It's no longer about Kobe soaring over everyone, it's about his finding a way to score 28 points despite a damaged wrist. Kobe abdicated most of the highlight plays to Shannon Brown last season, but with Brown gone, Kobe felt the need to do it himself on a fast break in the second half. The result was an underwhelming dunk, with Kobe adding a lot of leg action while he hung from the rim afterward to try to gain style points. The next time on the break, he executed a simple two-on-one with Fisher that resulted in a Fisher layup.

The Lakers can say they were within a possession of victory without Andrew Bynum, just as the Celtics can say they were within a shot of victory without Paul Pierce. And the Lakers can say it took a tough bucket by the reigning Most Valuable Player to beat them.

But at the moment, the Lakers can't say they're ahead of the Clippers, who beat Golden State 105-86 in their opener. There are signs things are changing. Like, literally, huge full-sized billboard signs. Such as the one on a building a block away from Staples Center, which is accustomed to being painted with images of Lakers greats but Sunday morning was in the process of being covered with images of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan. Things sound different, too. Such as the tone of frustration in the voice of Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, after his team won its opening game. On the road. By 19 points.

Del Negro was complaining about his team's perimeter defense and rotation and points-in-the-paint deficit. Chauncey Billups missed 13 of 19 shots and the bench struggled.

"I just know we can play better," Del Negro said. "I wasn't pleased with the way we gave up so many offensive rebounds. Wasn't pleased with the way we were moving the ball in the first half. There's going to be some tough spots."

Then his voice picked up, as if it dawned on him that he was 1-0, his first time with a winning record as coach of the Clippers, and life wasn't so bad after all.

"I was glad the guys kind of hung together, executed down the stretch," Del Negro said.

They finally found a semblance of a half-court offense, and it took them only 42 minutes to arrive at that point. It not-so-coincidentally coincided with the return of Paul at the 6:08 mark. He assisted on a Billups 3-pointer, then a Caron Butler jumper, and then Paul hit a couple of jumpers of his own to stretch the Clippers' lead to double digits.

It also put some scoring back into a game that had devolved into an aesthetic nightmare. Toward the end of the third quarter, new Warriors coach Mark Jackson had his players foul Jordan four times away from the ball, sending him to the line for eight free throws (he missed five). Jordan wound up missing eight of 12 free throws on the night -- an unfortunate ratio of one for every shot he blocked in his Bill Russell-like performance on defense.

"We got a win, so that's all that really matters," Jordan said. "I could've rebounded a little bit more, I felt like. What people are going to talk about is me missing however-many free throws."

The most entertaining part of the whole day was the show the Clippers put on in warm-ups, when they tried to outdunk each other to the delight of the Warriors' crowd. In the game, L.A. wound up with only one alley-oop.

It was as if the Warriors' whole game plan was to declare martial law on Lob City. Brandon Rush swiped a Griffin over-the-head pass to Jordan, and in the second half Kwame Brown simply bulldozed Jordan out of the way before he could get to a lobbed ball.

"Not every game is going to be alley-oops left and right," said Griffin, who managed 22 points but often found it tough going inside. "If it's like this every game and we get a win, we'll take it."

A pedestrian, workmanlike victory is not what fans of even the more accomplished team in Los Angeles are used to. But it's something the Lakers could have used themselves on Christmas Day.

Before it all started, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was talking about what Game 1 really represented.

"It's the next step that you're taking," Thibodeau said. "So you're out of preseason. Now it's regular season. You're trying to build the right habits so you can continue to improve. The whole idea is to be ready at the end."

That's where the focus should be, even if it's hard to picture the finish line on this day of beginnings.


2. Despite Loss, Things Looking Up For Lakers

By Dave McMenamin
ESPN LA
lastname
Bryant

LOS ANGELES -- The way the Los Angeles Lakers blew an 11-point fourth-quarter lead Sunday certainly reeked of the devastating losses against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals, but the overall basketball product was far from disappointing.

No Chris Paul. No Lamar Odom. No Shannon Brown. Kobe Bryant dealing with yet another serious injury. L.A.'s series of unfortunate events coupled with the team's utter meltdown in that 36-point loss to the Mavs to complete the sweep in May created the feeling of the franchise falling down.

But it's very possible this group is improving.

"Yes, I'm upset we lost the game," Bryant said, "but I saw a lot, a lot of positive things. A lot of them. A lot of them. So I'm very pleased."

That may seem like a lot of a lots, but think about how lousy the Lakers looked less than a week ago in that 114-95 preseason loss to the Clippers and how formidable they looked in Sunday's 88-87 loss to the Chicago Bulls, a team that led the NBA in wins last season with 62.

"We're going to score," new Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "I don't care who we play against, we're going to score. So if we can get better defensively and then do the little things -- take care of the ball, knock down free throws, and so on and so forth -- we're going to be pretty doggone good."

Check out the rest of the story at ESPN Los Angeles »

3. The Changeup: Heat, Mavs Trade '06 Places

By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

DALLAS -- When the hosts were hoisting their championship banner, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Miami Heat were spilling into the hallway adjacent to the visitors quarters at American Airlines Center, determined not to watch what was happening out on the floor.

The Heat were never going to watch from the bench, obviously, but they were just as intent on keeping the ceremony off the monitors inside their locker room, too. Ditto for the TV that hangs from the ceiling of the corridor where they were stretching.

So when it was time for the roof-bound pulleys and cables to hang proof of what the Dallas Mavericks won in June at the Heat's expense, Miami's players were jostling for wall space to lean on for those stretches.

And watching crunch time in the Boston-at-New York nail-biter on the hallway set instead.

"I was expecting some dramatic moment," Heat newcomer Shane Battier joked, toying with the media crowd around him. "I was expecting a dark cloud to descend over the hall. But there were no rah-rah speeches. Nothing like that.

"Anticlimactic is the word I'm looking for. Sorry, guys."

Check out the rest of Stein's postgame report from Dallas »

4. Daily Dime Live Rewind

Relive all the chatter, memes and photoshops of Sunday's Christmas Day Daily Dime Live.


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