After being on the receiving end of the most thorough of drubbings, a fact only exacerbated by the nature of who the opponent was, the Lakers looked to make significant adjustments to their game-play Wednesday night in their rematch against the Los Angeles Clippers. Having struggled on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor in Monday’s preseason opener, the Lakers resumed their crash course in Mike Brown’s system on Tuesday, hoping to resolve the major deficiencies and leave the minor ones for another day.
Unfortunately, waiting to fight another day seems to be a motif of this year’s Lakers, as injuries have plagued Lakers starters. Point guard Steve Blake is struggling with a bruised right knee, and woe of all woes, star guard Kobe Bryant was unable to play due to a torn ligament in his right wrist. Already shorthanded on time and now on players, the Lakers needed strong performances from multiple players if they didn’t want a repeat of Monday’s underwhelming effort.
With Kobe’s absence, the Lakers started with Pau, Bynum, Ebanks, Kapono, and Fisher. On the very first possession, the Lakers looked much better defensively than the previous game. Pau and Bynum both hedged hard and quickly, and the wingmen showed a concerted effort to recover quickly to contest shots. The early success on defense was matched by flow on the other end, as Pau and Bynum were aggressive and accurate. The Lakers looked very relaxed, and it seemed Fisher had a calming influence, no doubt to the surprise of his naysayers.
Having been so long accustomed to the Phil Jackson way of things, Ebanks starting was disconcerting to see, to say the least. But for all of Jackson’s strengths, it seemed he often overlooked talent waiting in front of him. Ebanks started very well, hitting his first four shots, and looking very confident in doing so. He posted up aggressively, and on defense, he looked locked in and focused.
Andrew Goudelock saw some minutes, and wasted no time trying to get his shot off. With all the young players getting valuable time, it looked as if he was determined to make Brown’s decision on who makes the team very easy. Speaking of Brown, the head coach was vocal and active on the sidelines, shouting directions in stride.
Blake Griffin looked to assert himself early, and was very effective, overpowering McRoberts and Pau at times. His aggressiveness opened the game up for his teammates, and he was a focal point of the Clippers’ offense for the majority of the quarter.
All in all, the Lakers looked much, much better offensively in the first quarter. As a team, they shot an astronomical 66.7 percent, and hit 3 out of 4 three point attempts. It would much more encouraging if the Clippers hadn’t matched that percentage exactly, only trailing 31 to 36.
Metta World Peace didn’t come out looking very peaceful, seeming very frustrated that he hadn’t scored yet. First possession? And one. The artist formerly known as Ron has struggled during these preseason games, and he looked very determined to find his place. It has become increasingly apparent however, that he is not in the basketball state of mind at the moment. After a blown coverage, Brown called a timeout and was unreserved in his verbal lashing of World Peace.
With the starters sitting, the offensive ease with which the Lakers played in the first disappeared. Moving Steve Blake to the bench was a very good move, proving to be a guide for unsteady feet and unsettled minds. That was not to say he was mistake free however. The second unit had a plethora of turnovers.
A key factor in the game was Mike Brown’s pronounced presence on the court, even if only vocally. Every player seemed attuned to his direction, and the results were extremely positive. He directed traffic, yelled out screen responsibilities and encouraged hustle. The offense looked less rushed, and and the defense looked more intense. In one sequence, Brown was literally jumping up and down screaming at a player to get down the court. It is encouraging to see that he’s not content to crumble despite such overwhelming odds.
The star of the first half was easily Andrew Bynum. His potential fully realized, the Lakers center was destroying on both ends of the court. He scored nine straight during a crucial stretch late in the second, and he was very noticeable on defense. With the pecking order seemingly suspended, Bynum broke loose, scoring 17 points while ripping down seven rebounds.
After two consecutive turnovers, the Lakers gave up some ground on the scorecard, keeping it close at 56-53. Bynum led all scorers with 17, while Fisher leading in assists at seven.
The third started slow for the Lakers, and with Green and Barnes getting their first minutes of the game, whatever chemistry that had been developed in the first half was lost. The Clippers continued pressing forward, making smart decisions and exploiting the gaping holes that opened in the Lakers defense. As expected, coach Brown took an early time out to go over things with his team, as the energy that had spurred them on in the first half had died down significantly.
