Clippers Catch Fire From Outside, Bury Lakers at Staples

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles LakersIf the Lakers could ask for any opportunity to enter the All-Star break with proof that they have made progress in their somewhat disastrous season, a win against the 38-17 Clippers would be it.

Sitting at ninth in the West and still fighting for a playoff spot, the Lakers were set to face their cross-hallway rivals, who currently claim the number one spot in the Pacific standings. The Clippers came into Staples Center on a three game win streak, while the Lakers had won eight of their last 11.

After a horrendous shooting night from Kobe Bryant versus the Suns on Tuesday, Bryant needed to show love on the court in this Valentine’s Day match up in the way of passing and ball distribution if the purple and gold expected anything but another gut wrenching loss. Also, the absence of Pau Gasol was a queue for Dwight Howard and the rest of the roster to step up defensively, especially in regards to taming Blake Griffin.

Griffin, who is averaging 18.5 points per game, has always been a threat against the Lakers defense and moral in each match up. Tremendous dunks and pure athleticism are issues that need to be addressed early in order to avoid a quick deficit.

First Quarter

The Lakers would have had a better field goal percentage from the locker room in the first five minutes of the game, as the Clippers started off with a 15-0 unanswered run. Steve Nash finally broke the streak with the Lakers first basket, which Bryant answered with a dunk off of an Earl Clark assist.

Strong and quick opening minutes were the key to the Clippers grasping the game early and pushing the Lakers farther and farther away from a lead, but Bryant, Nash and Howard strung together a few offensive plays to get some needed points on the board. The Clippers, however, were stealing the show offensively, leaving the Lakers scratching their heads and praying for the quarter to be over.

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A 16 point deficit was the farthest point the Lakers were behind in the quarter, as Blake Griffin led the way with 16 points in the first quarter alone. Chris Paul and ex-Laker Matt Barnes also added to the mess with a few baskets, putting the Lakers in a difficult position in order to compete in the second quarter. The Clippers finished the first 12 minutes ahead 31-17.

Second Quarter

A 10-0 run helped the Lakers chip away at the Clippers lead to start off the quarter, quickly forcing Vinny Del Negro to call a time out to try to slow down the momentum. Steve Blake’s energy while handling the ball created multiple scoring opportunities within the opening minutes of the quarter, and the Clippers couldn’t find an answer immediately to the Lakers reverting to an abundance of off the ball movement to free up space within the post.

Bryant, Howard and Nash were enjoying the show a few key bench players were putting on from the sideline, as Antawn Jamison was red hot on the floor, leading the Lakers offensively and getting the crowd right behind them. Earl Clark continued to show how important he was to the roster, especially with the absence of Pau Gasol, grabbing a few rebounds and slamming home a dunk from a Blake pass.

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The Clippers became careless with the ball, giving Metta World Peace multiple opportunities to initiate defensive pressure, forcing steals and leading to fast break baskets. Antawn Jamison had 10 points off of nine shot attempts, and World Peace began finding his own rhythm offensively as well, bringing the Lakers, at one point, within five. Both teams found themselves in the bonus in the closing three minutes, with multiple trips to the line following.

Jamison brought the side within three with the Lakers first three-pointer of the game out of 10 attempts, a disturbing 10 percent. Chauncey Billups then went on a 8-0 run by himself for the Clippers, and with Chris Paul draining a three to add, the Lakers were behind 14. A few turnovers by the Lakers starters didn’t help, and the Clippers ended the half on a 14-5 run, including a three-pointer by Matt Barnes just before the buzzer. The Lakers entered the locker room trailing 52-64.

Third Quarter

The first three baskets that the Clippers made in the quarter were all from beyond the arc, giving them a 73-54 lead without two minutes passing on the clock. The Lakers continued to show a lack of perimeter defense, and the Clippers continued to capitalize on it, taking a 20 point lead and forcing a Lakers timeout.

While the Clippers continued to find success from beyond 25-feet, the Lakers began answering with quick feeds to Dwight Howard in the post. Howard used his size and strength to force his way toward the basket, leading to an easy two points. Blake Griffin dazzled the crowd with a brilliant ally-oop off of a pass from Chris Paul, but before the crowd had time to acknowledge what just happened, World Peace was back up the other end of the floor draining a three.

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Kobe Bryant showcased the German engineering within his knees with a slam dunk that made fans reminisce the number eight days, displaying frustration in the aggression of the basket due to the Lakers lack of composure so far in the quarter. The purple and gold had given away 13 turnovers so far in the game, with many of the errors unfolding in the third quarter alone.

Jodie Meeks drew a foul from Matt Barnes while nailing a three-pointer to complete a four point play, but before the Lakers could even celebrate, Chris Paul hit the Clippers sixth three-pointer of the quarter. The Lakers, who had not led at one point throughout the entire first three quarters, headed into the final 12 minutes of the game down 80-101.

Fourth Quarter

Steve Blake opened up the final quarter with a three from the corner to cut the lead to just 18. It seemed, however, like every time the Lakers would do something impressive, the Clippers would answer automatically and deem the effort unnecessary. Small glimpses of hope came from the hands of Blake and Meeks in short bursts within the final minutes of the game, but the Clippers seemed to convert every trip down the floor into points on the board, a feat the Lakers could only dream of.

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The All Star break could be beneficial after such a morale crushing performance at home, as the Lakers looked as if they lacked chemistry and focus throughout the whole game. The Lakers were unable to grasp a lead once within the whole 48 minutes on the floor. The Clippers hitting over 15 three pointers in total, as well, gave the purple and gold no chance to build upon what little positives they could scrounge.

Despite Kobe having a somewhat better night offensively, scoring 20, the Lakers were unable to defensively contain the Clippers from the perimeter. Jamison and Blake brought glimpses of excellence to the floor, and looked as if their play could make this game a competition, but the Clippers were able to contain and conquer. The Lakers fell in their final match up before the break to the Clippers, 125-101.

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