The Clippers came into last night's game with a massive advantage in the frontcourt. With Kwame Brown out, the Lakers had to start Bynum up front, hope for some quality post defense from Lamar Odom, and pray that Ronny Turiaf could give them anything down low. What did the Clippers do? Go to Elton and Chris Kaman to the tune of 17 shots apiece. Punching it into Kaman early always presents risks because, well, let's face it, the guy is capable of missing five early layups. The subsequent meltdown is never pretty, and when it's all over, Tim Thomas has logged 32 minutes, which is never a good thing. So when the Clips take the court and Kaman amasses a nice 3-4 FG before the first timeout, things look good for the Clippers.
Here's what establishing Chris Kaman can do for you:
- Creates impossible decisions defensively down low for most teams in the league. Elton's line doesn't look all that pretty, but he recognizes the double-team early all night, and makes some solid passes out of the post, the nicest at the 7:23 mark in the first where he finds Kaman on the opposite block. Right there? That's where the Clippers are impossible to defend. If Brand can pass out and Kaman can execute, the Clippers instantly become the team they were in May of last year.
- Opens up the perimeter for the jump shooters. The Clippers have been hot from the arc the past couple of weeks, but by and large, they'll earn their living from about 18 feet. The only way to work open shots from that range is either to space the floor PHX-style [force the opponent into the whack-a-mole strategy on the perimeter] - but the Clippers aren't a great passing team - or draw the opponent's defense below the stripe by pounding it into the post. This, of course, requires an effective Kaman.
- Creates nightmare matchup problems on the switch. When you go with one of those small lineups, you can never really force the matchup issue with the opponent. They never have to worry about Smush Parker drawing Chris Kaman. Establishing your big, mobile center presents nothing but bad choices for the opposing defense. If they switch Walton onto Kaman, then what do they do about Maggette? He's far too quick not to exploit a slow rotation. If they double Kaman off the screen, then Hart or whoever gets a clean shot. Obviously, leaving Elton isn't an option.
See what this does?
There were a couple of other pleasant oddities last night: Did Cat Mobley hit 7-11 from the field for 18 points, with seven dimes thrown in? Really? That was the quietest 18-5-7-2-2 [only 1 turnover] I've ever seen. What 18-5-7-2-2 means is that a guy is active pretty much every possession.
At the beginning of the 2nd quarter, Dunleavy fielded a lineup of Ewing-Mobley-Ross-Thomas-Kaman - the three best perimeter defenders on the team accompanied by the two biggest guys on the roster. The Lakers don't score until the 7:54 mark. Then Bryant returns, heats up, and that's over.
Check out the FGM distribution: Seven each for Kaman and Mobley, six each for Brand and Hart, along with five for Maggette [along with his 71-78 night from the line].
Okay, the final 4:47 of the game, when the Clippers extend their meager 79-78 lead to eight with an 11-4 run. Chris Kaman enters the game for Tim Thomas:
- After Hart draws a foul off the ball from Vujacic, he sinks two.
Clippers 81, Lakers 78 [4:47]
- Bryant brings the ball up for the Lakers - even with Jordan Farmar having just checked in for Vujacic. He gets a quick screen way up top from Bynum. With Kaman backtracking and in trouble, Bryant pulls up at the top of the circle for a quick jumper. No good.
- Easy in, easy in: Mobley drops it into Kaman in the post, single-team by Bynum. Chris dances over to the left block, and late help from Farmar can't do much to deter the easy 6-foot hook.
Clippers 83, Lakers 78 [4:20]
- Bryant penetrates, then dishes it out to Farmar on the right arc. The Lakers have the floor spaced nicely. Farmar drops it into Turiaf, who's one-on-one against Brand on the right block. Clipperblog is saying to Jeff Pickett, "That's fine. That's fine. That's fine. That's fine," as Turiaf tries to work anything against Elton. Everyone else on the floor is solidly manned-up by the Clippers. With :09 on the shot clock, Turiaf spins baseline against Elton for a turnaround jumper. Maggette skies for the rebound.
- Maggette delivers a sloppy entry pass into Kaman in the post, but Bynum bails out the Clippers by fouling Kaman from behind. Kaman hits one of two.
Clippers 84, Lakers 78 [3:47]
- The Lakers work it into Bryant in the mid-left post against Cuttino Mobley. Bryant backs him in, then muscles his way into the paint, then pumps as the entirety of the Clippers' defense collapses on him. He goes up for a wild shot, slides to the floor, but misses. There isn't contact. Bryant doesn't even whine about it.
- We love this set. Inside out: Maggette-Brand-Maggette-Brand. Elton does his thing on the left block. A beautiful turnaround jumper over Turiaf.
Clippers 86, Lakers 78 [3:12]
- Coming out of a timeout, Odom gets the ball up top. After an immediate screen from Bryant, Lamar wastes no time moving to his left. A strong drive results in a goal-tend.
Clippers 86, Lakers 80 [3:00]
- Another nice set, though this one fizzles at the last instant: Brand holds it against Turiaf off the left block. Hart, who's been standing way up top, makes a strong dive toward the hoop. Brand, who has only Turiaf on him, is able to zip the pass into Hart, but Farmar does a nice job recovering and blocks Hart's layup.
