Best team in LA? Right now, it's the Clippers
NOV 02, 2012 10:30p ET
At this stage of the season, they're the best team on the block.
While the Lakers continue to look disorganized and unfocused, the Clippers offered a second consecutive impressive performance. They needed only to withstand a Kobe Bryant fourth-quarter rush in a 105-95 victory that had most of the Lakers home crowd leaving with two minutes remaining.
LA is still a Lakers town, but barely a week into the season the Clippers are 2-0 and the Lakers are 0-3. There's not necessarily a rivalry at work here, but the Clippers made it clear their long-tormented history is buried.
"It's only a rivalry when both teams win every now and then," Clippers guard Chris Paul said. "It's still pretty lopsided. For us, we just wanted to come in and try to get a win in a tough environment, and we did."
The Lakers, playing without injured point guard Steve Nash, never led after the first three minutes of the game and never got closer than eight points after the 3:17 mark of the third quarter. They shot 50 percent from the floor but committed 20 turnovers and found themselves frequently beaten down the court by the faster, quicker Clippers.
Bryant tried his best to carry the Lakers, scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter on 7-of-8 shooting and finishing with 40 points, but Paul and reserves Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes answered back each time.
Bryant played almost 43 minutes, but he was essentially the Lakers' only scoring threat in the second half. Pau Gasol took just three shots in the final two periods and scored four second-half points; Dwight Howard had eight points in the second half.
"He played too many minutes," Lakers coach Mike Brown said of Bryant, "but I kept him on the floor because we weren't getting any production from the other guys."
Production was no problem for the Clippers. Crawford scored 21 points off the bench after scoring 29 in the season opener. Eric Bledsoe had 10 points in 14 minutes. Barnes finished with eight points and five rebounds. The bench totaled 46 points.
"Everybody contributed," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Bled came in, Jamal, everybody. That's what we want to do. We've got to use our depth and get after it defensively. We had a couple of lulls in the second quarter and let them get off a couple of threes, but I thought we did a good job pushing the tempo in the third quarter, spacing them out a little bit. Everybody contributed at one time or another."
Paul had 18 points and 15 assists, as many assists as the entire Lakers team. In two games, he has 27 assists.
"When it comes to those assists, I have the easy part," Paul said. "All I have to do is pass it. They're the ones that make the shots. It's a credit to them. Jamal Crawford made some tough shots, Caron Butler made some big shots, and we just did a good job running the court."
What to make of the Lakers? Brown said his team played well in stretches, and there were moments when the Lakers seemed to find a certain cohesiveness. But those were too few, and the Lakers generally looked mistake-prone and out of sorts.
"You always take a step back when you lose," Bryant said. "I don't really believe in moral victories. Defensively we were pretty solid, but you let a team get nine offensive rebounds for 20 second-chance points — I'm having a hard time believing how that's possible."
At least Bryant put a scare in into the Clippers by taking on his team's offensive burden. But he simply ran out of time.
"What was the key?" Paul said. "We weathered the storm. I think we might've had a 12-point lead on them going into the fourth, then Kobe started being Kobe. I've played enough times against the Lakers to see him get like that, and they come back and win."
This time they didn't. The Clippers held off Bryant and kept the Lakers winless.
"I'm not trying to fool anybody here," Brown said. "We do need a win, and we hoped that we could have gotten one tonight. That's part of the reason Kobe played the minutes he played, which is too many.
"It's going to be tough. It's going to be tough to get a win if we're averaging 23 turnovers a game."
It's a problem they'll have to figure out another time. For now, the Clippers own LA.
+ SHOW COMMENTS +