Four times this season, the Los Angeles Lakers have played against the team with whom they share an arena, and four times they have been roundly defeated. Today's nationally televised contest was more of the same, as the Lakers fell prey to a Clippers squad that has routinely saved some of their best basketball for whenever they play big brother. As they've done in every game, the Clips out-worked the Lakers at every turn, killing LA on the offensive boards and winning all of the loose balls en route to an easy victory. Today, the short rotation the Lakers have been working with due to the injuries of Steve Nash and Metta World Peace did them no favors.
Things started out well. Midway through the first quarter, the Lakers team defense seemed to be enjoying a Cindarella moment, magically transformed into a beautiful, amorphous hive mind. This wasn't Dwight Howard fixing everybody else's mistakes. This was clean rotations and hard close outs. This was everybody on the same page. Hell, this was everybody on the same sentence. But the Magic did not last long. The clock struck
midnight 3 minutes, and the Lakers D turned into a pumpkin once again. A bunch of turnovers, a bunch of open shots, and a dash of Matt Barnes being ridiculous had the Lakers down 5 and having given up 30 points in the quarter, and the Lakers never really recovered.
Come the second half, it was clear the Lakers just didn't have the legs to mount a strong comeback attempt. With Kobe's ongoing attempt to pitch a complete game, and a rotation that rarely goes more than 7 deep because of the injuries and a back end of the bench that is just woeful, the Lakers were unable to get stops, unable to get rebounds when they did get stops, and unable to hit shots when they got rebounds after getting stops. They fought the good fight for a while, but never threatened the game in the 4th quarter before the Clippers made things ugly in the final few minutes.
Dwight Howard scored 25 points, including 9-13 from the free throw line, but his overall effort was poor enough to once again make us wonder whether his poor play was due to his back or his head. Dwight wasn't terrible throughout, and did have 4 blocks, but he only picked up 4 rebounds on a night in which the Clippers dominated the offensive glass. There were numerous occasions in which Dwight didn't even jump for rebounds which he should have collected, and one particularly vexing incident in which he did not cross half court on defense because he wanted to complain to the ref about a missed call.
And Kobe, as valiant as he is, has got to get off this "I'm going to play every minute" kick he's got going. He looked exhausted today, shooting just 6-19 from the floor and, after being a big part of that strong defensive start, repeatedly failing to close out his man aggressively enough. In this case, I fully understand why Kobe's defense wasn't up to par. The man was dead tired, and that's completely understandable. But he's dead tired by his own choice. Coach D'Antoni, who already has a predilection for short rotations, has made it clear he will let Kobe decide his own minute count, and Kobe needs to be smart enough to know that 48 minutes of what Kobe had to give today is not as good as 40 minutes of what Kobe would have to give if he just played 40 minutes.
As to the rest of the team, it was just an all around mildly bad game for everybody. Nobody was super terrible. Nobody was a complete liability. But nobody gave the Lakers any kind of spark either. Across the box score, it's a whole bunch of sub-standard shooting and mediocre contributions. Even Earl Clark, who started the day with two promising threes, spent much of the day playing bizarre defense on Jamal Crawford. Earl, buddy, when you have 5 inches (and probably more in wingspan) on a guy, you don't need to get in his grill at 30 feet.
All in all, a bad loss for the Lakers, but probably not one that damages their playoff hopes too badly. Depending on how you feel about calling games against the Clippers "road" games, this was probably the toughest game left on the Lakers schedule, and Utah has at least two games that will be very difficult for them to win left.
So, congratulations to the Clippers for clinching their first Pacific Division crown today. Some Lakers fans would take this opportunity to mock you for celebrating this relatively unimpressive success, but not I. You've done something for the first time, and that's always awesome. In honor of your success, I pay tribute to today's team contribution to the art of thespianism.
Was there an acting class Groupon that I missed? Jesus.