Early in the season we saw Magic Johnson on TV during halftime of a Los Angeles Clippers game proclaim that he never thought he would ever again see “Showtime” until he watched the Clippers that night. Magic was not just anyone making that statement. He was the creator of “Showtime” during his playing days with the Los Angeles Lakers. So if anyone is qualified to make that statement it is Magic Johnson.
But the Lakers of the Magic era were perennial Western Conference Champions. They won five NBA Titles had lost in the Finals four times. So Magic took “Showtime to the NBA Finals nine times. The Clippers in two seasons of “Lob City” haven’t gotten past the second round in the Western Conference. So what is the difference between the “Showtime” Lakers and the “Lob City” Clippers?
To answer that question, let’s go position by position:
Center- Lakers had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Clippers have DeAndre Jordan. While Jordan is a rebounding and shot blocking machine, and he can throw down a monster dunk on you, Kareem had offensive skills in the half court. He had the unstoppable sky hook and he could hit free throws. For Jordan to put the ball in the bucket, he needs to be right next to it. If he can develop some offensive moves and learn to hit a 12 foot jumper, the Clippers will be in much better shape.
Point guard- Magic Johnson vs Chris Paul. While Paul is a phenomenal point guard, there is only one Magic Johnson. He was Chris Paul with size. He did whatever he wanted to do on the basketball court, including backing down a defender. CP3 will never be Magic Johnson, but that’s not a knock on him. The Clippers won’t need him to be to win a championship. Chris Paul at the point is good enough to win a championship. Now, five championships? That will be asking a bit too much.
Shooting guard- Byron Scott/Michael Cooper vs Chauncey Billups/Jamal Crawford- If Billups can ever stay healthy, I’d put the Clippers shooting guards up against those Lakers guards. That’s not a knock on the Lakers guards of those days because they could kill you with the threes in transition.
Power Forward- James Worthy vs Blake Griffin- Worthy is one of the best ever. He could run on the break and throw it down. He could shoot. He had offensive skills. He was a beast on defense as well. Griffin has a chance to be as good as Worthy if he can develop some half court offense. He needs to work on some good low post moves where he can at least get to the line and knock down some free throws. He also needs a little range on his jumper. If he gets that part of his game down, he will be a perennial All-Star.
Small Forward- Kurt Rambis/A.C. Green vs Caron Butler/Matt Barnes- Matt Barnes was effective at times and so was Butler. But Rambis and Green brought it every night. Rambis stared off as a hacker. But the longer he played, the better he got. He got to the point where he could run out on the break and knock down shots. Green was threat to score all the time as well.
So where do the Clippers need to improve? Griffin and Jordan need some half-court offense and also they need a bit more out of the small forward spot. The myth is that the Lakers were all about the break. but the Lakers could score in the half court. In the playoffs, when things tend to slow down as the pressure amps up, this is critical. You’re going to go up against the best defensive teams for four to seven games in a row. You can’t just fast break them to death.