One of my favorite basketball pop theories is:

Post, Shoot, Slash: Pick Two

The general doctrine goes that if you can perform two of those three tasks effectively, you'll win the basketball game. 

Last night against the Lakers, the Clips didn't do any of those things particularly well.

Though they had opportunities in the post, Elton Brand was invisible after the first quarter on the low block while the Clips settled for hurried, contested jump shots.  Chris Kaman appeared lost in the disoriented offense and unable to get low position on Kwame (who is a far more functional defender than I realized). 

So far as shooting goes, the Clips hit only 4 of 18 shots from beyond 20 feet. 

And without Maggette, there was nobody to slash and take the slower Lakers off the dribble.  Vlad had a nice drive early in the third quarter but was otherwise useless - particularly off the ball where he couldn't set an effective screen on Luke Walton or Kwame Brown all night. 

The Clippers went 5:02 in the second quarter without a field goal, a span in which - without Maggette - they earned only two trips to the line for a total of three points.  In the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, Shaun Livingston's open-lane drive and slam accounted for the only points.  Otherwise, it was a barrage of quick jump shots and careless turnovers - both borne out of impatience.

One of the things I was shocked to see recently were the Hollinger Team Efficiency Ratings.  Among the stats is Offensive Efficiency - or the number of points a team scores per 100 possessions.  It's no surprise that Phoenix ranks first, but do you know who ranks two and three? 

Dallas and Detroit.

...two teams that play a pronounced half-court, grind-it-out style of basketball (the Spurs are 9th; the Clips are 16th in offensive efficiency).  Since the Pistons are on national television six times a week, we've all had a chance to study their game.  And the one thing that stands out about Detroit's offense (and soon-to-be contributor Steve Daly will expound upon this), is their steadfast patience. 

They wait for their shot. 

If Hamilton has run around two screens and still isn't open...well...he'll run around two more until he wears out his defender and gets an open look.  If ‘Sheed can't get position down low, then he makes himself useful by drawing his man out to the primeter, freeing up the middle for a slashing Tayshaun Prince.  And the brilliant thing about Billups is that he'll wait for all this to materialize; he knows exactly in the possession when the Pistons will get their best look.  And they do this with a center who can't score. 

Ask yourself - Other than supplying Mobley with a beautiful screen off the inbound in the second quarter and a single offensive board, what did Chris Kaman do to make himself useful on the offensive end last night?  Once the Lakers determined that it was safe to leave Vlad with sufficient space on the perimeter and collapse on our interior guys, what did Vlad do to use his size and athletic advantage over Luke Walton?   Close to nothing.  He set up shop on the weak side perimeter with a chaise lounge, like Pauley and Vito sitting outside Satriales. 

And why did the larger, more physical Clips - a team that was dominating the Lakers in the paint through much of the first half - shoot eight fewer free throws than the Lakers (and before you say Kobe, he had only nine)?   Who was the Clippers' leader last night in FTA?

Quentin Ross, with five. 

Without Maggette and Shaun on the floor, the Clippers don't have the speed to take many teams off the dribble from the perimeter; when Vlad is cold, they don't have the shooters to spread the floor.  What this means is that, come playoff time, the Clippers are going to have to cultivate a more patient offense, one that moves better without the ball and works for the best shot - usually Brand one-on-one or an open (and this is key) Cassell. 

And tonight's game against Dallas is a crucial test of this.  Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse are quick, physical G/Fs that can work around screens and tie up your swingmen. In both meetings, Dirk has given EB fits with his size advantage, and Elton has had a lot of trouble passing out. 

Truth be told, it's a horrible matchup for the Clippers - but so was Phoenix.