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Lakers 92, Clippers 99: The Lakers get Lakered

How many times have we seen the Lakers play a game like this? Jump out to an early lead, let the other team back in it, spend the whole game just slightly behind, and then make a strong 4th quarter push to seal the game ... I can't even count the number of times I've seen it happen. Except today, it was the Lakers who fought back from that early defecit, and the Lakers who saw the game slip away as their counterparts out executed them down the stretch in the 4th quarter. My preview turned out to be more fitting than I could have guessed, as the Clippers truly pulled a role reversal on the defending champs.

Honestly, with the game still fresh in my mind, I'm having difficulty figuring out how the Lakers were so handily beaten. They spent much of the game holding Blake Griffin in check, and with Kobe Bryant playing like an MVP and Andrew Bynum dominating the middle, one would think the Lakers would have been able to pull away. But the rest of the team struggled, and the Clippers utilized Blake Griffin's resurgence and very strong ball movement in the 4th quarter to find open three point shots repeatedly, and when provided the opportunity, they capitalized.

In the end, frustration at a few suspect calls boiled over (which is not some sort of underhanded comment about the Lakers getting screwed, as they had 10 more FT attempts than the Clips, 33-23, and that includes the end game fouling), and Lamar Odom instigated a scrum that saw LO, Ron Artest, Blake Griffin and Baron Davis all get tossed with a few seconds to spare. It was stupid and unnecessary, and Artest and Griffin's ejections were a joke, but thankfully, all the meaningful time in this game had already been spent. It's a tough and deflating beat for the Lakers, who will no longer have any scrubs to cut their teeth on, with the schedule about to get real tough, real fast. And the Clips get another feather in their cap. This team may not make the playoffs, but they look determined to beat all the teams that do.

Player of the Lakers honors go to Kobe Bryant. Early on, you could sense this would be yet another game in which the Lakers didn't have that spark, but Kobe did his part to make sure the team remained within striking distance with 7 first quarter points in only 5 possessions. It's a successful clip that would continue for most of the game, and he ended up with 27 points on 17 shots (or 23 possessions, including free throws). He did, however, struggle badly from 3 point range, his 1-7 clip a microcosm of the 3-20 team mark that doomed the purple and gold.

The only other Laker to play well was Andrew Bynum. Drew scored 18 points to go along with 13 rebounds, and his defense was once again a real difference maker. On a night when most of the starters were double digits into the negative in +/-, Drew's even 0 stands out as an indication of his effect on the game. Meanwhile, Pau Gasol had another "meh" game with 13 points and 8 boards, and Ron Artest and Derek Fisher had brutal games offensively, combining to shoot 4-18 overall. Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom provided some spark off the bench, but not enough. And I hate to focus on the guy too much, but Steve Blake took one shot, and he missed.

Turnovers once again played a major role in the Laker defeat. They only had 14 on the night, which isn't nearly as horrible as some of the other numbers this team has thrown up over the past six weeks, but the Clippers turned every gifted inch into a mile, while the Lakers were happy to take their inches. The Clips managed 17 points off 14 Laker turnovers, while the Lakers only managed 7 points off the Clipper miscues.

In the end, the Lakers were defeated by their own game plan. They focused on Blake Griffin, and through three quarters, they effectively shut him down, but they did so at the expense of allowing other guys to get going. The interior focus on Blake allowed DeAndre Jordan to get a few easy put backs in the first half. Meanwhile, Eric Gordan killed the Lakers throughout, though he (with an unexpected contribution from Randy Foye) was particularly daggerish from end of the third quarter (his step back double clutch three at the buzzer provided the Clips with all the 4th quarter momentum). Gordon now has 54 points in two games against the Lakers this year, on 21-34 shooting. Maybe he should be the focal point of the defense next time around.

It's no longer embarrassing to lose to the Clippers these days. Hell, just about all the good teams are doing it. Still, it's a tough loss to stomach, because the Lakers don't have many games against teams with losing records in their near future. It also marks three straight blase games after the Lakers seemed to hit an extra gear against New York and Cleveland a few games ago. Until today, it hasn't mattered, but the Lakers sure need that extra gear from here on out.










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