Unfortunately, these are the same old Lakers that I saw on a trip back East. The difference now is Pau Gasol is back but parked so far from the basket he might as well be on the bench.
A year ago Magic was criticizing Mike Brown for making a jump shooter out of Gasol rather than planting him down low. Apparently it doesn't matter who coaches the Lakers; they don't know what to do with Gasol.
The Lakers go two-deep with Kobe and Howard, the Clippers' defense keeping Steve Nash from penetrating. As a result the Clippers build an 18-point second-quarter lead before Paul goes to the bench.
Without Crawford to keep the ball going in the basket and Paul on the attack, the Lakers climb back to within four. But now Paul is back, the first half ending with him going one-on-one with Kobe and hitting a jumper at the buzzer for a 10-point lead.
Say what you want about the NBA, but with this many great athletes on the floor playing with as much emotion as they are, it's just great theater.
The Clippers feasted on crummy teams to put together a 17-game winning streak. The Lakers have yet to officially be designated crummy, though, fighting back to within three early in the third quarter.
But then Paul asserts his leadership once again, a double-double already on his stat sheet with 11 assists and 16 points. The Clippers bounced ahead again by a dozen, a look of who knows what on Kobe's face as he showed almost no emotion.
As the electrifying show goes on, Paul waves all his teammates away and goes one-on-one with Darius Morris. Morris is still wondering where Paul went as Paul left him behind for layup.
Then Paul floats a pass above the basket for Jordan to bring everyone to their feet with a jam. How humbling it must be for the Lakers to feel what it's like to play the Washington Generals to the Clippers' show-stoppers.
The Lakers close to within eight in the fourth quarter, Grffin's immaturity helping their cause. He picks up a technical for saying something to a referee long after disagreeing with a call.
Gasol has been on the bench most of the fourth quarter with a total of two points, but the Lakers still find an old war horse way of hanging tough.
Kobe makes it a two-point game, the great upset now a possibility and isn't that funny to consider. But then Paul hits two free throws and turns to his brother, C.J., who is sitting on the baseline and tells him, "Game time."
He then takes Kobe one-on-one and runs out the 24-second clock to hit a jumper for a six-point lead. He finishes off the Lakers at the free-throw line later, and ends the night with a season-high 30 points.
The Lakers, meanwhile, remain just a bit off.
But I can't wait for the Valentine's Day rematch.