LOS ANGELES -- Novelty acts have expiration dates. Whatever intrigue exists between the Clippers and Lakers in Los Angeles might resurface in the future, but on Friday night at Staples Center, there was little buzz. Like the Magic on Monday and the Celtics on Wednesday, the Lakers were just another in a series of weary teams limping into Staples Center this week to face the Clippers without Chris Paul.
The Clippers’ 123-87 bludgeoning of the Lakers wasn’t without some notable events. With the return of J.J. Redick to the lineup for the first time since Nov. 29, the Clippers' attack resembled the graceful, fluid, top-three offense the team built prior to his injury.
“It was huge,” Blake Griffin said. “It just puts pressure on them. He’s constantly moving. Even if he’s not hitting shots, it’s the movement. You always have to be aware of where he is, so he opens up a lot of things for the rest of us.”
Redick was hitting shots early. The Clippers’ first possession of the game was representative of what the Clippers were running (and succeeding with) the first 17 games of the season: It was a November favorite, a motion set that has Redick run below and Dudley above Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in the midposts. The set has multiple triggers, and after the ball went into Griffin at the elbow, he shuttled a hand-off to Redick, who had never stopped moving since the opening tip. Stop, pop, swish.
“J.J.’s energy to start, he’s one of those guys -- and, again, I didn’t know him, but I always liked him -- but our practices are different when he practices,” Doc Rivers said. “He just plays with that gear and with that intensity. I thought him coming off those screens to start the game really got us going.”
Redick finished with 19 points on 8-for-15 shooting from the field. He owned the game’s first four minutes, draining four of those eight makes before the Lakers called their first in an evening-long series of mercy timeouts on Friday night.
“Today before shootaround, I was talking to J.J. and he was like, ‘Man, I don’t want to come in and play 15 minutes and have, like, one shot and one rebound,'" Griffin said. “So after like four minutes into the game, I looked at him like, ‘Are you happy now?'"
Griffin certainly was on Friday night. He worked the full canvas -- insta-highlight, high-post facilitator, midrange jump shooter (4-for-7 from beyond 15 feet), foul-line ninja (9-for-11 from the stripe) and, more generally, the guy on the floor who ran the show. Griffin’s 33-point, 12-rebound, four-assist, four-steal performance even had Redick apologizing for his diction.
“I'm going to use a cliché,” Redick said. “He’s a man on a mission.”
We’ll invariably hear the usual voices tarring Griffin as ... what is it? One-dimensional? Soft? An unskilled sideshow? But no reasonable observer who took even a slapdash look at his performance over the past week can deny the breadth and depth of Griffin’s game. The vision Griffin and Rivers had at the outset of the season has come to fruition: a player too dynamic for a hulking big man to cover, and too brutish for a stretchy, lanky defender to stop.
Paul’s understudy, Darren Collison, has set out on his own mission. The Clippers’ backup point guard isn’t Paul and, to his credit, doesn’t try to be. Collison’s primary objective with the ball isn’t to distribute, but to find his way to the rim. Collison will have to find Redick, but that’s not a terribly difficult task. It requires some timing, but Collison should be able to hack it. Redick seems optimistic.
“I try to play with a lot of energy, and I try to play with a lot of movement,” Redick said. “If a guy doesn’t find me, he’s going to eventually find me. I’m going to keep moving.”
And so will the Clippers, though they now have four days off before their next game, Dallas at home on Wednesday. Griffin said recovery time is always a nice luxury midseason, while Redick joked sarcastically, “I really need a break.”
For the Lakers, oy. They also have a hiatus -- three days off before they face Cleveland on Tuesday -- but like a pitcher after a terrible outing, they’ll have no recourse but to stew. Mike D’Antoni looks like a coach looking for the side door. General manager Mitch Kupchak could be seen after the game looking like a guy who just got beat up on a witness stand. Pau Gasol resembles someone trying to grit his teeth through an insufferable office meeting.
The Lakers aren’t a franchise that takes solace in draft position. They’re going to have to find their comfort somewhere -- and it doesn’t appear as if it’ll be on the basketball court.