Clippers no longer a bad joke
This city’s NBA fans are being jarred out of their comfort zone.
Part of it is that we have lived so long and so happily with the Laker Show. Magic and Showtime became our birthright. We assumed there would always be another Magic, and we assumed right. His name was Kobe. No second name needed, here or anywhere.
Part of that comfort zone was also the other guys. We’re a big city, after all. Why not have two teams, one real and the other fodder for Hollywood and our comedy clubs. Their name is the Clippers and, over the years, we have called them all sorts of other things. They had become our go-to one-liner.
It was traditional, as traditional as them wasting high draft picks on the likes of Benoit Benjamin or Michael Olowokandi. If a wrong move could be made, the Clippers would make it. If there was a late-in-career big name, demanding huge money while having little game left, the Clippers were there, checkbook in hand, grinning like Cheshire.
It became the Donald Sterling syndrome. We love to have an easy target at which to point our finger. Team owner Sterling was it. If his team wasn’t the butt of a joke, he was. Few ever stopped to ponder how somebody so apparently inept could make all the money he has and have all that business success.
Now, it is 2014. The Lakers remain the Lakers in the minds of the majority. It is just a matter of time, the faithful say. One good draft, a healthy Kobe, a break here and there and the stars will align again.
Nope. Things crushed by wrecking balls leave lots of little pieces. Think of it as a time-consuming puzzle. We have symbols to cling to. There are no Clippers statues outside Staples Center because no Clipper has earned one. Not even close, yet. Kareem, Jerry West, Magic, Chick Hearn. Those are legends. The Clippers are barely a short story.
Still, there is no denying they are the story of the moment. Time Warner Cable and ESPN’s 710 radio help us cling. They are all Lakers, all the time. They are being paid to be so, and for many, it is hard to watch and listen now to all the hallow hope and rocky rationalizations. Don’t blame the people on the air. They know who signs their paychecks.
At the moment, it appears that Time Warner bought a lemon. But then, if rumors are accurate, by Thursday, that lemon will belong to Comcast.
In the meantime, one of the best high-flying shows in sports is playing in Staples, in red and white, not purple and gold. If you’re dazzled by the Winter Olympics, try watching the Clippers. They know how to find big air with the best of them, and their degree of difficulty isn’t bad, either.
They played an excellent Portland team Wednesday night. Both teams spent much of the game shooting around 60% from the field. Both ended up above 50%. These teams live on offense and even occasionally mention defense in timeout huddles.
The aerial show had the usual alley-oops, with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan spending much of the game several feet above the rim. Griffin even had a dunk tip-in. The third period began with Chris Paul feeding Griffin on a classic alley-oop that had the usual sellout crowd on its feet.
Yes, the Clippers sell out all the time now, but that doesn’t mean the entire city has bought in. It should. Lakers fans don’t have to become Clippers fans, but the choice now seems to be recognition or a four-month retreat to a storm cellar.
The Clippers probably won’t win the NBA title this season, but they actually could. They have some of the most important elements, which are as follows:
* Two superstars.
* A shot blocker who views anybody in a different uniform in his key as subject to punishment for trespassing.
* An arsonist off the bench with no shooting conscience.
* A coach who has been there, done that and still has the hunger to do it again.
Paul and Griffin are the superstars, in the image and likeness of Kareem and Oscar, Magic and Kareem, LeBron and Dwyane, Kobe and Shaq, West and Wilt, Laimbeer and Isiah. In the NBA, it takes two to tango.
In the middle, Jordan isn’t Bill Russell, but don’t tell him, because he is trying to be.
Off the bench, the last time Jamal Crawford considered not shooting was never. He started walking at 11 months and shortly thereafter hit a three and was fouled.
And then there is the glue, Doc Rivers. He has won one NBA title with the Boston Celtics and didn’t come West to rebuild. Rivers took the job when he saw something, and now he is like a 10-year-old, playing with clay.
Wednesday night’s game, the last for the Clippers before the All-Star break, had playoff intensity. The Trail Blazers entered with a 36-16 record, the Clippers at 36-18. Both teams shot lights out. Both teams will play well into the postseason.
The game was a “wow.” Many Clippers games are.
The final nail in the Portland coffin was a Matt Barnes alley-oop pass to Jordan. The basket shook and rattled. The sellout crowd rolled. The final score was 122-117. If you weren’t entertained, you aren’t alive.
A colleague of mine once got carried away with some UCLA football success and wrote that L.A. was now a Bruins town. Nope.
Nor has this stopped being a Lakers town. But right now, it is Clippers time.