As predicted yesterday, basketball-heavy night = basketball-heavy morning roundup post. If you’re not much of a basketball fan, you’ve been warned. For the rest of you, let’s get down to business.
The Lakers didn’t go down easily, at least.
And they could have. they were down 17 in the third quarter to the Spurs last night. Later, they trailed by 16 with seven minutes to go in the game. But despite that deficit, and despite once again playing without their top three frontcourt options, the Lakers managed to cut the deficit to three and get the ball with 10 seconds left. And then… well, they couldn’t close the deal, missing on a pair of threes (neither of which was a particularly good look) on their final possession, losing 108-105 and falling to 15-20 on the season.
But this wasn’t quite the same Lakers team we’ve seen recently – in a good way. Magic Johnson, who’s ripped the team continuously this season, praised the Lakers when it was over for not giving up. And in a vacuum, losing to one of the best teams in the league on the road by three points when they’re at full strength and you’re without so many key players isn’t a bad result. The Lakers did some encouraging things -they turned the ball over just nine times all game and yielded 20 fewer points in the paint than they did to the Rockets the night before. Also, Earl Clark’s performance (22 points, 13 rebounds in 28 minutes) deserves some notice.
Of course, the issue is that nothing does happen in a vacuum, and the fact that the most encouraging Lakers game in a while was still a loss is more than a little stunning, when you think about the preseason expectations for this group (like us picking them to win the West, for example). Them making a game of it in San Antonio is a positive step, but if it doesn’t start translating to wins soon, it’s for naught. This team clearly had a very limited shelf life from the moment it was assembled. Steve Nash is old. Dwight Howard’s going to be a free agent. Their window of opportunity is already closing. But at least for a while last night, the Lakers finally played with a desperation that seemed to acknowledge that. It’s a start.
The Clippers have Chris Paul, and usually that’s enough.
While the Lakers were finally getting it together a bit last night, the Clippers weren’t having their finest night. They trailed the Mavs, a team that came into the Staples Center with a 13-22 record, 75-65 late in the third quarter last night. They turned the ball over 21 times. And it’s not like they were being undone by a classic Dirk performance or anything – in fact, he finished with 15 ponts on just 5-for-13 shooting. No, the Clips just weren’t playing all that well.
But these Clippers are different from the ones of yesteryear. And while there are many reasons for that one stands out above all else: these Clippers have Chris Paul. He spearheaded a fourth quarter comeback with six points and six assists in the period, leading the Clippers to a 99-93 win that moved them to 28-8 on the season, and 18-3 at home. Paul had 19 points and a season-high 16 assists overall, while Matt Barnes scored 19 of his own, including five threes.
Barnes’ performance showcases the Clippers’ depth, how they have multiple guys who can carry a team on a given night. But make no mistake: they’re one of the best teams in the league because they have the best in the league running the show. There’s a reason the team went from 32-50 two seasons ago to 40-26 last year, and it’s got everything to do with No. 3 coming to town. Looks sort of like that Lakers trade getting vetoed wound up being a blessing in disguise for Paul, doesn’t it?
Around the Association…
Lots of games last night. Let’s go through them quickly. The Raptors pulled away from the Sixers in the second half, winning 90-72. Every Toronto starter hit double figures. The Jazz rode Al Jefferson’s 26 and eight to a 112-102 win over the Bobcats in Charlotte. The Cavs rode Kyrie Irving being Kyrie Irving (33 points on 11-for-15 shooting) past the Hawks 99-83, a nice win for a team that hasn’t enjoyed many this season. The Celtics continued clamping down on defense, beating the Suns 87-79 and moving over .500 on the year. Brandon Jennings might not have been happy about Scott Skiles’ firing, but he’s sure playing like a man possessed – he had 35 points, six rebounds and six assists as the Bucks beat the Bulls 104-96.
Elsewhere: the Hornets ended the Rockets’ winning streak with a 29-10 fourth quarter run powering them to an 88-79 win in New Orleans. Greivis Vasquez continued his strong play, with 17 points and 11 assists, while James Harden scored 25 points again. The Thunder routed the perpetually-shorthanded T-Wolves 106-84 as Durant and Westbrook combined for 49, the Magic lost their 10th straight as the Nuggets rallied for a 108-105 win (Kenneth Faried: 19 and 19), and the Grizzlies beat the Warriors 94-87 in Oakland. Every Memphis starter reached double figures. The Grizzlies are, once again, for real.
Lots of college basketball…
…but no real upsets. Well, uh, No. 24 UNLV fell to No. 25 New Mexico, so there you go. Upset city! Otherwise everyone held serve. See you tomorrow in what may be a less populated edition of WHLN. It’ll still be basketball-focused, but there’s less basketball on tonight. We’ll find a way.
Photos via Getty