Two games. Two loses. Two different showings.
Game #1 against the Lakers:
Even missing Pau Gasol, the defending champs looked pretty darn good. Kobe drove fearlessly & hit outside shots. Artest was non-stop on defense & didn’t force things on offense: he only took wide open kick out threes or posted up players. Bynum was the force he’s been the last two years when healthy. Odom filled up his stat sheet everywhere. Honestly, no one on the Lakers looked bad.
In contrast, on the Clippers Baron Davis was awful, turning the ball over a ton & jacking up ill-advised shots. Al Thornton kept pitifully forcing things on O, unable to accept that Artest had shut him down. Camby was solid, but lacking his old spring he didn’t record a single block. DeAndre Jordan, after being great all summer & pre-season, suddenly looked like a rookie playing in his first game, not the more polished second year pro we thought he’d become.
It wasn’t all awful though. The highlights were Kaman, playing great as he has all pre-season. Craig Smith, aka Rhino, was on fire (he may be my new fave Clip — and I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that yes, 20% of that is probably ‘cuz it’s so darn fun calling him Rhino). Eric Gordon bulldog-ed his way to the net several times, looking ready to make that second year jump. Baron Davis, despite being much shorter than Kobe, actually did admirably once he was switched onto The Black Mamba.
Defensively, ugh, the Clips were pathetic, always scrambling to cover, leaving shooters wide open. Countless times they lost track of Bynum — y’know, the really, really, really, really, really big guy — leaving him wide open under the basket for easy catch & dunks. Gordon was wholly unable to cover Kobe, and after the first few possessions had to be re-assigned.
After all that, you’d think the Clips lost by 20. However, amazingly, they actually hung around the whole game. They even tied it up in the fourth quarter (wait, they may have even got a 1 pt lead — I forget). That’s not to say that the Lakers ever looked concerned that they’d lose, but this was a big step forward for the Clips. Last year they never would’ve kept plugging away. They’d have been down 20 by half, and 30+ by the end of the game. So even though they lost, it wasn’t quite as disappointing as I thought it’d be.
Game #2 vs. The Suns:
This game was the opposite of the Laker one, in that the Clips were ahead almost the whole time, and even though the Suns stayed close, it never seemed like they had a chance to win it. Until they did.
That said, the defensive rotations were just as crap-tastic as in the first game. Usually it was just Channing Frye who was left wide open, and in the first half he obliged by choking & missing every shot. In the second half I guess he felt bored since he wasn’t doing anything, so he decided to hit some shots. But really the person who killed us was Steve “Possum” Nash, who seemed somewhat disinterested through the first three quarters, often giving up his dribble & letting other guys try to make something happen.
Camby’s outside shot was on fire in the first half, and he was everywhere, scrambling for loose balls & blocking shots. Baron Davis was much more effective. Kaman was once again good, and perhaps should now be called Konstant Kaman. However, Eric Gordon was uncharacteristically bad at the simple stuff. He missed two point blank layups, and despite being an 85% free-throw shooter last year, he shot 42.9% from the line. Heck, with people guarding him he managed 46.2 fg%. Maybe he should’ve asked people to try to block him while he was shooting free throws & that would’ve helped.
Mike Dunleavy did an awful job with substitutions in the second quarter. The Clips had gotten ahead big in the first quarter, then both teams emptied their benches & the Suns rallied back. Rather than put some of the starters back in, Dunleavy woke up to see that the Suns were back in the game. I never understand coaches who pretty much just put in a complete second unit rather than keep some of the starters in. During the Lakers’ Shaq & Kobe years, one of ’em was pretty much always in. Boston always seems to have one of its Big Three in (although personally I think they should always have two of ’em in, but then again I haven’t always been a big fan of Doc Rivers’ coaching decisions — like why’s Doc playing freaky Sheldon Williams so much rather than just upping Perkins minutes to 35+ until Big Baby’s back?).
But back to the Clips. I gotta say, Rasual Butler’s starting to bug me. I know tons of Clipper fans are really high on him & think he should be starting ahead of Al Thornton ‘cuz he plays smarter, but I dunno ’bout that. Sure, maybe he’s better at rotations on D, but offensively he has no idea what his place on the team should be. He needs to be an outside shooter who gets his look off of others. Far too often he tries to create on his own. And/or he puts up jump shots even if he is covered. Like someone’ll come running at him when he gets it at the three-point line, so he’ll try to dribble past them, they’ll stay with him, so he’ll just stop & shoot over them. Basically it’s Kobe Bryant’s most frustrating move. But at least when Kobe does it, half the time it’s cuz it’s at the end of the shot clock & he has no choice. Plus Kobe’s a much better shooter. Yes, Rasual gets ’em some time, like he did when he initially tied the game at the end with that three, but it’s an awful choice. Actually, it also the most annoying part of Baron Davis’ game too, which he’s said he’ll try to work on. However, again, it’s more acceptable for Baron ‘cuz if he establishes his outside shot then people need to play him closer & he can then drive past ’em. And Baron does so many other good things on O, that okay, once in a while he gets the privilege of jacking up junk. Most of the big outside boys do it, like LeBron, Wade, Carmelo, Arenas, etc. But Rasual, I know LeBron, and you’re no LeBron. …Okay, I don’t personally know LeBron, but you know what I mean. That’s it, I’m done ranting.
No wait, one more thing. I was also surprised Dunleavy didn’t play DeAndre Jordan at all. Maybe DeAndre was hurt & I haven’t heard about it. But with Blake out we should pretty much just be playing Camby at PF (w/Rhino as his backup) & then giving DeAndre the backup center minutes so that he can develop his game (plus he’s already darn good and is probably the third best backup center after Marcin Gortat & Zydrunas Iglauskas — meaning all three of those guys could be starting on many NBA teams).
Oh, and the free Blake Griffin t-shirts that we got last night… despite the fact that it was kinda sad ‘cuz he was out, they were kinda pathetic looking & flimsy.
Anyway, despite losing both games, both showed strong glimpses of promise. If we improve our D & can just get everyone to be focused every night, we can win a ton of games. And by focused I don’t mean everyone needs to have a great night for us to win, just that players need to be dialed in enough so that they’re not awful. For instance, Rhino wasn’t the beast he was the previous night, but he didn’t actively hurt us. I once heard that a great movie is one that has three truly great scenes, and no bad ones. We’re getting three players stepping up each night, but until we get rid of our bad scenes we won’t take the next step.