LOS ANGELES — If opening night was indicative of the rest of the season, a Los Angeles team will be representing the West in the NBA Finals.
It just might not be the Clippers.
Despite Kobe Bryant starting the regular season in street clothes as he continues to recover from Achilles tendon surgery, the Lakers overcame numerous deficits and in the fourth quarter, they finally blew the Clippers straight out of Staples Center.
Mike D’Antoni’s club spoiled Doc Rivers’ Clippers coaching debut with a 116-103 victory over the team that is expected by many to rule the West this season.
For the first 3 1/2 quarters the prediction looked good as the Clippers led 79-75 going into the fourth quarter and were ahead by three with 9:26 left.
Then with Pau Gasol and Steve Nash joining Bryant on the pine for the entire fourth quarter, the Lakers literally ran away with the game. Xavier Henry scored a career-high 22 points, while Jodie Meeks scored nine of his 13 points in the fourth quarter to outscore the Clippers 41-24.
Jordan Farmar, who returned to the Lakers after playing two years in New Jersey and Turkey, came off the bench to tally 16 points, and said anyone who’s surprised by what the Lakers did Tuesday evening, shouldn’t be.
“We hear what people say about us,” Farmar said, “where they think we’re going to finish, what we’re not going to do — things like that. But we just don’t listen and we keep moving ahead.
“We have a very good basketball team here. The guys all get along great and we’re going to surprise people this season.”
They started it with the opening game on the schedule, one the Clippers were supposed to win easily. Even though they seemed to have trouble running Rivers’ offense crisply and they looked stale at points, they still managed to hold a lead for long portions of the game.
D’Antoni said he was just about to bring his starters back in the game, and then decided his reserves earned a chance to finish it up.
“They deserved it,” D’Antoni said. “They took us that far and they deserved the right to take it all the way. At a certain point you want to bring the regulars back, but then at another point you’ve got to make a choice and stick with it. (Our guys) turned on the gas and gave them a different look up and down the floor, and with the Clippers — in all honesty — probably being a little tired, we were able to put it away and give some of our starters a rest.”
That opened the door for a youngster like Henry to prove he belongs in the NBA.
Chosen as the No. 12 pick overall from Kansas in 2010 by Memphis, Henry couldn’t hold a spot with the Grizzlies or New Orleans, and was brought to camp as a free agent by the Lakers. They were hoping that he’d be able to use his athleticism to add another dimension to D’Antoni’s newly modified offense.
So far, so good.
“I believe I can play in this league and help this team,” said Henry. “I’m going to go out and try to prove that every day.”
Henry also believes that continued good bench play from him and the other Lakers reserves can help the team when they face back-to-back games as they will when they play the Warriors Wednesday night in the Bay Area.
“Oh, no doubt,” Henry said emphatically. We’re a deep team, but people don’t think we’re really that good yet. We have to go out and keep beating people and open some eyes.”
You can be assured that the Clippers have taken notice.