Point guard Chris Paul (right) has been unstoppable for the Clippers, as the Lakers could not find anybody to guard him. Photo by Jason Lewis
Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant has been unstoppable this season, but it does not matter much when the Lakers play horrible defense. Photo by Jason Lewis
Now it’s on to bigger things than the struggling Lakers…which would be the NBA title.
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
When the Lakers and Clippers took the court at Staples Center last week, it seemed like Westchester High School and Fairfax High School were playing for the City Section championship, as half of the Staples Center crowd was rooting for the Clippers, and the other half the Lakers.
It did not take long to figure out which team was better, and it did not take much longer to figure out that these two teams are not even close to each other. The Clippers have not won the season series against the Lakers since 1993. Even though the two teams face each other two more times this season, just go ahead and give it to the Clippers now, because they are playing on a totally different level than the Lakers.
This is a rare time in Los Angeles. This may be the first time ever that the Clippers have been clearly better than the Lakers. Even when the Clippers have finished ahead of the Lakers in the standings, which has not happened often, they were not that much better in those years. But this year, the gap has never been this big.
Even with the Clippers playing at a championship contending level, the Lakers are still the story in Los Angeles, as the bulk of the media members were hovering around the Lakers locker room to figure out how things have gone so bad after the Clippers defeated them 107-102, and the game really was not even that close, as the Clippers slowed down their offense to run out the clock late in the game, allowing the Lakers to make it close.
The fact that the Clippers slowed down their offense and still scored 107 points against the Lakers shows what the glaring problem is with this All-Star laden Lakers team. They do not play any defense at all.
The Lakers are fourth in the league in scoring with 103.1 points per game, which is very good. But defensively they are 26th in the league, giving up 101.5 points per game.
In 24 games with new Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, the Lakers have given up 104.0 points per game. That is worse than any other team in the league (officially the Charlotte Bobcats have the worse defense in the league, giving up 103.8 points per game.)
It is really early to talk about playoffs, but the way this Lakers team is going, it is starting to become hard to believe that they will be able to make it. A lot of the attention is on their offense, as many critics and fans are complaining that Kobe Bryant is shooting the ball too much, or that Pau Gasol is not involved in the offense. But seeing that they score over 100 points a game, the offense is not the problem at all, and if they do not fix their defense in a hurry, they will not make the playoffs.
To put it into perspective, since D’Antoni took over the Lakers scored 112 points against the Rockets, 105 points against the Denver Nuggets, 102 against the Clippers, 114 against the Nuggets two weeks ago, 107 points against the Knicks in New York, 110 points against the Utah Jazz, 108 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder, 105 points against the Rockets, and 103 points against the Orlando Magic.
In all of those games the Lakers had really good offensive production, but they ended up losing each one of those games because of horrible defense. Since D’Antoni took over, they have given up 110 points or more in nine games and 125 points or more twice. In one loss to the Nuggets, the Lakers scored 114 points, but lost the game by double digits because they gave up 126 points. In the loss against the Rockets, they scored 112 points but lost because they gave up 125 points. That is two games where they scored over 110 points but lost by double digits. That is beyond bad.
Over the Lakers current four game losing streak, with losses to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Clippers, the Nuggets, and the Rockets, the Lakers have averaged 104.5 points per game on offense, but they have given up 111.7 points per game on defense. Looking at their last five losses, they have scored 106.4 points per game, but they have given up 114.6 points per game.
This is beyond terrible.
When the Clippers score over 100 points they are 21-3. Under D’Antoni the Lakers are 9-9. The Lakers were 5-1 when scoring over 100 points before D’Antoni took over.
D’Antoni has lived up to his billing. Even with all of the complaints, he has drastically improved the offense, which scored only 97.3 points per game last season under former Head Coach Mike Brown. Since he took over the Lakers have averaged 104.2 points per game. But defensively the Lakers held opponents to only 95.9 points per game last season, much better than what they are producing under D’Antoni.
This is one of the worse defenses that the Lakers have ever had, which is no surprise, because D’Antoni does not spend much time on the defensive side of the court. That one reason alone is why many people say that he should have never been hired.
According to Bryant, it all starts from opposing players penetrating their defense and getting into the paint. Wing players have been having a field day against the Lakers defense, and even though Lakers are big in the frontcourt, there is not much that they can do with opposing players roaming free through their defense. Their transition defense is bad as well, as they give up way too many fast break points.
Another issue for the Lakers is that they are playing from behind too much. After this past Sunday’s game against the Nuggets, they have trailed at halftime in 19 games, and they went on to lose 15 of those games.
The Clippers on the other hand have been everything that the Lakers wish they were. They are young, fast, play hard on both ends of the court, and they are having fun being one of the dominant teams in the league.
Point guard Chris Paul has been nearly unstoppable, and backcourt teammates Caron Butler, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes complement him perfectly. Power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan are dunking on everybody. Their stars are playing like stars, and their role players are playing their roles well.
This Clippers team is what a championship team is supposed to be, and they may have more firepower from the top of their roster to the bottom than what the Miami Heat or the Thunder took to the NBA Finals last year.
The Finals are a long ways away, but for now, it is clear that the L.A. City champs are the Clippers, and it is not even close.
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