For every nifty acquisition the Los Angeles Clippers made this offseason, their fellow Staples Center tenants made one worth two or three. The Lakers saw the Clips’ Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford and raised then with Steve Nash. Grant Hill?Matt Barnes? Ronny Turiaf? Nice, but say hello to Dwight Howard.
In their uncharacteristic attempt to close the gap between them and their more decorated in-house rivals, the Clippers got within one game in the standings. The Lakers seem to have stepped on the gas, Finals or bust, but that just means the Clippers will aim higher. Snipe higher, too.
Veteran Chauncey Billups could claim he was only honoring sports protocol, but he seemed to take a swipe at the market’s “other” NBA team when he said: “When you’re trying to compare and get better – and we want to try and win the Western Conference and have a chance to play for the whole thing – you compare yourself to the Western Conference champ, and that’s not the Lakers.”
A lot of teams, including the Los Angeles Clippers, are glad that the 2012-13 NBA season is going to start on time. The Clippers have to feel they’re getting a bonus, though, because Chris Paul sounds ready to start on time too.
The All-Star point guard is coming off August surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb and said at a GQ promotional event Monday that his rehab has him on schedule for October basketball. Arash Markaziof ESPNLosAngeles.com wrote:
[Paul] went through basketball drills without a protective brace around his right thumb for the first time Monday, and said he anticipates playing in at least one preseason game and being ready for the Clippers’ season opener Oct. 30 versus the Memphis Grizzlies.
“Today was the first day they actually allowed me to shoot layups so today was the best day ever,” Paul told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “I hope I get a preseason game in before the season. I probably have to start off the season wearing a brace but I get to wear the brace less and less. I wear it when I go to sleep but I’m on track. I go to rehab every single morning at 6:30 a.m.”
After the Clippers guard injured the thumb during Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas, Paul and teammates thought he might miss the London Olympics. When he learned that surgery was the next step, he opted to tape up the thumb and play for the 2012 gold medal.
“The scariest part was when I injured it in Vegas. During the 30-minute ride to the hospital, me and some of the Team USA staff were acting like we were riding to a funeral,” Paul said.
Now he’s reborn with a freshly stocked Clippers team – Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Ronny Turiaf are among the new faces – and eager to fight for hoops control of L.A. Last season, the Clippers (40-26) finished just one game behind the Lakers (41-25), lost Chauncey Billups to an Achilles injury and, remember, didn’t have Paul until the trade with New Orleans finally cleared league hurdles on Dec. 14. The season began 11 days later. He averaged 19.8 points, 9. 1 assists and 2.5 steals in 60 appearances.
“It’s no secret; everybody in my family knows I wanted to go to the Clippers,” Paul said. “I may be different in a way but I’ve always jumped at the opportunity to do something that’s never been done, and here with the Clippers with Blake [Griffin] and DJ [DeAndre Jordan] and adding these pieces and stuff like that, I’m excited about the opportunities there.”
More than that, Paul will be around and available to chase them.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Not all NBA free agents are created equal.
Sometimes you’re Deron Williams and sometimes you’re not.
And this isn’t news to the huddled masses of familiar names and faces still looking for work with the start of training camps just a mere month away. They know that it’s time for the two-minute drill, when their options are dwindling and an invite to camp becomes a life-preserver for guys who are used to guaranteed roster spots and permanent spots in a team’s rotation.
This would explain the likes of Eddy Curry, who most likely will not be in Miami on opening night when the championship banner is raised but does have a ring with his name on it, auditioning for any team interested.
It’s the same reason you hear names like Josh Howard, who has worked out for his home state Charlotte Bobcats, Josh Childress, Hilton Armstrong and so many others — some former lottery picks (Childress) and some former All-Stars (Howard) — doing what millions of other Americans are doing right now, and that’s looking for work.
Curry, along with Hilton Armstrong, worked out for the Nets Wednesday, according to Yahoo! Sports. Curry, the much maligned former Knick, spent last season with the Heat, playing 14 games and averaging 2.1 points while riding the coattails of LeBron James to his first NBA title.
Curry, 29, played a combined 10 games in his final three seasons with the Knicks before his contract was used as salary ballast in the Carmelo Anthony deal in February 2011.
Armstrong was part of the Nets’ free agent minicamp in May, when he earned some praise for his play from general manager Billy King.
“What I like about Hilton is he’s long and he knows how to play. I think the biggest thing for Hilton is doing it consistently,” King said at the time. “I think he got better each day. I like his length, because the one thing is it’s hard to find athletic size in this league.”
DENVER – Coach Mike Brown never said anything to the Lakers reserves.
“He didn’t need to tell us,” said one of them, Steve Blake.
