Just who are these Lakers???
With strong — think Hulk strong — bench play, the Lakers upended the Clippers in their L.A. battle on the NBA season’s opening night. They did it without Kobe Bryant, who isn’t ready to play after having his Achilles’ repaired last spring, and they did it without Dwight Howard, who left for Houston.
With none of their five starters playing in the fourth quarter, the Lakers’ bench scored the team’s final 48 points. They finished with 76 points — the team’s most, ESPN Stats and Info says — since 1988 and won 116-103. Xavier Henry led the benchies with 22 points and only one failed to score in double figures.
So much for Doc Rivers’ debut as coach of the glittering Clippers. It was a night, Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times writes, for the suspension of disbelief.
Never saw this coming. Never felt this happening.
Never thought the Clippers would begin their march to the NBA Finals by tripping over the Lakers … bench?
Never thought new Clippers Coach Doc Rivers would watch the first step toward his second championship ring tarnished by … Mike D’Antoni?.
Never thought a Staples Center that contained some loud Clippers fans — including one dude who infiltrated the Lakers courtside seats—would once again roar for the Lakers as if it were June.
Never thought they would be roaring for … Xavier Henry?
Believe it. The building is still rocking from it. The NBA experts are still reeling from it. A season that is one day old might already have its upset of the year.
The Clippers gave up 41 points in the fourth quarter. Afterward, Chris Paul, who finished with 15 points and 11 assists, looked stunned.
“We relaxed a little bit and I think that starts with me,” he said (via the Times). “I’ve got to get into the ball and stop getting the little nitpicky fouls (four) and stuff like that and try to contain guys.”
Welcome to L.A., Doc.
“It was everybody,” Rivers said of the defensive breakdowns. “I would love to say it was the bigs, but it really wasn’t a lot of times. It was our guards pulled in at the wrong time, going for steals, gambling, breaking coverage.”
For one game at least, Magic Johnson’s gloom-and-doom prophecy for his former team looked wrong.
“Laker fans are spoiled. I don’t know how they’re going to react now, because this is going to be a tough season,” Johnson said Tuesday afternoon on the “Max and Marcellus Show” on ESPNLA 710 radio. “This is going to be one of the roughest seasons that the Lakers have ever faced. You’re waiting on Kobe to see if he can get healthy. Nobody knows if he can be what he was. Then you’ve got [Pau] Gasol — who I think is a premier big man — but he plays better when he has talent around him.
“You’ve got guys who are all on one-year contracts, and all were journeymen on other teams. Laker fans are not used to that. I don’t know if they’re going to buy into that. We’re going to see. If you want the Laker fans to really buy in and be involved, you’re going to have to win right away. I don’t see that happening. The West is tough this year.”
Until Bryant returns, D’Antoni is making it up as he goes along.
“We’ve got about seven or eight question marks and you have to hit on five of them and you’ll have a really good season,” D’Antoni said before the game. “It’s our job to maximize what we have.”