Eric Bledsoe made a name for himself during the Los Angeles Clippers’ playoff run last season. The third-year guard gained valuable confidence that is paying off.
Bledsoe narrowly missed recording a triple-double, finishing with 22 points, 11 assists and nine steals in the Clippers’ 97-91 win over the Lakers on Wednesday night that kept their Staples Center co-tenant winless in seven preseason games.
”Just having fun,” Bledsoe said, recalling his only triple-double came in high school. ”I thought I was going to be a little winded, but I wasn’t.”
He played more than 43 minutes on a night when the Clippers’ All-Star guard Chris Paul sat out. Paul’s counterpart on the Lakers, Kobe Bryant, missed his second preseason game with a strained and bruised right foot. Paul rested after being hit accidentally by a teammate in practice.
Dwight Howard was rested while recovering from general soreness after his Lakers debut on Sunday.
The Lakers won’t have Bryant for their final exhibition against Sacramento on Thursday night in San Diego, while Paul will play the Clippers’ finale in Denver that night.
”We had a lot of guys out and so did they so I didn’t put a lot of stock in the outcome of this game,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said.
Bledsoe came into his own in the Clippers’ 4-0 second-round playoff loss against the Spurs, averaging 11. 5 points while shooting 70 percent from the floor and 50 percent from 3-point range.
”The playoffs last year was huge for him and really gave him the confidence,” Blake Griffin said. ”He knows his role and he understands what his main job is. He’s had experience playing when CP is out.”
Matt Barnes added 18 and Griffin had 15 points for the Clippers.
”Anytime these two teams match up, being where the Clippers are now, it’s going to be intense,” said Barnes, a former Laker.
Pau Gasol led six Lakers in double figures with 17 points. Rookie Robert Sacre of Gonzaga, starting in place of Dwight Howard, and Metta World Peace had 13 each. Jordan Hill added 12. Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks, who started in place of Bryant, had 11 each.
Steve Nash, who had four points and seven assists for the Lakers, wasn’t happy about dropping to 0-7.
”Obviously I’d like to have some wins under our belt, but we’re going to worry about our record when it counts,” he said.
The Lakers committed 20 turnovers – five by Sacre – that led to 33 points by the Clippers.
”Some of it is we’re trying to work through a new offense,” Nash said. ”There’s other situations where we’re just careless.”
The Clippers opened the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run, including four by Bledsoe, to take an 80-73 lead. Blake hit a 3-pointer that drew the Lakers within one before rookie Travis Leslie ran off six in a row to keep the Clippers ahead 91-86.
Former UCLA player Ryan Hollins made consecutive baskets, extending the Clippers’ lead to 95-88. World Peace missed two 3-point attempts on the same possession and then Blake lost the ball with a bad pass in the closing 2 minutes.
”Luckily it’s preseason. We just got to learn from these,” Sacre said. ”Make your mistakes in the preseason and you can always get better.”
Both teams tried numerous lineup combinations during the game, with the Clippers resting Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom and Grant Hill. Chauncey Billups is still a ways away from returning after a torn Achilles tendon.
The Lakers led 68-60 with less than 5 minutes to go in the third. The Clippers’ second unit outscored them 12-6, including five each by Barnes and Willie Green, to trail 73-72 going into the fourth.
Paced by 10 points each from Griffin, Bledsoe and Barnes, the Clippers led 49-40 at halftime.
Notes: Howard wore a three-piece suit on the bench, while Bryant didn’t sit with the Lakers, but was in the building. … The Clippers beat the Lakers twice when they met during last year’s lockout-shortened preseason in December. … Rapper-actor Common and former NFL star Terrell Owens attended as part of the sellout crowd of 19,060.