In Muhammad Ali fashion, the Los Angeles Lakers “shook up the world” on Tuesday night as their bench contributed 76 points in a win over the offseason-upgraded and lethargic season-opening Los Angeles Clippers. The Clips were out-rebounded in the majority of their preseason games, and once again they were beat on the boards, 40 to 52.
The Lakers shot 48 percent from three, knocking down 14 of their 29 long-range attempts. Xavier Henry scored a career-high 22 points for the Lakers, leading an aggressive onslaught against a seemingly unenthused, uninterested and uncoordinated Clippers team. The Clips closed the first half up by two, but the Lakers bench took control of the game late in fourth quarter with an impressive three-pointer display, outscoring the Clippers 41 to 24. Despite small surges from the Clippers, the end result was a surprising loss by 13 points.
Before I address the bad, I’ll cover the good since there wasn’t much of it. DeAndre Jordan’s play was consistent with his offseason progress, going home with a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds with 3 blocked shots. DJ’s positive play didn’t seem to energize the Clippers, who got off to a hot start in the first quarter riding J.J. Redick’s 10 points from heavily contested jumpers. Chris Paul ended the game with 11 assists and a turnover, showing the tough grit and season readiness that he displayed in the preseason. The NBA’s best floor captain couldn’t seem to harness the focus and increase the intensity of his teammates.
Now the bad—and there’s lots of it. Blake Griffin is making it increasingly hard to defend the criticisms surrounding his game. The mid-range jumper that Bob Thate has been instituting for the last three seasons is still as ineffective as it was before the presence of a shooting coach, and Griffin’s inconsistent form is an obvious sign that he’s not responding to Thate’s tutelage. Griffin had a big donut for the first quarter, and didn’t seem very interested in the game until he slammed down an alley-oop from Redick in the second quarter.
The Clippers need an energetic bench player with decent hoops IQ who can fit in with the first unit (when Griffin stinks it up) and revitalize the second with hustle and consistent play. Griffin’s poor play often gets him so deep in a funk, the remainder of the game can seem like a wash. Although he led all Clippers in scoring with 19 points, his effect on the game was minor for someone considered to be among the NBA’s power forward elite. The Clippers will have to find ways to get Griffin easy baskets earlier in the game to raise his confidence, which in turn keeps his focus high—he seems to check out once things aren’t going as planned.
Next up is the Clippers bench, who contributed 34 points but lack physicality. Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison were DNPs and Ryan Hollins served as the anchoring big man off the bench. This is where Doc Rivers is screwed. The only big on the bench who doesn’t mind a bit of banging down low is Hollins, however he’s a miserable career rebounder, as the Lakers had 18 offensive rebounds on the game. The Clippers made the move to waive forward Louis Amundson from the season roster, and although Amundson might not be the best fit for this club, they’re in definite need of a big man who can push Hollins to the end of the bench and allow for the Clippers to reap possible offensive benefits from stretch forwards Mullens and Jamison, whom Rivers hasn’t played in tandem since midway in the preseason.
Obviously still a work in progress, Doc Rivers won’t erase the bad habits former Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro left on the team overnight. On numerous offensive possessions, the Clippers looked clueless after first and second options were well defended by the Lakers, resulting in forced shots—the majority of which were missed. Rivers will also have to give Jamal Crawford a bit more wiggle room to play his game. Crawford looks stifled in his new catch-and-shoot role, as the bulk of his points came from offensive breakdowns which led to Crawford improvising in the last few seconds of the shot clock.
It was a tough night for Clipper Nation. One could argue that the Clippers lost the game more so than the Lakers won, but there are 81 games left and no reason to panic. The NBA season is a marathon—not a sprint.