The star-studded Los Angeles Lakers are off to their first 0-3 start in 34 years after a thrashing from the Los Angeles Clippers, whose younger stars are shining a whole lot brighter so far.
So, Kobe Bryant, when is it time to push the panic button on this grand experiment?
“Now,” he said.
Chris Paul had 18 points and 15 assists, Jamal Crawford scored 21 points and the Clippers beat the Lakers 105-95 Friday night to keep their Staples Center co-tenants winless.
Bryant later said he was only joking about that panic button, but it's tough not to worry about a team that still hasn't walked off any court together with a victory.
Bryant scored 40 points and Dwight Howard had 13 points and eight rebounds while battling constant foul trouble for the Lakers, who are 0-3 for just the fourth time in franchise history. Steve Nash sat out with a bruised left leg for the Lakers, who have followed up their 0-8 preseason with three losses in four days.
“We need a win, obviously,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “I'm not trying to fool anyone here. That's part of the reason Kobe played the minutes he played, which is too many.”
Bryant logged 43 minutes on his bruised foot. While soaking it in ice after the game, he said it “felt like it's about to fall off.”
“We're not supposed to coast and assume things are going to fix themselves,” Bryant said. “You've got to push at it. We've just got to keep working on what we do.”
The Clippers are no strangers to franchise turmoil, yet they coolly snapped a nine-game “road” losing streak against the Lakers dating to April 12, 2007. Blake Griffin scored 15 points before fouling out and Caron Butler had 14 for the Clippers, who pulled away steadily in the second half.
Just don't try to tell the Clippers that they're the new kings of L.A.
“I think it's the second game of the year, and you've got two teams here that just got together,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “It's too early to tell anything yet, other than we have to keep getting better.”
While the Clippers celebrated, the pro-Lakers crowd reacted to another loss with angry shouts piercing the silence, much of it profane criticism of Brown and his new Princeton-based offense.
Bryant attempted to put the Lakers on his shoulders in the second half, scoring 26 points out of sets that resembled the Lakers' old offenses, but the Clippers stayed comfortably ahead with big second halves from Paul and Griffin.
“We're getting better as a team,” Griffin said. “It's a great win for us, because they're a great team and they're in our division. I think the biggest difference in these games now ... is when we used to run out that tunnel for the starting lineups, nobody used to boo us. They didn't really care. And now they throw heat a little bit. So I think that says a lot about where we're at.”
Nash's absence was only one reason Paul had the same number of assists as the Lakers, with Nash replacement Steve Blake managing just two assists in 38 minutes before fouling out in the final minute.
The Clippers pulled away in the third quarter, making an 18-5 run with nine points from Griffin to take an 82-67 lead into the fourth quarter. The Lakers trimmed it to 91-83 with 5 minutes to play, but Crawford and Matt Barnes kept the Clippers ahead with big buckets.
“The key was that we weathered the storm,” Paul said. “We had a lead going into the fourth, and then Kobe started being Kobe. I've played against the Lakers enough times to see him get like that and have them come back and win. But we got some timely shots from our bench, and they stepped up for us.”
Bryant became the Lakers' career steals leader with his 1,725th in the third quarter, passing Magic Johnson. But the Lakers' defense was largely ineffective against Paul, and the Clippers forced 20 Lakers turnovers.
While the Lakers seem headed for growing pains this autumn as they integrate their two new stars into the lineup, the Clippers appear ready to make a run at their rivals' supremacy in the next several months.
The Clippers are frequently saddled with rough November schedules that make it tough to get off to a fast start, but everything has changed this year. They'll only leave Los Angeles for one game before Nov. 19, playing seven of their first eight at Staples Center.
Meanwhile, the Lakers have caught few breaks since training camp opened with Howard still recovering from offseason back surgery. Nash's absence is just the latest obstacle after he was hurt in the first half of the Lakers' loss at Portland on Wednesday night in a collision with rookie Damian Lillard.
Just three games into his three-year contract with Los Angeles, the two-time MVP had to sit out. Brown doesn't know whether Nash will play in Sunday's home game against Detroit.