Lakers/Clippers: Seeds of a Rivalry

Jeff Skibiski —  January 16, 2011
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

The inconsistency that has plagued the Lakers all season long reared its ugly head in today’s matinee affair against the upstart Clippers, resulting in a 99-92 loss to end the forum blue and gold’s seven-game winning streak. Going into today, much of the focus was on the NBA’s newest darling, Blake Griffin. Unfortunately, for the Lakers, it was his less heralded, but equally impressive teammate Eric Gordon who stole the show, scoring a game high 30 points on 13-20 shooting, including a bevy of clutch shots in the fourth quarter.

After Derek Fisher stole a game away from the Clips in the teams’ first meeting of the season, you knew that Griffin, Gordon and Co. were going to put up a fight. For more than two and a half quarters, the Lakers met their energy, with Kobe heating up early, Bynum proving why he too is one of the league’s most promising young big men and Odom energizing the second unit through the first eight minutes of the third quarter. That’s right around when things — mainly a 12-point lead — started to go awry for the Lakers, though, as the Clippers guards thoroughly dominated the fourth quarter. From Gordon’s brilliance, Baron Davis’ continued resurgence to even a Randy Foy sighting, the Lakers anemic defense down the stretch proved little match for the Clippers’ athleticism.

Give credit to L.A. for holding Griffin in check for most of the game, leading to an uncharacteristic 7-20 shooting day that ended Blake’s streak of 14 consecutive games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. Even on an off day, the burly forward still wound up notching 18 points and 15 rebounds, finally asserting himself in the paint when it mattered most in the latter half of the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for the Lakers, the Clippers front line is two dimensional now with the rapid growth of center DeAndre Jordan, who was the perfect mop-up man all game long (eight points, 15 rebounds). Most games, the Lakers offer a similar two-pronged attack with Bynum and Gasol, but only one — Andrew (18 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks) — decided to show up in the second half of the game in what was probably his best effort since re-joining the starting lineup. I think you can assess blame to both the Lakers guards (Fisher, Brown and the still struggling Steve Blake) for going away from their big men in the final 16 minutes and also to Gasol, who had another one of the bizarre non-factor performances that have happened all too often after his hot start to the season.

Despite their offensive and defensive inefficiencies, this game was more than winnable had the Lakers executed with any decency in the fourth quarter. Down the stretch, it was the suddenly confident Clippers — not the Lakers — who played with the poise of an elite team. The box score tells part of the story here as the Lakers only tallied 12 assists to the Clippers 28. They also outrebounded the Lakers by a 50-45 margin, led by the Jordan/Griffin tandem. It was the latter player who was involved in a tussle with Lamar with 5.7 seconds to go in the game that resulted in ejections for Griffin, Davis, Odom and Artest. Looking at the replay, the entire sequence seemed pretty unnecessary, but these are things that happen when you’re a frustrated team on the verge of losing a game you should and could have won.

In many ways, this game reminded me of the early season game against the Nuggets (who the Lakers will face in Denver this week, by the way) that ended the season-opening eight-game winning streak; a 36-minute effort against an eager, more athletic team. There are several people — many who’ve commented on this site — who believe the team’s now dismissed seven-game winning streak was a mirage of sorts; a product of slightly improved play against still primarily mediocre to poor teams. With an inconsistent effort like today, it’s easy to see why. If the Clippers have proved anything over the course of the past month or so, it’s that their own play during the first month and a half of the season was similarly a mirage . They’re far from raising any trophies, but make no mistake about it, this is a team to be reckoned with in the second half of the season. Ultimately, it’s also a team the Lakers should be able to beat, knowing full-well that one of the league’s easiest schedules promptly ends with tomorrow night’s showdown against the third-seeded Thunder and games against Dallas, Denver and Utah looming.

Jeff Skibiski

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26 responses to Lakers/Clippers: Seeds of a Rivalry

  1. We have a serious point guard problem.

  2. Beyond the overused ‘Lakers are bored’ excuse, I see 3 major issues that continue to rear their ugly heads for this team:

    1. The ‘serious point guard problem’ alluded to above. Fisher we know about, but the hope was that Blake would be solid enough to steal more and more minutes from Fish as the season progressed. Instead he’s been way too passive and his shot has gone into the tank.

    2. Artest’s uneven play. He has been improving of late but with Artest it’s hard to guess how permanent that improvement will be. After a season and a half I was hoping for more progress in terms of comfort level in the offense by now.

