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Battle For Los Angeles: Lakers And Clippers Weekly Update

Andrew Seah |
January 28, 2013 | 4:03 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Pau Gasol has been below his best this season. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Pau Gasol has been below his best this season. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)

This is the inaugural edition of a new weekly NBA column summarizing the weekly performances of the two teams in Los Angeles. Each week, we will focus on prominent storylines regarding both teams, bring to attention lesser-known factoids and hopefully provide a fun, insightful perspective for the remainder of the season. 

Los Angeles Lakers (19-25)

This Week's Record: 2-2 

Snapshot: Consecutive losses to tough, playoff-bound teams (Chicago and Memphis) but ended on a high after an encouraging victory over Oklahoma City which saw a cohesiveness between the 'Big-Four' and their motley crew bench. 

The Noteworthy:

-- In their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Pau Gasol recorded a season-high 16(!) points as a reserve. Just as recently as this past off-season, the close promixity of the words "Pau Gasol" and "reserve" would sound like an absurdist notion. Now, the fact that he managed an efficient 16 points in and of itself is newsworthy. It is a microcosm of the Spaniard's most lackluster season, including career-low production across the board, since first donning the Lakers' jersey.

-- Yet another Gasol-related bullet: Coach Mike D'Antoni continues to bench the four-time All-Star in favor of Earl Clark. The effervescent role player has been one bright spark for the purple and gold this season. Clark has shown the knack for making good cuts, spaces the floor well with legitimate three-point range (50 percent for the season) and forms a more athletic front court partnership with Dwight Howard. It is one thing to go with the flow and reward Clark's play with more minutes, but there must come a point in time during the season when D'Antoni finally figures out how to fully utilize his All-Star quartet in a five-man lineup without hemorrhaging buckets on defense.

-- Despite their aging, unathletic roster, the Lakers continue to push the pace on offense. They average 97.1 possessions per game, good for top-five in the league, behind the young, fastbreak-driven squads of Houston and Denver. It is unfathomable that the Lakers are looking towards the D'Antoni-led "Seven Seconds Or Less" era as a pseudo-blueprint, considering that the one constant in both sides - Steve Nash - has caught up with age. Throw in an under performing mish-mash of role players that provide little value in terms of floor spacing (Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison's reputations as long-range gunners far exceed their actual production), and it's easy to see why the Lakers are struggling to string together a run of victories.

-- On a brighter note, Los Angeles has now won two games in a row which is, well, better than a four-game losing streak, right? It also recorded its first marquee victory over Kevin Durant's Thunder in a display of selfless basketball led by Kobe Bryant's 14 assists.

-- With games against New Orleans, Phoenix and Detroit looming, the Lakers might be looking at a purple patch this coming week. All four teams boast a sub-.500 winning percentage and are far away from playoff material. This might just well be the start of the Lakers' late-season renaissance. 

Blake Griffin's passing has been vital in Chris Paul's absence. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Blake Griffin's passing has been vital in Chris Paul's absence. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Los Angeles Clippers (33-13)

This Week's Record: 0-4

Snapshot: Without CP3 for three of their four games, the Clippers slumped to a four-game losing streak, one which simultaneously revealed the flaws of Eric Bledsoe and affirmed Chris Paul's indispensability. 

The Noteworthy:

-- I was at Staples Center for their big clash against Oklahoma City. Chris Paul was inactive and Bledsoe, starting in his place, induced cringe rather than awe. The former No. 18 pick - better known as "Mini-LeBron" - was the most passive he's been in a long while and far from his moniker. He hesitated when he should have drove, settled for (and clanked) way too many midrange jumpers, and took too long to get the team into their half-court sets. It was little surprise that head coach Vinny Del Negro plugged in forward Lamar Odom for extended periods as the team's de-facto point guard in the second half.

-- Against the Phoenix Suns, the Clippers opted to switch liberally on pick-and-rolls, which led to Eric Bledsoe covering Marcin Gortat in the paint or Goran Dragic mismatched against a slower big. For much of the season, the Clippers' much-heralded defensive improvement has been predicated on aggressive, hands-on defense that leveraged on their squad's overall superior athleticism. But for this game, they switched up their pick-and-roll coverage and decided against the purposeful hedging that has so far been successful for them. It is always fascinating to watch and inspect how each team defends the two-man game.

-- Although Bledsoe's on-ball harassing is a potent weapon, he is more susceptible to mental lapses off the ball. Case in point: Dragic leading Phoenix to victory behind 24 points and eight assists. Bledsoe deserves more than the 20-odd minutes he's been averaging this season, but this stretch has solidified the impression that Bledsoe still isn't starting point guard material - yet.

-- In the absence of Paul's facilitating, Blake Griffin unofficially took up the mantle of stand-in playmaker. Griffin averaged 6.3 assists during the week, almost twice his season average (3.6). He also recorded his first points-assists double-double, with 10 assists to go with 24 points in a losing effort against the Portland Trail Blazers. Griffin's passing has long been regarded as among the best in a league of great passing big men. He may not have the precise timing on backdoor cuts as Marc Gasol or Tim Duncan, but his fundamental ability to find teammates in space is crucial to keeping the Clippers' offense afloat, especially since Jamal Crawford is the only other guy on the roster capable of creating opportunities (both for himself and others) when Paul is out.

-- Much like their neighbors, the Clippers are looking at a relatively easy schedule this week, with all three games against below .500 teams. With Miami and New York looming in the following week, the guys from Lob City need to hit the ground running and rack up a couple of morale-boosting victories.

Reach Staff Writer Andrew Seah here



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