Considering how close this game was throughout, it is no wonder that both teams got very testy. After Griffin slipped a screen moving deep into the paint, Barnes committed a hard foul and pushed Griffin to the ground, earning himself a flagrant one foul. It is becoming readily evident that a rivalry is in the making, and the Clippers are no longer content being beat up by Big Brother, an attitude shift that flows through their star power forward.
The Lakers seemingly failed to grasp the lessons learned from Monday, their third quarters woes then seeping into this game. They turned over the ball too often, way too often, and their flow on offense was lost. On the other end, the Clippers regained their recently endowed swagger. Griffin and Jordan found their way to the rim too easily, and forward Caron Butler saw too many easy jumpers.
To put it frankly, the Lakers looked tired. Pau and Bynum felt the weight that Kobe feels in carrying a team, and whenever they looked for help, there was none to be found. Being in the championship race for 4 straight seasons, while running the risk of motivation loss, does something for a team’s confidence. The Lakers looked like a completely different team, in terms of style, personnel, and most importantly, confidence. While it is understandable that confidence is gained through knowledge, it is unusual to see the Lakers’ recede, even if only for moments at a time.
The Lakers, fearing deja vu, made a rally early to get back in the game. Goudelock came alive due to Blake’s aggressiveness, and hit multiple long shots. Energy restored, the Lakers made it clear they did not take too kindly to getting embarrassed by their neighbors. They cut the lead down from double digits, and bombed their way back into the game.
The energy from the crowd was definitely a major factor, and there were as many Lakers fans as Clippers’. As the Lakers slowly made their run, the crowd roared with long awaited approval.
But Blake Griffin would have none of it, throwing down a vicious dunk on one possession and forcing the and one on a second. With competitors like Paul and Griffin, the presumed Lakers comeback was slow in the making. With dazzling post up moves and unforeseen ball handling ability, Griffin stole the show late in the fourth. Granted, he was wowing the crowd at the expense of a defensively inept Troy Murphy, but the moves were there, just the same.
But the Lakers three pointers kept them close. For all of their ineptitude on defense, they certainly had the stroke on Wednesday. Goudelock. Barnes. Murphy. Even World Peace.
The Lakers were one three pointer away from tying the game (Barnes had an open Steve Blake in the corner), but Griffin, coming up clutch again, drew the offensive foul with a perfectly executed flop. The officials were definitely one sided throughout, but Griffin sold it perfectly, tilting his head back in appropriately timed agony. The play effectively sealed the win for the Clippers, winning it at the line.
Keys to the Game:
1. Turnovers-The Lakers actually shot the ball fairly well, and posted a good three point percentage. But you can’t score if you give the opponent the ball every chance you get.
2. Energy-If the Lakers played with the energy they exhibited the first quarter, the game would have had a much different tone. The defense was there in mind; the effort in body was not.
3.Metta World Peace-If anyone needs a helping hand, it’s World Peace. All jokes aside, Ron Ron was terrible for most of the night. He’ll need to produce more to justify extended playing time on a roster loaded with small forwards.
4. Blake Griffin-The guy is the shiz. He posted a monster line of 29 points, five rebounds, and seven assists. You can’t compete with that.
5. Kobe Bryant-In close games like these, it helps to have one of the best closers in the game, injured wrist or not.
Keys to the Future:
1. Three Point Shooting-For these first two games, the Lakers have hit a good percentage of their deep shots (over 40%). If they can keep a good flow in their ball movement, their shooters can only get better looks. In fact, the three ball is what kept the Lakers close in this game. Side note: seeing Steve Blake hit from deep is probably the most encouraging takeaway from this game.
2. Get the Ball to the Bigs-Bynum and Gasol are incredibly valuable resources. And with the way Bynum played on Wednesday, no sensible Lakers fan would approve a trade that involves sending Bynum AND Gasol to Orlando for Dwight Howard. If Kobe can get them good looks while remaining deadly himself, this team can be extremely good offensively.
3.Take Care of the Ball-‘Nuff said.