    3. Gasol’s struggles. This is the one that scares me. Forget the MVP talk, Pau hasn’t even played like an All-Star much of the time since that excellent November. Bynum and Odom are producing the goods, but Gasol is the only one other than Kobe that can really function as the focus of the offense. He has to be aggressive and productive enough to put opposing defenses under consistent pressure, or the Lakers won’t function at a high level, no matter what Odom and Bynum do. If this slump continues we will find ourselves slipping down the standings as the schedule gets tougher.

  3. Hey, but Farmar was a little “erratic” … good thing we got rid of him. Much better to have a guy who is over 30, slow, can’t do anything but shoot and won’t shoot.

    Per a Hollinger tweet, Blake Griffin was needlessly contesting the last rebound trying to get to 20, hence Odom took offense. I didn’t catch that the first time because I’m slow.

  4. I just watched the clip of the scrum – can someone please explain why Ron Artest was ejected? All I saw was him trying to play peacemaker.

  5. Joel, good points. The reason I qualify the point guard problem as “serious” is that I see it as impossible to correct given our current personel. Gasol can and will get his act together. Artest might, but we have other solutions at the 3.

  6. Considering Gasol’s consistency issues, does anyone know if there is spare Kardashian for him?

  7. No, the lakers 7 game winning streak shouldn’t be dismissed, but it was far from impressive and shouldn’t be applauded either. It was a 7 game winning streak against Detroit, Phoenix, NO, NY, Cleveland, Golden State and the Nets. 5 of the 7 were at home. And the only quality win was versus the Knicks, at home. The Lakers only played well against Detroit and Cleveland. The lakers “new” defensive scheme has all the same problems as the “old” one.

    The Lakers give up way too many uncontested 3’s and lay-ups. Gasol has been looking like Shawn Bradley on the defensive end and has been to easily flustered by aggressive opponents.

    As for this game in particular, I felt they completely ignored Kobe in the second half so it was inevitable that he was going to put his stamp on the game. Fisher just doesn’t guard anyone. I just cannot understand why the minutes ratio between fish and blake has almost been 2:1. And people will allude to Blake not taking a lot of shots, but we have to be mindful of who normally plays alongside Blake, Shannon Brown. Shannon has played well but he takes a lot of shots, and rarely passes up a shot. Blake really needs some time with the starters

    The lakers continue to show that they can not beat good teams/ bad teams playing good basketball.

    The lakers have a tough schedule ahead and the forecast isn’t as sunny as our weather right now.

  8. P. Ami, as a French teacher, I have to ask if “P” stands for “Petit”.

    At this point a spare Kardashian certainly couldn’t hurt Pau’s game, but I think some kind of testosterone supplement/therapy might take priority.

  9. As stretches of regular season games in January go, I think the next two weeks will be fairly educational:

    OKC
    @DAL
    @DEN
    Utah
    SAC
    Boston

    Basically the 3-6 teams in the West, assuming Denver does trade Carmelo Anthony, and the Celtics. I think we will know a little more about the Lakers by January 30.

  10. Additional causes for alarm:

    4. Incompetence versus the zone. For some reason, Lakers unable ever to establish the bigs inside against a zone. Worse, Clips zone is weak– wait ’til the Lakers face a healthy Dallas team.

    5. Our bigs getting pushed around by more physical players. Again, if we got worked by DeAndre Jordan, wait ’til we see KG and Perk.

    6. Inability to reconcile Kobe hero mode with Triangle. More specifically, can anyone here remember a game in which Kobe went ballistic for a quarter, then we *returned* to running the offense efficiently? If Kobe goes supernova, it better be enough to win, because the Lakers are never able to re-establish the motion offense once this occurs.

    7. We’re an utterly unathletic team other than Shannon (whose athleticism is more highlight-driven than useful) and Matt, who is hurt. LO is an exception, I suppose.

    8. Awfulness of our PGs. Oops, someone mentioned this already…

    I’m sorry, but I really don’t understand this team– on paper, we look so unbelievably good and the first blissful weeks of the season had me thinking sixpeat, but now….

  11. Blizzard at 3: “Much better to have a guy who is over 30, slow, can’t do anything but shoot and won’t shoot.”

    Perfect compliment to Fish, who is over 30, slow, and can’t shoot, period.

  12. Well, at least Kobe is scoring well and marching up the all time list.

    Maybe that’s what this season will be about.