No one did. The Lakers’ bench knew it had been underperforming, on offense in particular, and that the continuing problem had become a major reason the Nuggets won Game 3 and were threatening to tie the best-of-seven series late in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
It was that fourth quarter that changed everything — the game, the direction of the series, and definitely the perception of the subs in need of an image boost.
Jordan Hill, the one consistent L.A. reserve in the series, continued his steady play with four rebounds in the period (11 for the game) to go with 12 points for his second double-double in four tries. Blake, though, went from shooting 25 percent the first 3 3/4 games to hitting three of four in the final quarter Sunday. That included two of three from behind the arc as clutch moments in the 92-88 victory that earned the Lakers a 3-1 lead in the first-round series.
“I thought the energy we got from Jordan Hill with his double-double was huge for us,” Brown said. “That, to me, was probably the biggest difference in the game, the way we played at both ends of the floor and especially in the second half tonight.” (more…)
LOS ANGELES – The Game 1 dissection seemed easy enough: Andrew Bynum, Andrew Bynum and more Andrew Bynum, plus some Kobe Bryant (31 points, on 11-of-24 shooting) and meaningful contributions from L.A. role players.
Except that Sunday at Staples Center offered many more relevant points about what the 103-88 victory meant for the Lakers, facts that may have gotten lost in Bynum’s star turn. The Nuggets and Lakers certainly will make note of them as they practice Monday in preparation of Game 2 on Tuesday night (10:30 ET, TNT).
For all the talk about Denver needing to push the ball like it does against the rest of the league — especially in this case because speed can hurt the Lakers — the Nuggets haven’t shown the ability to do anything other than talk about it. All season.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The NBA’s deans of discipline handed down a most appropriate fine for Metta World Peace‘s elbow to James Harden‘s head that caused a concussion and 48 hours of on unnecessary pain and suffering for the game of basketball.
Lakers fans might not feel that way, but if they remove those purple-and-gold-colored glasses for just a minute, they’ll realize that justice was served in this instance.
Unlike some hardliners, we saw no reason for World Peace to suffer through a 10-game suspension or the lifetime ban some were calling for (yes, we’ve read all of your comments and emails on the subject). That would have been excessive, even for a player with as checkered a past as World Peace.
It’s clear the league took into account all of the good deedshe’s done and the way, up until Sunday at least, he’s conducted himself within the lines the past few seasons. NBA Commissioner David Stern could have dropped the hammer on World Peace this time and met with little resistance in the court of public opinion outside of Lakerland.
Unlike World Peace, someone took the time to consider all of the options instead of just reacting in the heat of the moment. Instead of listening to the tide of discontent surrounding this latest act and using his extensive history of running afoul of the league’s code of conduct for all players, someone at the league office decided not to make an example of World Peace when they so easily could have.
Seven games might seem harsh to some, but in this day and age of bounties in the NFL and the like, seven games seems more than appropriate. And the Lakers’ acceptance of the penalty (and their continued support of World Peace) would indicate that they recognize as much and ready to try to move on from this incident.
And to his credit, World Peace did the classy thing and apologized to the Thunder and their fans for what happened on his website. Despite suggestions to the contrary, he is fully aware of what went down and seems genuinely contrite for allowing his emotions to get the best of him yet again. We’re not here to condemn the man for that. In fact, we applaud him for recognizing that and handling himself the right way now.
But it doesn’t really matter how many times you watch it, how many different interpretations there are of it and how many different ways World Peace tries to explain away the lick he passed as both “unfortunate” and “unintentional.”
And at this stage, it’s really only a matter of how severe a penalty it will be for World Peace and the Lakers, whose regular season finale is Thursday night in Sacramento. While the reaction from folks on both sides of this issue was as immediate (thanks to Twitter and other social networking sites) as it was passionate, discipline for World Peace will have to wait until the league doles it out.
But, as one prominent agent explained it, that does not mean the league is limited to game penalties in dealing with World Peace. The league is perfectly within its right to fine him an unspecified dollar amount on top of the games he would be forced to sit out, without pay. For a player who has already missed 111 games due to 13 previous suspensions and lost millions in related fines and penalties, this latest incident is a sobering reminder of a place he probably did not intend on revisiting after a relatively incident-free past couple of years.
“I would think at least five games and anywhere from 5 to 10 games,” the agent said. “I thought it was definitely an egregious act and a totally over the top move. It wasn’t a basketball play. There wasn’t a basketball involved at all. Bynum got five for knocking Barea out of the air. This was just as bad, in my opinion, if not worse. It wasn’t a basketball play. And it wasn’t a mistake. Harden never even looked at Artest, didn’t have his hands up and never knew that elbow was coming. This wasn’t Harden’s fault.”
