Feb.14, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) in the second half of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. Clippers won 125-101. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Battle Of Los Angeles: Clippers Obliterate Lakers Behind Griffin and Billups

Despite being competitive at times (and by times, I mean an eight-minute stretch in the second quarter), the latest edition of the Lakers-Clippers rivalry is just as lopsided as it traditionally has been. Only, the Lakers are now on the receiving end of the fire. On Thursday night, the Lakers were reduced to a bunch of cranky elderly folks running back and forth, watching Blake Griffin run roughshod over their incapable defense. Dwight Howard and his bad back fit in perfectly with his ancient teammates, and despite the Lakers’ roster being so painfully aged, Howard looks to be the oldest and gimpiest of them all.The Clippers jumped out to a 15-0 lead in the opening five minutes on the strength of Blake Griffin and his 6 of 6 start from the field. Of course, we should be giving Mike D’Antoni credit for allowing Metta World Peace to guard Griffin one-on-one to start the game. Griffin abused World Peace early and often, with an array of dunks, jump shots, and adept post moves not seen from the Blake Griffin of old.

Not only has Griffin’s jump shot and post game improved, but his overall offensive game appears to have acquired a much-needed dose of patience. Clearly, this has come with more

Feb.14, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) questions a foul call in the second half of the game against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center. Clippers won 125-101. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

time and experience in the league, but it is impressive and seemingly abrupt nonetheless. In one particular sequence shortly after Griffin had converted his sixth straight field goal attempt to start the game, he set a screen for Chris Paul on the right wing and started a soft roll to the free throw line as soon as World Peace made the decision to step out and double-team Paul. Paul threw the ball to Griffin immediately, leaving him at the right elbow with four Lakers within a short step of closing out on his position.

The Blake of old would have immediately hoisted a hurried, off-balance jumper that would have clanked furiously off the rim. But new Blake paused, if ever so slightly. It was not a hesitation, but the perfect pause for the correct length of time that the situation afforded. He never quite turned his whole head to look at Caron Butler standing all alone in the left corner, but instead looked toward Deandre Jordan near the rim, keeping Earl Clark from jumping out into the vacant space and deflecting the ball. Griffin delivered a perfect pass to Butler, who canned the three pointer and expanded the Clippers’ lead to 18-4.

On offense, the Lakers struggled with spacing early in the game, allowing the Clippers to collapse on Bryant in the post or whenever he attempted to drive into the lane. World Peace’s ineffectiveness as a long-range shooter hurts the Lakers’ offensive potential here, and when both he and Clark sag too close to the paint, it limits the room for Bryant and Howard to operate.

The Lakers offense did not begin to perform until Bryant and Nash left the game. Steve Blake started the second quarter with assists on three straight trips, while Antawn Jamison put on a

Feb.14, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) guards Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) during the first half of the game at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

clinic in finding open space near the basket and cashing in on easy baskets. Admittedly, it was a little jarring to see Jamison score so easily when Howard had struggled so mightily to start the game.

Right around the time that Howard and Bryant re-entered the game, the Lakers’ struggles picked right back up where they had left off, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Lakers were caught worrying about help defense on Griffin down low which allowed Paul, Matt Barnes, and Chauncey Billups to have a field day from long-range. After drawing within five points a couple of times in the second quarter, the Clippers went on an 11-0 run and led by 64-52 at halftime.

For as competitive and borderline chippy as the second quarter was at times, the second half became a lifeless charade rather quickly. The Clippers shot the lights out with a 7 for 12 performance from three-point range. The Lakers were rendered incapable of managing both Griffin in the post and the Clippers guards behind the arc.

Although Griffin started the game making six shots in the opening five minutes, he only attempted 11 shots (making 10) by halftime, and finished the game shooting 11 of 14. Even though his services were not needed down the stretch, the Lakers were obviously concerned about him doing similar damage in the third quarter, and the Clippers sharpshooters made them pay for double-teaming and helping World Peace on Griffin in the post.

The fourth quarter was entirely meaningless with the score 101-80 in favor of the Clippers when the frame began, and simply provided a continued look at how far the gap between the Lakers and Clippers is this season.

Lakers fans: this is not changing any time soon. Dwight Howard is still injured and often looks disinterested. Nash is aging, but has also predictably seen his effectiveness and usefulness diminish due to the ball-dominance of Kobe Bryant. He is still a very good spot-up shooter, but everyone knows that is not where his true value lies.

The Lakers’ bench is atrocious, and Thursday’s game made me wonder all over again why the Lakers let Matt Barnes switch locker rooms and sign up for the Clippers’ squad this year. He would be the perfect compliment to Nash, along with Jodie Meeks, who cannot seem to find minutes on a team that could desperately use some additional floor-spacing.

Quick Thoughts….
– It cannot be overstated: Dwight Howard looks slow, injured, and indifferent.
– Blake Griffin needs to be more consistent. A Clippers team with new Blake is nearly impossible to beat, but he too often checks out on the boards and on defense in games that feel less important to him.
– Lamar Odom was poked in the eye in the first half and left the arena to seek additional medical attention, according to TNT’s broadcast crew.
– I’ll be the first to agree that +/- is often misused and over-relied upon but like every statistic, it has its merits when used properly. Bryant was a -35 tonight. Yes, that will certainly happen when your team is blown out, but Jodie Meeks was the only Lakers’ player with a positive +/- that played more than four minutes of garbage time. In 25 minutes, Meeks logged a +5.

Tags: Los Angeles Clippers Los Angeles Lakers NBA

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