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That Other Game in LA Yesterday

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While most of the city’s sports fans were either celebrating or mourning, a few looked up from their beers last night to watch another cross-town rivalry played out at Staples Center, albeit one with a lot less on the line (at least this time around).

And the game — a 97-88 Laker win over the Clippers — was pretty indicative of how the two teams have progressed this young season.

The Lakers have evolved from the Kobe and the Kobeettes squad of last year to one with depths and options. Sure, Kobe still had 29 points Saturday, but when the Lakers made their run to take the lead and pull away starting with a few minutes left in the third quarter, the other guys on the floor were Luke Walton, Smush Parker, Andrew Bynum and Ronny Turaif. Not exactly household names, but guys who are playing well in the Lakers’ system. Then the run continued at the start of the fourth quarter with off-season pickups Maurice Evans and Vladamir Radmanovic on the floor. Last season if Kobe didn’t carry the team it didn’t go far, this season role players who fit the triangle offense can move the team without him.

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On the other hand last season the Clippers offense was flowing — Elton Brand and Sam Cassell played well off each on the ubiquitous high pick-and-roll, plus center Chris Kaman was a solid option inside. But right now, the offense is about as smooth as the comedy skits on Studio 60. Cassell and Brand seem less comfortable on their bread-and-butter play, and the Clipper ballhandlers seem to go long stretches forgetting Brand is on the floor. Kaman has been banged up and never quite right on the court. Shaun Livingston and Corey Maggette are supposed to bring dynamic athleticism to the offense, but their play is inconsistent.

All that said, this isn’t the game to send the Lakers or Clippers to a big bowl game, these teams have not yet played even one-fifth of the interminably long NBA regular season. By next spring when they play hopefully both will be right — and the game may have more meaning.

AP Photo by Kevork Djansezian