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Clippers Outlast Grizzlies in Hardwood Classic Bout.

Los Angeles — Shaking off the remnants of a tough loss to the Lakers the night before, the L.A. Clippers bounced back against the visiting Memphis Grizzlies with a 98-91 win.

It wasn’t long ago that I called for a throwback uniform night for the Clippers.  The prospects of baby blue unis, instead of the regular white kit with cursive writing, was too good to pass up in my imaginary world where I have influence over such matters.

Last night, the Clippers and Grizzlies treated us to what the NBA termed as a “Hardwood Classic,” resurrecting not just the uniforms, but also the names of former ABA basketball clubs.

Los Angeles became the home of the L.A. Stars and Memphis represented the Tams in one of the ugliest amalgamation of jersey/shorts uniform I have ever seen.  In fact, through the first two quarters of the game, it was hard not to pay attention to the solid yellow jersey contrasting with the solid green shorts—it really didn’t do any favors to the powder blue and red threads the Stars were sporting.

While Vinny Del Negro’s team successfully bounced back from a difficult loss with a win, it must be recognized that the Clippers continue to struggle in several key areas which often allow the opposition to get back into the game.  After building a 16-point lead early in the game, and with an opportunity to make a statement on national T.V. about the state of Lob City, the Clippers gradually allowed Memphis to make it a competitive game, at times losing the lead.

Lob City might be appealing, but the instant gratification of impressive dunks via lobs won’t do much for your win/loss record in the long run if weaknesses aren’t addressed.  Vinny Del Negro and his staff must do a better job of preparing the Clippers if they are to live up to the expectations of their roster talent.

With that in mind, here are a few observations from last night’s game.

L.A. Clippers Should Change Their Name to L.A. Stars and Keep the Uniforms

Rise up, L.A. Stars.

The Clipper name is more stigma than brand.  Despite the raw athleticism of the current roster, the experience of El Generalissimo (Chris Paul) and Mr. Big Shot, the cursive writing on the front of the jersey shines like a bona fide stamp of misery.  Call it sports trauma, but I often get nervous whenever I see any of the players landing awkwardly after hustling for the ball, often waiting in anxious anticipation for a grimacing visage that will confirm the curse of the Clippers name.

While the whimsical gods of karma fleetingly flirt with the other L.A. team, the Clippers organization should consider changing their name and their brand.

How much cooler, and more appropriate for The City of Angels, were the uniforms from last night?  Across the chest a prominent and proud “Los Angeles.”  On the side, red and white trim with red stars.  A much stronger, prouder look for a surging team with a new mentality.

Unrealistic as it might be, I hereby call for Donald Sterling and the powers that be to re-brand Clippers basketball for the sake of its fans.  Don’t want to overdo it by changing the name? Fine, at least go back to the throwback uniforms that also featured baby blue.

Chris Paul:  Still Rusty, Still the General

El Generalissimo played in only his second game after returning from a hamstring injury.  The impact of Chris Paul’s game is largely contingent upon his ability to break down defenses when he drives to the hoop.  Similar to Derrick Rose, Chris Paul is most effective when he’s attacking the hoop.  There are too many problems that are created after he flies by his defender, and with the current weaponry of Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams, and Randy Foye, the Clippers are in a prime position to exploit the spreading of the floor with Chris Paul leading the attack.

Last night, as was the case the previous night against the Lakers, Chris’ contribution was less than optimal.  He missed a few open layups after having beat the defender off the dribble.  Despite the rust, it’s glaringly evident that Paul commands the offense like a general.  He warrants the respect of defenses and that of his teammates in  way that even Chauncey Billups can’t (a proven veteran at the point-guard).  With each passing game, look for Chris Paul to return to top form and lead his new team to better victories.

His competitive edge, motivational drive and leadership acumen will raise the bar for these young Clippers.  If the expectations league-wide are high, Chris’ are even higher.  Never mind the over-celebration of a fancy lob, what matters to Paul is that you get back on defense right away.  You celebrate when the “W” is on the board, not when you’re hanging on the rim.

Just Another Game?  Not Against the Clippers

El Generalissimo Leads the Way

What is it about the “lowly” Clippers that raises the ire opposition?  Were the Mayans correct about 2012?  The history of the NBA is brimming with Clipper loses.  With only three winning seasons over a 34 year period with the Clipper name, they have only had three winning seasons.

Overnight they have become the team-to-beat without so much as having won a playoff game with their current roster.  I have seen almost every game this season, and time and again the level of play is raised by the opposing team versus the Clips.  Teams come in determined not to get their passports stamped by Lob City, at times resorting to hard fouls that put the health of Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan in jeopardy.

Games versus the Lakers, Mavericks, Blazers, Heat and Grizzlies all led to acknowledgment, by various commentators, that these games had the feel and atmosphere of a playoff game.  Maybe this is why it’s so entertaining to watch the Clippers, and why they often lose focus down the stretch.  A team that is not battle tested in the playoffs cannot respond appropriately without having been there, and as such, it is easy to lose leads to more veteran and cohesive teams.