- Lately the Clippers have been defending the S/R as well as I've seen them, and this defensive set is perfect. On the left side, Bryant and Odom can get nothing for each other against Elton and Cat. The Lakers swing it right side. Turiaf tries to free up Walton with a back screen, but Maggette fights through it with no problem. Turiaf then sets another - this one on Hart for Farmar. No dice, because Kaman slides up instantly. Then, Kaman and Hart recover seamlessly. Farmar ends up launching a lousy 13-footer. No good. Farmar follows the shot, but bounces the ball off his leg for the turnover.
- The give-n-go on the left side with Elton and Maggette. As Elton hands the ball off to Corey, moving baseline, Turiaf steps in to draw the charge. It's Maggette's fifth personal foul. Dunleavy goes to the offense-defense Maggette-Ross switch.
- The Lakers clearly feel that Odom-off-the-dribble is their best bet. It works again, this time Odom starting on the right wing against Elton, then driving left through the lane. Jason Hart doesn't stay home on Farmar, but never really helps either. Odom draws the foul on Elton, then hits both.
Clippers 86, Lakers 82 [1:58]
- Brand-Maggette left side. As Elton holds it against Turiaf, Corey creates room with a nice curl move, steering Walton into Brand. Brand kicks it out to Maggette in the left corner, but Corey misses the 17-footer.
- Odom brings it up right side, drawing Maggette in transition. The Clippers are a little discombobulated defensively. Brand then quickly realizes that Walton is trailing the play and immediately picks him up and closes just as Luke goes up for the 3PA. No good. Rebound Kaman.
- Maggette brings it up left side and quickly dumps it into Brand against Walton. Brand kicks it back out to Maggette who has a wide open 17-footer. Corey is as surprised as anyone, and with too much time left on the clock, he hesitates, enough that Lamar closes. As he does, Corey penetrates the lane, loses the ball, but is bailed out by a foul call on Turiaf. Strange play. It's tempting to question Maggette for passing up a wide-open jumper, but it was awfully early in the possession. Upon further review, the iffy foul call on Turiaf was the right one. Corey, having misses his previous four FTAs, hits both.
Clippers 88, Lakers 82 [1:12]
- Ross is now on Bryant, as Odom brings it up again. More Odom off the dribble - this time against Cat. It's worth stopping for a sec to recognize just how effective Cuttino Mobley has been all over the court for the better part of a month now. Mobley has a 6' 10" freak homing in on him in an open halfcourt set here and what ultimately happens is that Odom picks up his dribble in the left corner, far, far away from where he needs to be, after Kaman has come over to help Mobley seal him off. Odom has to kick the ball way, way out to the top of the arc. It comes this close to being tipped away by Maggette, which would've resulted in a breakaway. Instead, Walton picks it up, heaves up a 25-footer. No good. The long rebound goes to Hart. On the possession, Bryant never touches the ball.
- 0:54 seconds left. Maggette holds the pumpkin against Walton way up top. As Maggette takes his first step, Walton falls to the floor. Corey takes advantage of the clean lane and quickly penetrates. As the defense begins to collapse, Corey dishes it off to Elton left side. Turiaf recovers. Corey moves over to the left corner, where he's felt comfortable all night; Elton finds him over there. Corey misses the 17-footer, but Kaman comes down with the rebound at 0:39. Big.
The Clippers reset with Mobley holding it forever against Bryant on the right arc. Mobley puts a sick move on Bryant, loses him, dribbles unmolested into the paint. The instant Turiaf collapses, Cat finds a wide open Elton on the left side. Elton has all day, and nails the 12-footer.
Clippers 90, Lakers 82 [0:25]
The Lakers could never find Bryant in the closing five minutes. Credit Cat, Ross, the interior and weak side defense - essentially everyone -- which makes it impossible for the Lakers to work anything off the ball.
Crosstown rivalries are beautiful things for a city. They're rare, and when you consider that the four baseball rivalries are NL-AL affairs that never really capture the consciousness of the cities except for two interleague series a season, that leaves the Lakers-Clippers as the best one going. Clipperblog has an odd encounter on the way inside Staples. A guy, probably in his mid-20s, looks at my Clipper cap and says, "Why do you even bother, Bud? This is a Laker town!" It's tempting to say that this guy - blond, rosy, tall, faintly fratty - is the prototypical Lakers fan, but I don't think that's the case. Amidst the zillions of people who are standing outside the gate waiting, I can't figure out why he chooses me. I mean, other than the cap, Clipperblog isn't rocking any conspicuous gear.
At any rate, Clipperblog answers, "Soooo...popularity should dictate devotion? Is that what you're saying?" Not exactly the zippiest retort, but whatever. Needless to say, this elicits a blank stare from the guy. There are a lot of good reasons to be a Lakers fan, but volume of support isn't one of them, right?
 Take a look at Elton's game log when you have a chance. His assist totals confirm that his passing out of the double-team has become really proficient.
 Yeah, I know Bryant isn't on the floor, but still...one of the things a defensive second team can do is shut down the other team's offense entirely. Whatever the Clips can pick up on the offensive end [in this case, a couple of Mobley goals off the dribble, and two easy post moves for Kaman] is gravy.
 It's unlike Clipperblog to unleash wholesale insults, but is there a stupider player in the league than Sasha Vujacic? In a one-point game here with under five minutes remaining, he takes an inexplicable flop to the floor while Hart tries to move through the lane. Why would any basketball player with any sense do that? The refs are forced to make a call and they make the right one.
 The 2004 Southern California Jewish Athlete of the Year.
 Go figure.