The Lakers were playing their second game in as many nights at Staples Center, but Wednesday night they were technically on the road, as it was the Clippers' turn to host their season opener in the building. Instead of the gold framed hard wood, celebrity-charged vibe, and lights out over most of the seating area, there was the red white and blue floor, a DJ to hype the crowd, and an arena that was lit up like a Christmas tree. But while the decor was different, the Lakers had little trouble achieving similar results, as they beat their cross-town rivals by a score of 117-79.
Beating may not be a strong enough description of what went down tonight, actually. Think obliteration, and now you're getting warmer. After a tight first quarter where the Clippers played with some energy and even hung around long enough to take a lead early in the second, reality set in and the Lakers started to roll, and they didn't stop until the final buzzer. Once the Clippers' bench entered the game, the Lakers were able to impose their will from then on, especially on the defensive end.
Before the game, Phil Jackson said that the team has been stressing defense, and it's definitely showed these first two games. After holding the Blazers to just 76 points last night, the Lakers held the Clippers to just 17 points in the second quarter, and 13 in the third. The Lakers are playing a much more team-oriented brand of defense, as evidenced by a particular play in the first quarter. The Clippers' Baron Davis posted up Derek Fisher, which you would think would be an advantage for the larger Davis. But as soon as Baron made his move, there were Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum waiting for him in the paint, forcing him to pass to someone else. It's a lot of zone looks for the Lakers this season, as Phil mentioned during his pre-game comments.
"We've got a different defensive philosophy but we're still executing and finding out how do do it. And, it's more zone-like than we've ever played before."
The zone prevents points in the paint, but at the same time, allows open three-point attempts. And while the three-point shot seemed like a weapon that the Clippers might be able to use to stay in the game, the opposite ended up being true. The Lakers were the ones making it rain from downtown, hitting 10 of their 19 three-point attempts, while the Clips could only hit 5-22.
The one bright spot for the Clippers was the early play of Baron Davis, who missed all but one preseason game with ailments ranging from the flu to a sprained ring finger. Especially in the first quarter, Baron was a difference maker. He was flying all over the place, and finished the period with five points, four assists, and three steals. Oh yeah, and his team was only down three at the time.
Baron had two spectacular first quarter plays that are worth mentioning: one, he crossed over the Lakers' Vladimir Radmanovic so badly that Vlad-Rad fell down, which allowed Baron to go in for an easy layup. And two, he picked Kobe Bryant for a steal in the open court, which lead to a fast break where he was able to hit the trailing Al Thornton for an and-1 that had the 20% of the crowd who was actually rooting for the Clippers on their feet.
But again, after Davis headed to the bench with the game tied at 27, by the time coach Mike Dunleavy put him back in, the Clippers were down eight. Baron struggled to get into a rhythm after sitting on the bench for a while, and as such, any offensive energy the Clippers had early on was similarly unable to return to form. The Lakers extended their lead to 15 at the half, and really never looked back from there.
For the Clippers to win more than 20 games this season, Baron Davis will probably have to go anywhere between 36-40 minutes per night, and play at the top of his game while doing so. It's a bit unlikely though that Dunleavy would be willing to ask those kinds of minutes of his star, and it's even more unlikely that Baron would be able to play those types of minutes consistently.
As for the Lakers, well, what can you say? They rolled a substandard team for the second night in a row, and Kobe Bryant, overall had very little to do with it. If the Lakers continue to bring this type of intensity on the defensive end of the floor, night in and night out, they're going to be extremely tough to beat. But it's a long 82 games before the team can begin to even think about a playoff run, and they'll undoubtedly face far bigger challenges along the way than the Clippers were able to pose tonight.