The good news is that the Clippers are 10-6 thus far, despite the high level of in-game competition.  Most of their games, however, have come at home.  February will have them on the road and we will get a better feel for where these Clippers stand.

Mo Williams is Hot

Prior to Chris Paul landing on Vinny’s lap, Mo Williams was expected to be the starting point-guard.  Then the flurry of post-lockout moves happened and he was relegated to the bench behind CP3 and Chauncey Billups, a move that was seen as a slight to the quality of his game.  Were he not with the Clippers, Mo Williams would be a starter anywhere else.  Herein lies the conundrum that Del Negro faces:  how do you keep a legit offensive threat happy on the bench?

I’m not sure if Mo’s recent outstanding performance is in response to being relegated to the bench, or if he has somehow embraced his role in this offense.  One this is clear, however:  he’s extremely hot and crucial for the second unit of the Clippers.

The streaky and emotional Williams has been posting impressive scoring numbers off the bench, and if the case is that he understands the importance of his role on this team and that his impact is higher when it is most needed (off the bench), then Clippers’ lack of depth is temporarily assuaged by Williams’ hot hand.

Last night, despite not having started, Williams closed the game on the floor.  He was appropriately rewarded for his hustle and scoring down the stretch, and it could very well turn into a commonplace occurrence given Billups’ erratic efficiency.

Caron Butler is Crucial for Clippers Success

The often underrated, third acquisition during this off-season has provided the Clippers with an outstanding consistent contribution.  Caron Butler continues to provide a solid option for the guards and the big men.  His potent offense repeatedly keeps the Clippers in the game.  He was the hottest Clipper versus the Lakers, and again proved to be streaky against the Grizzlies.

Once again, big ups to Caron.

Free Throws, Technical Fouls, Turnovers and Rebounding Still a Problem.

The ugly side of Clippers basketball was very evident in last night’s game.  Blake and D.J. continue to give away easy points from the free-throw line.  A lack of depth in the front-court leads to too many second-chance points by the opposition, and sloppy turnovers translate into diminished big leads.

Add to that a consistent hot-headedness that results in technical fouls, and you have a situation in which the Clippers do not take advantage of the easy points they earn, and suffer because of the easy points they give away.

“They made us earn everything.  I was pleased with the way we got some stops at the end when we needed to, we got scores when we needed to. Different guys stepped up. It was a good team effort for us, but we gave up too many rebounds and we turned it over too much.” – Del Negro

Maybe Vinny D. is incapable of instilling better discipline into this organization.  In spite of the talent on the team, it might take a different coaching mentality to get these guys in gear.  Whatever the case, I hope someone points out the obvious.  Come playoff time, this will translate into an early exit.

Highlights/Recap:

Derrick Rose Leads Bulls Past Aging Celtics

Derrick Rose finished with 25 points, seven assists and four rebounds as the Chicago Bulls routed the Boston Celtics 88-79 at the Garden.

Chicago now holds the best record in the NBA at 11-2 despite a gruesome game schedule.

Check out this highlight reel move from the reigning MVP.  Not only does he split the defenders while guarding the ball, he manages to acrobatically contort his body midair and hits the bucket—AND the foul! (Foul wasn’t called, but it should have been).

Clippers outduel Lakers to Sweep Preseason Bouts

Lob City — More than a moniker, it has become a reality if these preseason games are any indication of what’s in store for the regular season.

The much-anticipated rivalry that sprouted overnight with the arrival of Chris Paul has not disappointed.

Time and again I’ve heard and read basketball analysts mention the electricity at Staples Center for both of these preseason games.  Even if you didn’t have a seat in the stadium you could still feel the energy and the buzz as we watched lob after lob after lob in tonight’s Clippers victory over the Lakers by a score of 108-103.

I don’t quite recall any game that had as many dunks and lobs as tonight’s match.  By the third period, and after the 20 gazillionth Deandre Jordan dunk, I texted a close friend of mine to unofficially confirm my sentiment.  He agreed.  It was almost as if the Clippers were establishing the fact that Blake Griffin wasn’t kidding when he termed the new state of L.A. as lob city, and as if the Lakers weren’t going to give up that title without sending a few lobs of their own.

Andrew Bynum shined for the Lakers with 26 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks.  This led me to rhetorically ask myself, foolishly perhaps, whether this was a ploy to entice the Magic into trading for him (the Dwight Howard dilemma).

The Blake Show.

Not to be outdone, especially in the fourth quarter, Blake Griffin put up 30 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, a few signature dunks, a hook shot, a couple of scoops, a flop, cross-over handles and a partridge in a pear tree.  The whole versatility of his game was on display — everyone has been put on notice.  As Charlie Murphy would say, “he was incredible!”

The Lakers were without Kobe Bryant due to a wrist injury he suffered on Monday night’s game.  Unlike the first game, they hung around until the end of the game despite not having the services of their superstar.  Similar to the first game, however, they committed 21 turnovers, compared to the Clippers’ six.

Chris Paul had a “quiet” night delivering seven points and 10 assists.  Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler put up eight and 16 points respectively.

