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Battle For Los Angeles: Lakers Gain Ground As Clippers Regress

Andrew Seah |
February 2, 2013 | 8:46 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Bryant seems to have caught the passing bug. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Bryant seems to have caught the passing bug. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
This is 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 (22-26)

This Week's Record: 3-1 

Snapshot: They are finally showing signs of life. Midway through their annual Grammy road trip, the Lakers finally won away from Staples and trounced Detroit to cap off a positive week on which they can surely only build upon. 

The Noteworthy:

-- Their win against the Minnesota Timberwolves was the Lakers' first away win in 2013. Let that digest for a moment. Since the turn of the new year, Los Angeles had lost all eight of their games away from Staples - their longest away losing streak since the 2005-06 season - including very winnable games at Toronto and Phoenix.

-- Dwight Howard re-aggravated his shoulder injury in the loss against Phoenix and is now listed day-to-day. 

-- Drama seems to follow this team wherever they go. Pau Gasol was benched during the entire fourth quarter of their 111-106 win over the New Orleans Hornets and was none too happy about it. The Hornets went small and coach Mike D'Antoni countered by benching the slow-footed Spaniard - a tactical move that nearly backfired. Through three quarters, Gasol was impacting the game in more ways than one - he had seven points, seven rebounds and seven assists - and helped the Lakers build a sizable lead. But instead of cruising to victory, they let up, and the chief culprit, Antawn Jamison - he missed open jumpers and struggled containing Ryan Anderson - continued to stay on the floor as Gasol rode the pine. D'Antoni has often been accused of being inflexible and slow with his in-game adjustments. This, unfortunately, will not provide ammunition for D'Antoni advocates. 

-- The metamorphosis of Kobe Bean Bryant. "Kobe Johnson" - a reference to Laker legend Magic Johnson - is the latest iteration of the 16-year veteran. Although still the greatest tough shot-maker in the league, Bryant has dialed back his gunning instincts in favor of a balanced floor-leading approach. In the past five Laker victories, the 34-year-old has averaged 10.4 assists. One fine example: Following a three-point brick by Metta World Peace, Bryant crashed the boards and, without hesitation, fired a pass right back out to him. What is worth noting here is not the outcome of the ensuing shot (World Peace drained it), but the confidence Bryant displayed in his teammates.

-- Even with Bryant channelling his inner "Magic," he is still unable to overshadow the true "Black Mamba." Late in the third quarter against the Hornets, Kobe weaved into the lane, hung in the air, and scored on a floater off the glass. And with that, he surpassed Oscar Robertson and moved into the NBA's top-10 all-time scoring list. 

-- Metta World Peace has a knack for the spotlight. Now, he has finally turned that knack into a full-fledged hidden camera show. It is, of course, titled "Metta World Pranks". Between his offbeat post-game interviews and idiosyncratic on-court antics - his blowing-kisses-to-the-crowd routine never gets old - the Lakers' small forward is a bonafide entertainer. May the hilarity and laughter commence. 

-- Los Angeles Lakers. In the fourth quarter. With a revolver. The Lakers seem to enjoy shooting themselves in the foot. Against New Orleans and Phoenix, they held comfortable double-digit leads going into the fourth quarter and let each team back into the game. This time, they blew another sizable second-half lead in Detroit, missed four potential game-sealing free throws in the last 16.8 seconds (Steve Nash missed two!), and were a Kobe Bryant three-point play away from letting another game slip away. 

-- The annual Grammy road trip is officially underway, and the big tests against Brooklyn, Boston and defending champion Miami await. 

Los Angeles Clippers (34-15)

This Week's Record: 1-2

Snapshot: The Clippers are stuck in a funk and still seem confused on offense without their superstar point guard. They barely edged Minnesota and were a complete no-show against the Raptors. They are getting by without CP3 - barely - but the cuts are not as crisp, the ball-movement less fluid, and the wins less frequent.

The Clippers desperately miss their floor general, Chris Paul. (Nikk_LA/Wikimedia Commons)
The Clippers desperately miss their floor general, Chris Paul. (Nikk_LA/Wikimedia Commons)

The Noteworthy:

-- There may be other important bullets over the course of the season, but none may be as downright bizarre as this. Caron Butler's fake high-five to Raptors' center Jonas Valanciunas will probably be drowned in a season full of highlights, but in that moment with the clock winding down, no one could say they saw it coming. It was peculiar, silly, annoying, and comical all at once. The fans were on their feet, cheering their team that was about to beat one of the league's best teams. Both teams were one step into the locker room. But in one fell swoop, a clear path foul managed to diffuse all energy and prolong the inevitable. It was an incident that, quite simply, could have been avoided. 

-- With their loss to the Boston Celtics Sunday afternoon, they are now 2-5 after their six-time All-Star point guard re-aggravated his bruised kneecap against Golden State. As diligently explored by the guys over at ClipperBlog, perhaps the loss of Chris Paul is impacting the team twofold. The starting lineup's entire dynamic is built on the tenet of Paul's playmaking. Apart from Blake Griffin, none of the other three Clippers are consistently capable of creating their own shot. For all his long arms and athleticism, Eric Bledsoe is inadequate in filling the creative void (Griffin, though, has emerged an able facilitator from the post). Similarly, the removal of "Mini-LeBron" has rid the second unit of its chemistry, and forced ball-handling duties onto the trio of Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom and Grant Hill. In limited minutes, this lineup has turned the ball over at an alarming 19.4 times per 48 minutes. The stability and familiarity that characterized the Clippers' early season success is sorely lacking in both their starting and bench units. 

-- Toronto Raptors. A season-low 73-point output. That the Clippers held the Raptors to a season-low scoring output wouldn't raise many eyebrows, except that this was the other way around. The Raptors absolutely dominated Los Angeles from start to finish. The Clippers had poor spacing whenever Griffin went to work in the post, which led to their abysmal shooting on the night; they shot 34.7 percent from the field and missed 16 of their 19 three-point attempts. They also recorded 12 assists to Toronto's 28, a remarkable margin considering that the Clippers are top-five in the league in assist rate (22.12). This, coupled with Butler's late-game antics, definitely made it a night to forget.   

-- The highlights will show Paul Pierce's step-back dagger, but the real thorn in Los Angeles' side tonight was their lack of defensive effort. The Clippers had more rebounds and assists than the Rondo-less Boston Celtics - typically good barometers for success - but still trailed them for most of the night. Why? They ceded far too many wide open looks to one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league (24th in three-point percentage). Granted, the Celtics are not going to shoot 61.1 percent from three on most nights, let alone make 11 of them, but there is a fine line between a late contest and no contest at all. Right now, the Clippers are not giving enough effort, and teams are making them pay. 

-- Lob City needs to get its act together with Miami and New York looming in the latter end of the week. 

Reach Staff Writer Andrew Seah here



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