For I believe just the second year in a row, Staples Center was host to a mini pre-season tourney. On Saturday, in the first round the Clips beat the Jazz, and the Lakes beat the Bobcats (who if I recall, they were oddly enough the only team with an undefeated record against the Lakers). This set up the oh-so-huge finals of Lakers vs Clips (with the ‘Cats & Jazz playing in the “B” bracket).
Okay, so this was definitely a pre-season game, particularly with coaches being overly cautious by holding out slightly dinged up players who would’ve played if it was a regular season game. The Clipper’s “injured” list included Marcus Camby, Sebastian Telfair, and Al Thornton. For the Lakers, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom & Luke Walton sat out. Also Kobe was in relative passive-mode, allowing Bynum to shoot every time he got it, and even letting Shanon Brown get more shot attempts too. That being said, Shannon Brown actually had some pretty sick highlights. Despite just being a normal-sized PG, on one breakaway dunk he took off from almost the free-throw line. On another play he got an offensive rebound put back where it seemed like he hovered in the air for a second while he waited for the ball to bounce off the backboard to him. Lastly, on a Laker missed free throw attempt, he somehow managed to run in from the three-point line, get through all the bodies, and reach up & bank the ball in. Um, but this ain’t a Laker blog.
The Clippers did lose, but examining the game from that pov is pointless. Likewise, looking at total box score results is a bit silly since some guys got more minutes and touches than they normally would. Here’s what we can take away from the game:
-Craig Smith is much better, much quicker, and much more chiseled than I expected. He’s worked out & now his bulk is all muscle. I was impressed that he didn’t get all his baskets just by banging down low, but also by doing some spin moves and drives around his defenders. And, like his nickname, Rhino, once he got going, no one wanted to step in front of that huge, speeding animal thundering towards the basket. Of course he won’t lead the team in shots once the season begins, and he likely won’t even get the 22 minutes worth of playing time he had last night. But the dude is a playah. And last year we didn’t have any forces coming off the bench. With him, Telfair, DeAndre Jordan and maybe Griffin and Thornton/Rasual… that’s one scary good bench.
-Despite all the talented youth, this team will likely go only as far as Le Good Baron. He came out aggressive in the first quarter, and man, the Clips were unstoppable. Every one of his assists were earned. No boring Steve-Blake-esque assists of just like swinging the ball and the next guy happens to just shoot it, or passing it to a big who then makes a great move but you get the assist since you fed him it. These were assists where he broke down the Lakers’ D and created either easy dunks or wide open threes. Or even if they didn’t directly lead to an assist, maybe he’d pass it out to Butler who’d be wide open at the three, and when Butler’s man charged, Butler dribbled past him, either getting his own closer shot or creating some other mismatch. Meaning Baron might not have gotten credit for the assist in that situation, but he created it by getting the D out of whack and having to scramble to catch up. Players of course missed some open shots or got fouled as they were about to dunk it, so truth is that Baron created a lot more than just the 8 assists he was given.
-All of which made it more clear than ever that this game’s backup PGs, Anthony Robeson & Mardy Collins, are useless. Mardy did okay actually, but both of them got pressured bringing up the ball and it seemed to rattle ‘em. It’s unlikely Robeson will make the team, and in the future if Telfair’s out I think Dunleavy should stick to having Eric Gordon back-up Baron.
-Another player gunnin’ for a spot, ex-Laker Kareem Rush, was decent on offense, but he had one boned-headed defensive lapse which is the type of thing that has kept him from finding a regular team (& which will prevent him from getting the last spot on the Clips). DJ frickin’ Mbenga has the ball down low, going up against either Kaman or DeAndre, and Rush goes to double-team. Plus, he’s on the same side, leaving a wide open easy pass to his guy who drains the three. What was he thinkin’? Had he not realized this ain’t the same Laker team he played on, and that the big dude down low was no longer this guy named Shaq?
-Rasual Butler drove recklessly a few too many times. He needs to realize his role on offense is to keep defenses honest, not be a creator.
-The opposite with Eric Gordon. Most of his attempts were off of the creation of others. Per-minute, he probably touched the ball less than anyone else. Sure, it keeps him efficient, but it also resulted in him only having one assist and 3 free-throw attempts. Only 4 shot-attempts weren’t from 3-point land. Luckily he hit him at better than 50%, but that isn’t gonna happen every night. If the team doesn’t make him more of a focal point of the offense, I’m worried that he’ll defer too much, making him take a step back from last year (although his efficiency will probably then improve).
-Blake Griffin still rushes his moves. His best moments are mostly about his athleticism and hustle on the offensive boards. In a few years he’ll be great, but right now he’s better working off of others rather than being a focal point. To his credit (& Dunleavy’s), the Clips seem to be aware of this and are using him in that manner. Yes, he gets a few shots to create on his own, but it’s not like when say Carmelo Anthony joined the Nugs and could basically go to town on half their possessions. To get an idea of what type of athleticism I’m talkin’ about, check this crazy dunk out:
-Baron Davis’ beard has gotten so dense that if you shot a bullet at his chin, it would never make it through that mass o’ hair. The dude is facially bullet-proof. I wonder if you punched him in the jaw if your hand would just get stuck in there like cement had hardened around your hand. I love it. I think he should hide secret weapons in there.
-Ricky Davis looked much more springy and athletic this time. Maybe he’s still getting it back or is just trying not to force things. Either way, he looked much better than the last game I saw and could end up being a nice plus off the bench.
-Is Steve Novak hurt? Why has he seen no time in pre-season? He has a guaranteed contract, unlike Robeson & Rush, so why hasn’t he gotten any run?
-DeAndre Jordan was solid again (although nothing spectacular). Although now I realize that since we’re pretty much assured that Kaman & Camby will each be injured at some point, I think he’ll definitely get decent minutes during the year. Hopefully those 2 bigs take turns getting injured rather than both doing it at the same time, ‘cuz I really, really, really don’t wanna have to see Brian Skinner playing…