Clippers happily cede hot seat back to Lakers
LOS ANGELES — The 3-point shooting escapade of Andrew Bynum may not have pleased Lakers coach Mike Brown, but it appears to have sowed a seed of inspiration in lumbering big men to seek out their inner Ray Allen.
Such was the case in the Clippers' locker room Wednesday night before their game against the Suns, when forward Reggie Evans approached center DeAndre Jordan.
"We need to shoot at least 10 3's apiece, per game, me and you," Evans commanded.
"Apiece?" Jordan asked, incredulous.
"Apiece," Evans assured him. "Me and you."
"Let's do it," Jordan said lustily. "Let's start tonight."
"Tonight, it's on," Evans promised.
"My first shot might be a 3," Jordan proposed, an eyebrow arched.
Of course, it was suggested, that might be his last shot, too.
Jordan and Evans broke into laughter, something the Clippers finally have been able to do of late. Their 103-86 trouncing of Phoenix was their third in a row – the first time they've done that since Feb. 1 – and strengthened their hold on fourth place in the compacted Western Conference.
And by the way, Jordan and Evans combined for zero 3-point attempts in the victory — a joke's a joke.
But this is serious: After several days of incessant speculation about whether Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro would be fired, the glare of the media has returned to its default setting — focused on the Lakers.
First, it was Kobe Bryant's benching down the stretch in Sunday night's loss to Memphis. Then it was Bynum launching — and missing — a 3-pointer, something that, along with his lackluster defense, landed him a seat on the bench for most of the second half of Tuesday's win at Golden State.
And for anyone wondering if the Clippers will be paid attention to any time soon, the Lakers return home Thursday to face Oklahoma City and its newest addition, Derek Fisher.
By the time that circus ends, Bryant will be answering questions about an NBA.com report Wednesday that said he plans to lobby the Lakers this summer to re-sign Fisher and Lamar Odom, who will be free agents.
"L.A.'s got some strange theater," said Shannon Brown, the Phoenix guard who won two championship rings with the Lakers. "It's what comes along with the territory."
The Clippers, for their part, are happy to cede the big top to their co-tenants at Staples Center. As if learning each other's names hasn't been a chore this season with the revolving-door roster, the organization has – for perhaps the first time – encountered real, live expectations.
And there have been growing pains. The confidence that had vanished, and the relaxation that was so patently missing on the court last week, reappeared as the Clippers picked up their energy level on defense. The fun, which Blake Griffin said had disappeared after Thursday's loss in New Orleans, was evident Wednesday in a flurry of fourth-quarter dunks.
"Winning is the best medicine," Griffin said. "We lost three games in a row and the world was about to fall apart for us. I remember stretches last year where we'd lose six games in a row and nothing was really said, so it's progress for us and it's progress for the Clippers organization. We want to keep it that way."
Said recently acquired forward Nick Young: "Now it's the Lakers' turn. We get to chill. They're on the hot seat."
That is a place on which many Clippers squirmed last week. Their play looked alternately tense and uninspired, but Del Negro appears much more relaxed now, wisecracking with reporters in his pregame press conferences.
"Just like anything else, everybody wanted this thing to come together right away and that doesn't happen," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said, who once coached the Clippers. "It's a process. I think they're going to be really, really good. I don't think there's anybody out there that's raising their hand to meet them in the playoffs, if that's what you're talking about."
The Clippers' victory allowed them to wash away the residue of one of their most galling defeats of the season, a 91-87 home loss to the Suns, who were resting Steve Nash and Grant Hill. That defeat, March 15, prompted a closed-door meeting that lasted more than an hour afterward.
"The past is the past," said Clippers guard Randy Foye. "But that was embarrassing. It was like losing to a race to a car without its engine."
The Suns on Wednesday were missing Hill (knee) and rookie Markieff Morris (flu), and Nash (sore back) was held to a single point in 30 minutes. But it was a struggle for the Clippers until the fourth quarter, which turned into Lob City.
After Griffin soared down the lane for a thunderous dunk, Channing Frye bailing out of the way, Paul tossed the ball off the backboard for Griffin to slam home, finishing off a breakaway after a steal. Moments later, Paul lobbed the ball to Martin for a dunk. In all, there were five Clippers dunks in less than three minutes.
It was not their only bit of acrobatics. Earlier, Jordan went flying over the end line when he was fouled on a breakaway, and landed in the lap of a young lady, who was not hurt.
"He's trying to show off," Griffin assured the woman.
There was nothing wrong with that — just as long as Jordan wasn't shooting 3-pointers.