  13. I’m not sure that the level of competition has as much to do with the Lakers’ successes or woes as it does with most teams. We’re a team that seems to play in sections – whether runs of wins or losses, or wildly disparate play from quarter-to-quarter. It’s part and parcel of the on/off switch mentality that has been debated so much thoughout the past decade. And, I’d agree with those pointing to Pau. He’s the guy who changed eveything for us, came in when Kobe was at his most frustrated, instantly bought into the system, changed the landscape of who we were as a team. If he’s not giving his full effort and enthusiasm then it affects the team on whole. Pau isn’t a streak player, he needs to be on the job, full-time.

  14. The momentum really turned when Drew got his T and left the game. He’s got to learn to play through crap like that, even when he’s not getting good calls.

  15. @11 R

    You jest but that was part of why I belief they picked up Blake in the first place. For a more seemless transition from Fisher.

  16. Hi guys,

    Just watched this video over at bballbreakdowns (http://bballbreakdown.com/2010/06/01/2010-nba-finals-keys-to-the-lakers-part-2-everyone-but-kobe/), mentioning how the Lakers will play intense defense 8-10 possesions per game, when they recognise a scouted play and deny the key passes.

    This is great, if it takes away just enough possesions to win the game (8-10 points)… but it is not so great, if the defenders are focused on looking for plays and waiting for the sign that they have to defend hard.

    Good defense can be played all game (which usually is not possible on the other end of the court).

    Would not surprise me if the Zen master approaches it this way… and it might work great in the playoffs, while costing the Lakers right now.

  17. Well Kobe did what he could do,so did Bynum.The problem is PJ s insistence not playing Kobe a little more.A good momentum was lost when he took Kobe out at the start of 4th period.When he is hot why not ride him?Especially when Pau is this weak.

  18. When the lakers were on that losing streak last december, I remember PJ said that he would teach those players the consequences of not playing hard. Pau Gasol has not been showing up in almost every game this past weeks or month I guess it is time for him to be at the bench and let Lamar start as PF. LO has been playing pretty consistent this season and I think he more than desrve a slot to start than Pau.

  19. Overall, I thought that the Lakers played well enough to win, but fell to a very hot team on a roll. Kobe did an exceptional job of facilitating team chemistry on offense–and Andrew mostly came through.

    The deepest problem was a team defense that couldn’t get stops when it counted.

  20. Phil is reasonably consistent in the 4th qtr, regardless who is hot. He may leave Shannon or Andrew in for a minute or so, but they will be out by the 5-6 minute mark. Guys know when they are playing in that qtr. Perhaps he needs to change it up for a while, just to change the 4th qtr mojo. Also, we might just find some new ways to close the game. The finishers so expect Kobe to take over they stop cutting, but continue their passing into traffic.

  21. Busboys @ 16 – well if they wanted a seamless transition from Fish, I guess they got it.

    Along with – perhaps – a seamless transition from Championship glory to …. not.

  22. I was lukewarm on Blake at the time–would have preferred a younger, bigger player (Morrow, Watson, Wright)–but I was OK with it. What we are seeing now, though, is that Blake would have been a good add if Fisher had retired and Blake REPLACED him. ADDING him to Fisher has not worked so well. Farmar, for all his flaws, was a nice change of pacefrom Fisher. Blake is more of the same, and as someone pointed out a couple of days ago, Blake does not get to play with the starters that much. So it may be that the Lakers need a different skillset in the backup 1, rather than having a guy like Blake.

  23. robinred – yeah I was hoping for Morrow too.

    Imagine – somebody who can hit a three

  24. Revisionist history is really a drag. We loved the Blake signing from July-Nov – not so much since then.

    The ocean is rough, our guys have done this before, and we are concerned about each wave. Yessssh!

    Maybe we won’t win it again this year – it is a mentally and physically tough thing to go to 4 straight finals, never mind winning 3 of them. However, saying our planning was all out of kilter because of January seems a bit of an over reaction.

  25. @ 25,

    I was, as I said, lukewarm on Blake at the time, and was opposed to the length of the contract from the start. He looked pretty good early–but he is not helping the team right now and has not been for awhile.

    As we have talked about in many threads, a team requires a blend of skills, guys with different skills. Repilcating skills often has diminished utility, and it may be that the FO and the fans who talk about this stuff misread the Blake add because we missed this point.