warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Battle For Los Angeles: Lakers, Clippers Set For Valentine's Day Clash

Andrew Seah |
February 10, 2013 | 11:07 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

The "Pau Gasol Conundrum" continues. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)
The "Pau Gasol Conundrum" continues. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia 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 (24-28)

This Week's Record: 2-2

Snapshot: One step forward, two steps back. That's been the Lakers' season in a nutshell. They showed late-game resolve against Brooklyn, and then froze under the lights in Boston. They made it up against Charlotte, but were then reminded by Miami of what an elite contender looks like (and how far they've fallen from it). Also, Pau Gasol is out for six weeks. 

The Newsworthy: 

-- Antawn Jamison may not be the floor spacer that most think he is, but what he does well is cut to the basket on pick-and-rolls. More than anything, Jamison's 14-year career has been defined by his unorthodox repertoire of hooks and push shots. They come in all forms - off the wrong foot, before the apex of the jump and always a split-second before defenders can react. They never seem to be "good" shots, but they are almost always a surer prospect (percentage-wise) than his shaky three-point stroke. 

-- Taking after the "Dwight Howard Saga", the "Pau Gasol Conundrum" continues its reign on local networks. I've touched on coach D'Antoni's well-publicized benching of Gasol. After a recent discussion with his coach in which neither party came out quite satisfied, Gasol then hinted at the possibility of being traded this coming offseason. And just as soon as he said that, he goes and tears his plantar fascia and will be out for at least six weeks. If he opts for surgery, that would add another month to his injury timetable. Even if Gasol wasn't injured, and played his way back to an All-Star level, a trade would seem unlikely (he is due $19.3 million next season - an absurd amount for what seems like a player past his prime). All off-court drama aside, this is yet another blow to the Lakers' frontline rotation that has already lost Jordan Hill for the season. 

-- Granted, the new-look Celtics were riding the momentum of a five-game winning streak after losing Rondo. But this is the game in which every Laker - fan and player alike - should stand up and be counted. On that night, there were two: a defiant Bryant and his backcourt partner, Steve Nash whose effectiveness, it must be said, were greatly reduced by a relentless Avery Bradley. But those two alone cannot atone for the royal beatdown which Boston delivered to the Lakers. The Lakers were out-played in almost every single facet of the game and were even outran (Boston had 18 fast-break points to the Lakers' four) by a Celtics squad that can hardly be described as "youthful." 

-- Metta World Slump. One storyline that has gone unnoticed this season is the semi-resurgence of Metta World Peace. Due to the volatile nature of the Laker bigs this season, World Peace has assumed greater responsibility, often being plugged in as a small-ball "4." His minutes are up (from 26.9 to 34.2) and he has responded by shooting the ball better overall compared to last season. However, over the last five games, he's shooting an abysmal 26.5 percent from the field. It is not foolish to assume that D'Antoni will turn to the 13-year veteran more often after Gasol's injury, and Laker Nation can only hope that its small forward snaps out of his slump sooner rather than later. 

-- Out of the Lakers' five most used 5-man units, the lineup consisting of Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Howard and little-known Earl Clark are far and away their most successful, posting a plus 39 plus-minus point differential. It has been the de facto starting lineup since Mike D'Antoni took over. 

-- Remove the back-up center, add two of the league's best slashers, and sometimes you'll realize basketball isn't that complex. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade - both recorded identical 12-18 shots from the field - were on-song the entire night, pouring in 62 points against a once-again porous Laker defense. LeBron, in particular, is displaying a torrid shooting stretch, converting 71.4 percent from the field and 60 percent from downtown over his last five games. 

-- Despite losing to the defending champions, Los Angeles ended its annual Grammy road trip with a positive 4-3 record. Now a four-game home stand awaits them - a welcome reprieve as they'll need all home-court advantage they can get while they figure out their big-man rotation for the umpteenth time. 

Los Angeles Clippers (36-17)

This Week's Record: 2-2

Snapshot: Eric Bledsoe. Between battling mediocrity and waiting for Chris Paul's knees to heal, the one common thread has been the mystery, wrapped in an enigma, that is the 23-year-old. Brace yourselves for a hail of Bledsoe-dominated bullets. 

Paul missed nine straight games before returning to face Miami and New York. (Nikk_LA/Wikimedia Commons)
Paul missed nine straight games before returning to face Miami and New York. (Nikk_LA/Wikimedia Commons)
The Newsworthy:

-- Naturally, any trade rumors involving the Clippers acquiring Kevin Garnett would make fans foam at the mouth - even if it involves trading their best young asset, Eric Bledsoe. Adding Garnett to their big-man fold will catapult Lob City above the Thunder as favorites in the Western Conference. However, Bledsoe - for all his unique gifts - serves a larger purpose: he's their insurance policy if CP3 skips town after this season. As thoroughly discussed here, the Clippers are in a good stead, despite their recent struggles. Whether they should mortgage their future for a better(?) shot at the title this year - debatable since a zoned-in Heat team is ridiculously hard to beat - is not as clear cut as it seems. 

-- Bereft of shot-creators CP3, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford, the Clippers needed someone to shoulder the offense in Orlando. In a vacuum, Bledsoe demonstrated why the Clippers' organization values him so much. He drove to the hole aggressively, made shots, picked pockets and posted the best offensive and defensive ratings, all to the tune of 27 points and six assists. He was the best player on the court, and by a fair margin. 

-- And here is a reminder that Bledsoe is, at best, still a poor facsimile of his superstar counterpart. Coach Del Negro's go-to closing lineup: Paul, Crawford, Barnes, Griffin, and Odom - a lethal blend of offensive prowess and defensive grit. In extended minutes, they post an absurd 1.29 offensive rating. Plug in Bledsoe, and the number drops to 1.09. Bledsoe's shaky shooting stroke and merely decent court vision hamper the team's spacing as he is not a viable threat from anywhere outside the paint. And on pick-and-rolls he is unable to make precise, split-second reads to his rolling big man that is the difference between an uncontested layup and a tough runner in the lane. 

-- Matt Barnes isn't playing well. He is shooting just under 35 percent since CP3 got sidelined. After scoring in double-digits for seven consecutive games, he has only managed one in the last six games. Barnes relies on cuts and spot-up opportunities and hustle on the glass for the bulk of his points. The former two categories rely on Paul's playmaking ability to get the ball to him at his favorite spots on the floor. Yet, out of the five most-used units that include Barnes, three of those (including the top one) have Bledsoe running the point. Barnes is struggling with his shot at the moment, and while it seems only natural to attribute it to Paul's absence, in this case the slump falls squarely on the veteran small forward's shoulders.

-- Basketball is a simple game. If you take less shots to put up more points, you're generally in good shape. Sometimes we tend to forget that. In less than 150 characters, Tom Haberstroh summed up perfectly why the the Clippers fell to Miami. 

-- The Clippers have lost eight of their last 12 games, and their in-city rivals have won seven in that stretch. Their sibling rivalry comes to a head this week on Valentine's Day.  

Reach Staff Writer Andrew Seah here





Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.