It may have been a pre-season game, but ask anybody that was present, including the Lakers who were playing until the last few seconds, if it really meant nothing.  Blake Griffin’s stare-downs of Matt Barnes after a brief scuffle will tell you otherwise.

Los Angeles, get ready for a great season.

Video highlights can be found here, courtesy of nba.com.

Lakers: Open Scrimmage Impressions

Kobe & Pau Gasol
Instability in Lakers Kingdom.

Amidst a sprinkling of purple and yellow, my nephew and I made our way from the parking structure to USC’s Galen Center where the Lakers were hosting an open scrimmage.

The events that had transpired in the last week—the trade for Chris Paul, the nixing of such trade, Lamar Odom’s hurt feelings and eventual trade to the Mavericks, the Clippers winning the CP3 sweepstakes, and Kobe Bryant’s pending divorce—could all be felt in the air upon arriving at our seats.

A proud fan base seemed downtrodden and emotionally spent by recent events. The proclamation by the media at large that there was a new hot ticket in town is not something the fans, nor the Lakers organization, were prepared for. The ever flourishing purple & gold roses were finally wilting and even the forced cheers from the fans at Galen Center could not undo the reality of a declining superpower.

Red T-shirts and jerseys were even spotted in the upper sections, an immediate sign that affirmed the tectonic shifts of perception—the wearers standing with dignity, no longer suffering from ailments of ridicule; decades of shame wiped away with one trade and in its places winds of envy and misdirected anger.

Lakers Scrimmage
Kobe warms up pre-scrimmage.

As the players meandered onto the floor, the crowd’s spirits picked up. The excitement built up as fans looked towards the tunnel, patiently waiting for their beloved Lakers, looking for any sign that everything was going to be okay.

Metta World Peace was present, as was Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum. Kobe, of course, received the loudest welcome, but his demeanor radiated disappointment and a lack of interest—not exactly the type of body language fans were looking for to refill their confidence canisters. The core of the team was essentially the same, and yet it felt and looked like a lesser, unfamiliar team because of Lamar’s absence.

It wasn’t all bad news, however. Once the scrimmage finally started, fans were treated to something different than what they’ve been used to ever since Phil Jackson took over as coach: a point guard. For as long as I’ve been watching the last iteration of Lakers championship caliber teams, I never quite enjoyed it. With the exception of Shaquille O’neal’s dominance during Kobe’s youthful prime, the rest has been a dull, half-court, triangle-offense style of play that has produced results at the cost of enjoyment.

With Mike Brown as the new coach, the team appears to finally be on board of allowing the point guard to run the floor. ThisMike Brown created a more dynamic, faster and fun style of play. Add to that the arrival of a few fresh and athletic legs, and for a couple of quarters, we all forgot about the red and white elephant in the room.

Devin E. Banks, Josh McRoberts and Zach Andrews all looked eager and able to play—I’m hoping this athleticism transfers over to regular season games, if it does the Clippers v. Lakers games will be extremely fun to watch. Jason Kapono put his three-point efficiency on display as he hit four times from downtown. Luke Walton looked goofier than ever and continued to surprise the sporting community with his employment as a professional basketball player (I refuse to believe there aren’t better basketball players for hire, I fully expect ESPN to do a 30-for-30 on it).

Andrew Bynum‘s knee looks fragile and made me worry every time he put pressure on it. The knee-brace didn’t help. Given his history of injuries, compounding it with a shortened schedule that favors youth, and no longer being able to plug-in Lamar Odom in his position is definitely a concern for the Lakers.

Pau? Pau was just Pau. Consistent. It’s too bad he also knows his head is on the chopping block should the Magic agree to move Dwight Howard.

Oh yeah, “Metta World Peeeeaccceeee.” That’s what it sounded like when he was first introduced and the crowd loved it. I couldn’t help but chuckle every single time his name was called. That part should be fun for the entire league.

Kobe Bryant, having entered the twilight of his career, has started taking on shades of MJ circa ’96. The explosive step now gone, he appears to be resorting to smarter play. More fadeaways, less flair, but competitive as always. At one point he elbowed Kapono (playfully?) on the chest after having lost a ball to him. I hope this was a sign of his black mamba pedigree and not an indication that off-the-court marital problems could decay the foundation and heart of this team.

While it remains to be seen whether the Clippers will, indeed, live up to expectations, it is undeniable that Lakers Nation has suffered an unexpected wound that even Kobe can’t undo. The Lakers may not be a sure thing like years past, but they still maintain an above average roster capable of competing and entertaining, anchored by one of the greatest and most competitive players to have ever played the game.

So take it easy, Laker fan. You may not get a chance to prominently fly your Lakers mini flags from the windows of your cars, and maybe you won’t have as many chances to bombard my newsfeed with “suck it” messages after every Lakers victory (or maybe it’ll get worse because it won’t be as easy), but at the end of the day just know that you’ve never experienced what it’s like to be a Clippers fan.

If there’s ever been an organization and a fan-base worthy of some Karmic justice, it is the Clippers. Instead of misplacing your hatred for Stern onto the other LA Team, you should be happy that there will finally be a rivalry in the best sport that LA has to offer.

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