SAN ANTONIO – George Mikan, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Andrew Bynum.
Those are the five Lakers who have pulled down 30 rebounds in a single game. Those are also the five reasons that Bynum’s flake-out over the past few weeks has been so frustrating.
For one, the 24-year-old center has the potential to be the driving force behind another deep run for the Lakers in the playoffs this season. For another, he could be the anchor for the next Lakers’ dynasty.
Bynum grabbed 30 boards, which was a career high for him and the best rebounding game in the NBA this season, on Wednesday night in a 98-84 whipping of the Spurs. He didn’t merely dominate the boards, he devoured them. At halftime he had 19 rebounds to just 18 by the entire San Antonio team. By the fourth quarter, the Lakers had built a 26-point lead.
They did it all without Kobe Bryant, who missed his third straight game due to an inflammation in his left shin.
They did it because Metta World Peace turned back the clock to his old Ron Artest days, dialing up 5-for-8 from behind the 3-point line for 26 points, because Pau Gasol went for 21 points and 11 rebounds and Matt Barnes came off the bench for 13 points.
“We always want Kobe on the floor with us, but with or without him, we’re always a tough matchup for a lot of teams because of our size,” said Gasol.
Kobe Bryant is aching to show that he, and not LeBron James, is the game’s most dominant player in tonight’s game in Miami (8 ET, TNT). And that he can lead the Lakers to another championship without being somewhat overshadowed by Phil Jackson and the triangle offense.
Meanwhile, LeBron wants to prove that he is indeed capable of excelling in clutch situations in big-time games. If this does come to pass (and shoot, and defend), then Miami can stake its claim as overwhelming favorites to win the last game of the season. And with Dwyane Wade unavailable, LBJ will enjoy twice as much ball-time as will Kobe.
HOW THE LAKERS CAN WIN: Matt Barnes provides scrappy, ball-sniping defense against LeBron. As a change of pace, Metta World Peace can defend LBJ with a belligerent physicality. Throw in some judicious double-teams, and James just might be a mite discombobulated.
* Pau Gasol’s long-armed defense will trouble Chris Bosh. When Bosh receives the ball on the right side of the court, his jumper is significantly more accurate and, from there, he also looks to drive right along the baseline. This is when and where he should be two-timed. No such measures need to taken when he sets up on the left side of the court. Also, Gasol can outreach Bosh’s defense in the low-post.
* Since Joel Anthony is no threat to score, Andrew Bynum can ignore him on the defensive end and devote himself to protecting the rim. On the downhill end of the court, Bynum is simply too big and strong for even Anthony’s energetic defense to be effective.
HANG TIME HQ, TEXAS – News flash for Andrew Bynum: four and a half years after the infamous video taken at a Newport Beach mall, Kobe Bryant believes you’ve got the right stuff to help him run down that sixth NBA championship that would pull him even with Michael Jordan.
After falling out of the starting gate with back-to-back losses, the Lakers have won six out of their last eight going into tonight’s game against the Suns. Bryant told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports! that he’s feeling good about many things: The right wrist that is holding up despite torn ligaments, the attitude and philosophy of new coach Mike Brown and especially the play of his front court teammates Bynum and Pau Gasol.
Bryant loves that Brown’s pushing people within the organization, that he’s pushing Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and, yes, that he’s pushing Bryant, too. The Lakers are still struggling to find themselves, but Brown is transforming them on the fly, fortifying them defensively and moving far away from the triangle offense. For everything that’s changed, Bryant still believes the core of a championship contender is here.
“We have our own Big Three,” Bryant said. “Andrew. Pau. And myself. Those are three bona fide All-Stars.
And you’d put that against anyone else’s three?
“Yes, I would.”
This promises to be a grueling sprint of a season where no one wants to hear about tired legs and injured players. Bryant’s always made it harder for Lakers teammates to sit out with injuries, because they know he’s plays through everything. For Gasol and Bynum, this has never been more important. “Mike’s pushed us hard, especially our bigs,” Bryant said of Brown. “He demands a lot from Pau. … But you’re seeing, Andrew has an incredible drive, an ambition to be great. And we need to encourage him in that.”
That’s a far cry from the way Bryant used to view the young big man in the middle of the L.A. lineup. But since starting the season late following his four-game suspension, Bynum has come a long way from the player who showed only flashes of his ability in the past. In his first half-dozen games this season, Bynum is averaging 18.8 points and 15.7 rebounds per game while shooting 53.6 percent. What he’s brought to the early part of this season has been consistency. He has only one game when he didn’t score in double figures and has hit double digits in rebounds every time out.