LA Clippers 92, LA Lakers 99
It always feels a little weird to me when the NBA season doesn’t start on Halloween, but my daughter’s third birthday is as good a day as any to inaugurate another year of basketball. With this being “Championship Ring Night,” which is apparently the newest addition to the commentator vernacular, emotions were high at Staples Center as the Lakers kicked off their season against their in-house rivals, the Clippers.
Now before I really get into it, I have a caveat. This year’s updates are going to be much shorter. At least that’s my intention. I’m back at work, braving daycare with my baby girl, and frankly too damn tired to pump out 800+ words for every Laker game. That said, I often have a hard time shutting my mouth (or my laptop), so brevity is more of a tentative goal than an absolute promise. And now on with the show.
The Lakers turned in a mostly convincing performance against a Clippers team that was without its number one draft pick Blake Griffin, who picked up a knee injury in the last game of an impressive preseason. He is expected to be sidelined for 6-8 weeks, which is a big blow to Dunleavy and the Clips. That wasn’t the biggest of their problems tonight, though, as they were generally dismantled by a far superior Lakers team that looked loose and ready to get back to work. We were without Pau Gasol due to a nagging but minor injury, so Odom was inserted into the starting line-up along with old faithfuls Kobe and Fish, the hopefully healthy Bynum, and newcomer Ron Artest.
The team fared well in the early going, moving the ball well and defending with good energy. Phil treated it like a preseason game with his rotation, playing the likes of Mbenga and Powell significant minutes in the first quarter somewhat surprisingly. When the Clippers made the expected run, the starters were re-inserted to steady the game and stretch the lead back to a comfortable margin. The same basic pattern followed in the second half, with the team taking a little cruise in the third quarter to let the Clips back to within one before slamming the door shut on them with an early fourth quarter burst.
It’s the first game of a long season, so I don’t think too much can be read into this one, but it’s worth analyzing things a bit I suppose. Kobe turned in a routine 33 in 38 minutes and filled out the rest of the stat sheet with 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 steals. He looked like a fish in water, thoroughly in his element and happy to be back on the court. He linked up well with his teammates all night long. Odom looked like the good Odom that makes us all but unbeatable, going for a cool 16 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Dayyyumm. Phil showed us a little somethin’ somethin’ with a three-guard set of Kobe, Farmar, and Brown on a couple occasions. We’ll have to see how that one plays out as the season goes on.
The biggest story of the night was easily Ron Artest’s debut in the purple and gold. He wasn’t spectacular, but he played the kind of game I’d like to see more of from him in the future. He was quiet for large stretches, defended staunchly, hustled for loose balls, and picked his spots offensively. The main question fans had going into the season was how Ron-Ron would fit into the triangle offense and whether or not he would be able to defer to the great offensive beings on his team. At least for tonight, he did all that and quite well. He missed a few open threes, but that will come with time, and the extra threat on the post and toughness in defense is well worth the transition time. And Ariza’s agent looks worse and worse….
So here I am, 650 words in and still talking. I’m gonna shut up now and leave it at that until Friday night, when we host the Mavericks. 20-1 may be a little lofty (but thanks for the nod, Reggie), but something similarly remarkable does seem achievable, at least for this early season stretch, which is pretty straightforward for the second straight year. 70 games? Probably not, but the goal is much more than that anyway. Here’s to all that and more.