Can the Clippers break the Laker stranglehold on LA?
By Larry Fine
The Lakers have owned Los Angeles in the NBA sense for 50 years since moving to the City of Angels from the Land of 10,000 Lakes where they were born the Minneapolis Lakers.
Now with a startling suddenness since the end of the NBA lockout, the famed franchise with its 16 NBA titles looks ripe for a challenge for local hoops supremacy from their Staples Center co-tenants – the perennially sad-sack Los Angeles Clippers.
Add premier point guard Chris Paul to the Clippers, along with veterans such as Caron Butler from the NBA champion Mavericks and Chauncey Billups of the Knicks, and subtract Lamar Odom from the Lakers and one can feel the rumbles of abalance of power shift in Southern California.
Mix in an injury to the shooting wrist of Kobe Bryant, and waves of worry have hit the Lakers faithful, who had to endure back-to-back defeats to the Clippers in preseason warm-ups.
Last year the Lakers, who have won five NBA titles with Bryant on the roster, were 57-25 while the Clippers were 32-50 even with all the highlight reel dunks from former number one overall draft pick Blake Griffin.
Now with Paul lobbing alley-oop passes for thunder dunks by Griffin and young center DeAndre Jordan, the Showtime moniker might just be annexed by the Clippers.
Bryant, entering his 16th season, is said to be day-to-day due to the torn ligament in his right wrist, but any lingering effects could spell trouble for the Lakers, who had been banking on acquiring Paul themselves before Commissioner David Stern stepped in and nixed it as steward for the league-owned New Orleans Hornets.
The Clippers then made an offer Stern could not refuse, spelling double trouble for the Lakers, who may be too old and too slow to handle the frenetic pace of a compacted 66-game schedule.
Lakers’ Hall of Fame alumnus Magic Johnson heaped more pressure on Bryant by saying he needed to get Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum producing at a high level.
“What Kobe has to do now is really look to get Gasol and Bynum going and then pick and choose when he should dominate,” Johnson told reporters in a conference call.
“Because he’s going to need help, especially more this season than any other season, for them to be really one of the best teams and win a championship…
“Those two guys got to have banner years – Gasol and Bynum – because Kobe can’t carry the load,” Johnson said. “You can’t expect him to be carrying the load night-in and night-out. They’re going to look to those two big men to control the paint, give Kobe a break.”
It all starts on Sunday for the Lakers, taking on NBA MVP Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls – with or without Bryant.