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What the Hell Was That? Trying to Digest the First Clippers-Lakers Preseason Game

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We all know it was merely an exhibition game Monday night, the first for both the Clippers and Lakers in fact. But to blatantly steal from Clippers legendary play-by-play announcer Ralph Lawler, oh me oh my! It certainly did look like the dawning of the age of the Clippers as they dismantled the Lakers 114-95.

It started as two teams were trying to get their sea legs underneath them during the first half. A summer and fall filled with uncertainty thanks to the lockout, two teams with a whole new set of teammates. It was clear that there was some unease in the first 24 minutes. A jab here from the Lakers, a left-hook from the Clippers. Just for excitement there was a Josh McRoberts alley-oop slam from Kobe Bryant here, a DeAndre Jordan response from Chris Paul there. While those were among the few explosive plays in the first 24 minutes, by the end of the first half the Clippers had pulled out to a slim 55-50 lead. No means was that a commanding lead although it did look like the new dedication by the Lakers to defense thanks to head coach Mike Brown was coming up bust.

After trying to digest through the unease there was still a longing that was unmet. However for once it wasn’t the Lakers that were irritatingly underperforming. Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 15 halftime points while Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum rounded out the scoring with nine points and six points respectively. In fact the Lakers rookie point guard from Michigan Darius Morris pitched in with nine points off the bench in 12 minutes - a nice surprise.

But the Clippers had Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Blake Griffin. There were only glimpses of the promise they contained, the kinetic energy still a potential, still a figment of our imaginations. Maybe they needed more than a couple of weeks and two preseason games against the Lakers to run on all cylinders.

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Thanks to the third quarter provided by the Lakers, the Clippers proved they didn’t need that much time.The Lakers committed nine turnovers in those 12 minutes alone, and the Clippers made them pay.

Everyone knew the Clippers were going to be an improved team, daresay a good team even. But this cold-blooded long-range assault the Clippers exacted upon the Lakers left my jaw hanging. On a Kobe Bryant missed jumper, Chris Paul sunk a three to give the Clippers the 73-62 lead. After Chauncey Billups picked Bryant’s pocket a little more than a minute later, he launched his three. And it kept going. Paul drove to the bucket for a layup. Paul connected with DeAndre Jordan for an alley-oop dunk. Randy Foye wriggled in for a layup giving the Clippers the 85-63 lead with 2:47 left in the quarter forcing the Lakers to use a timeout.

The scariest moment came with 7:23 left and the Clipper leading 68-60, the game still up for grabs. Jordan blocked Kobe’s dunk sending Kobe to the ground landing on his wrist. After grimacing through some stretching, Kobe returned to the game although he was diagnosed with a sprained right wrist.

The dagger of the quarter came near the end of the quarter when former Shaquille O’Neal sub Brian Cook nailed a three to give the Clippers their biggest lead in the game to that point, a 91-67 rout. While that was bad enough, the worst came after Cook fouled Bynum with 11 seconds left in the quarter. Bynum missed both free throws.

In most cases a rout of this magnitude is unwatchable. Only fans of the team doing the routing will appreciate the utter helplessness of the opponent. However for the most part it’s not good television. But this was something else. According to Associated Press NBA writer Brian Mahoney, a preseason record 509,000 viewers watched this game on NBA TV nationally beating the 501,000 that watched the Miami Heat’s Big Three debut last season. What was being witnessed was something incomprehensible that it took a while for the brain to comprehend. In fact it took me an entire day of contemplation in order to get any thoughts out.

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It was a bit unsettling to see the Lakers be that helpless. In that third quarter they looked like the Rudy Tomjanovich-era Lakers of the 2004-05 season. It was really like watching a car wreck without the nasty gross bits.

The Lakers are Kobe, Pau and Bynum with a bunch of bit players supporting them. Unless general manager Mitch Kupchak comes up with another miracle like he did in 2008 when he traded for Pau, this is essentially what the Lakers will be.

The Clippers on the other hand saw off nights from Blake Griffin with 12 points and five rebounds and Caron Butler with eight points in 23 minutes. But get this: it didn’t matter. They look good in backcourt depth with Mo Williams and Randy Foye coming off the bench. Their front court depth is a little shallow, but Brian Cook did show he can hit some jumpers. However they do need some more presence in the paint from the bench.

But again: it didn’t matter in this game.

If both teams look the way they did Monday night, the Lakers will be watching the Clippers in the playoffs on television come May. And I’m still shaking my head incredulously looking at that sentence.

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In other local basketball news, the UCLA Bruins beat the UC Irvine Anteaters 89-60 in front of an empty Los Angeles Sports Arena.

TONIGHT’S ACTION

LA Lakers at LA Clippers. 7:30 p.m. KCAL9 (Lakers Television), FS Prime Ticket (Clippers Television), AM 710 KSPN (Lakers Radio), AM 980 KFWB (Clippers Radio), NBA TV (National Television).