The Clippers coronation as Los Angeles’s dominant professional basketball may not be complete just yet. In a dramatic fourth quarter that saw the Lakers play five reserves and outscore the Clippers 41-24, the Lakers pulled away for an impressive 116-103 victory in the season opener for both clubs. Led by free agency signee Xavier Henry the Lakers bench scored seventy-six points, the most points scored by a group of Lakers reserves since 1988. It was a career high in points scored for Henry, a third year player out of the University of Kansas who was released by the New Orleans Hornet and signed by the Lakers in September. Jordan Farmar added sixteen off the bench for the Lakers. It was another interesting edition to the Clippers/Lakers rivalry, where one of the league’s greatest franchises suddenly finds itself in the role of underdog. With a trip to Golden State and then a visit by the San Antonio Spurs coming the Lakers may return back to earth quickly, but on opening night their energy and bench play lit up the STAPLES Center.
For fans of the Clippers the opening night loss may be an aberration or a sign that it might take a bit of time for Doc Rivers to implement his system. The Clippers opted for a smaller lineup with Ryan Hollins getting very little playing time (four minutes) and Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens not seeing the floor. When Rivers chose to rest center DeAndre Jordan the Clippers interior defense was lacking. As expected the Clippers were extremely efficient offensively, as they should be all season. They scored fifty-seven points in the first half, but led by only two points due to the Lakers all-around hustle and ability to get second chance points. One big stat was their 52-40 rebounding advantage, a category the Clippers may struggle with all season if they choose to continue to play a small-ball lineup. The Lakers simply out-sized and out-hustled the Clippers inside, with Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman combining for eleven offensive boards off the bench.
Much of the Clippers struggles can be chalked up to an adjustment to Doc Rivers’ system. For all the criticism that Mike D’Antoni has received the Lakers have had the opportunity to play in his system for nearly a year. Offensively the Clippers will be fine, it’s the defensive adjustments that will take some time. The Clippers had trouble defending the three-point shot last season and that didn’t change last season as the Lakers made fourteen of twenty-nine three pointers. The Lakers had a high number of open looks and knocked them down, running D’Antoni’s offense to perfection. Whether it was the Lakers effective rotation, or the Clippers just not executing the defense properly, the Lakers had too many wide open looks. NBA players will knock down open jump shots. The Clippers defense is clearly a work in progress, they’ll need to shore up how they guard the perimeter. Beyond the defensive concerns Clippers faithful are wondering if Blake Griffin is ready to make the next step in his evolution as a great player. Griffin struggled at the line, 3 for 10, and still lacks fluidity in his jump shot. In the fourth quarter when the Lakers made their run Griffin had zero points and zero rebounds. For the Clippers to leap into NBA title contention they’ll need bigger production from their star power forward.
For the Lakers it was an impressive start. The fact that no one believes they are a legit playoff team can be a motivating factor. They can’t expect many games like the bench had on Tuesday night, but the Lakers do seem to have injected some live into the roster. With Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman they have some nice size to back up Pau Gasol. They’ll struggle against elite backcourts, like the Golden State Warriors, until Kobe gets back. We’ll know a lot more about the Lakers after the play the Warriors and the Spurs, two strong Western Conference contenders.
Clippers Vs Lakers Tickets for their next meeting on Lakers home court Jan 10th 2014 are available now.