Observations From The Weekend:

 —  November 15, 2004

The Lakers are .500, with a few days off to practice, and here’s what I’ve been thinking about:

* In the Lakers four wins this year the team has 81 assists, in the four losses just 57. In the four wins, the Lakers have scored a total of just 9 more points than the losses. Assists continues to be the stat that is most telling about how this team plays — when they play one-on-one without ball distribution this team struggles. Not saying they need the Norman Dale system of five passes before a shot, but passing to the open man means wins.

* Friday night’s loss in Orlando showed all of the Laker weaknesses at once — inability to cover a good, penetrating point guard (Steve Francis); no stopper inside to slow that penetration; getting almost nothing from the bench; looking sharp for a while but letting the inconsistency in their game allow the other team back in it. That was hard to watch.

* Saturday night’s win showed all the Lakers potential at once — they played good defense for much of the game (save for the collapse when they gave the lead away); other players besides Kobe stepped up; they got enough good play inside to contain Yao Ming, they showed heart in the last quarter.

* Friday night is what makes us worry now, Saturday night is what gives us hope for the future.

* Divac coming back soon will help that future both with inside presence and depth. I probably never thought I’d write this, but he’s been missed already.

* At the top of the list of things I never thought I’d write — right now the Clippers may be better than the Lakers. The two face of Wednesday, but that’s not for the rights to L.A. Talk to me at the end of the season — the Lakers will start to gel and get better as the season wears on, the Clippers are, well, the Clippers.

* By the way, did you hear — or do as I did and read after the fact — what Donald Sterling to XTRA radio about the Clippers winning:

“It’s very important to me, very, very important,” he said, “and I’ve been trying for almost 25 years to get it right. And some people never get it right. … It’s very hard. Everybody that owns a team and every organization is smart and they’re all trying so hard to win. It’s just very difficult. It’s not like other businesses. But we never give up, nor will we ever give up.

Right. Actions speak louder than words and the Clippers have been a team more about making money — they are expected to make upwards of $30 million this year for Donald once you throw in the expansion money — than winning. Rarely are high-priced players resigned, or if they are (Brand, for example) it’s just enough to keep up the perpetual hope needed to keep fleecing fans. Ric Bucher got it right.