LOS ANGELES -- One month has passed since the Clippers acquired Chris Paul from New Orleans, players rejoiced in the parking lot, and Blake Griffin blurted "Lob City!" into an expectant microphone. Unlike all the contrived nicknames in sports, Lob City was organic, the invention of an excited superstar and not an antiseptic marketing firm. The Clippers were initially amused by the cottage industry of T-shirts and signs that popped up, but they have now transcended the moniker that Griffin gave them. They roll their eyes at the implication they only throw ally oops.
This week, the Clippers proved they are much more than a mix tape, outlasting the Heat in a grueling overtime Wednesday and punishing the Lakers for four quarters Saturday, 102-94. The game resembled so many other Clippers-Lakers renditions, except in reverse. The Clippers were the ones who never trailed.
Before the Clippers are crowned local kings, it should be noted that the Lakers were playing their fourth game in five nights. Then again, the Clippers and Lakers have faced each other three times in the past month, including preseason. The Clips have won them all.
From the moment the Clippers introduced Paul, they became one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA, an enviable title but a potential problem. In the first few games of the season, they appeared more interested in dunking than defending, in throwing down than boxing out. But on Wednesday, they smothered the Heat despite ranking 24th in field-goal percentage defense, and on Saturday they out-rebounded the Lakers despite ranking 29th on the glass. Griffin made a double-pump dunk, as well as an indescribable layup in which he levitated between two Lakers and grabbed the side of the backboard, but there were no memorable lobs. The Lakers actually tossed more.
"We've made strides in the right direction defensively and rebounding," Paul said. "We've got to make that a habit."
The Clippers showed the Lakers more strength than style. For three days Los Angeles hyped this game as if it were USC-UCLA. Fans from each side flooded Staples Center. A public address announcer called it "The Battle of L.A.!" The jumbotron played highlights from the preseason. While those meetings were inconsequential, they provided one relevant storyline: the Lakers accusing Griffin of showboating after dunks and flopping after contact. On Saturday, players had to be separated three times, with Griffin in the middle of each scrum. Once, he shoved Lakers rookie Darius Morris after a whistle, and later put Metta World Peace in a brief headlock. "It felt like a true rivalry," Morris said.
At point guard, though, it looked like a severe mismatch. Every time the Lakers see Paul, they are reminded just how badly they needed him, and how close they were to landing him. Their first preseason game against Paul came 10 days after commissioner David Stern vetoed the trade that would have sent him to the Lakers. Their first regular-season game against Paul came the day after point guard Steve Blake was ruled out three to four weeks because of fractured cartilage connecting his rib to his sternum.
The Lakers are desperate for a credible point guard, still starting 37-year-old Derek Fisher, who is averaging 4.1 points and shooting 12.5 percent from three-point range. Paul, on the other hand, scored a combined 60 points against the Lakers and Heat while committing only two turnovers. He came down awkwardly in the fourth quarter Saturday and left early with a strained left hamstring..
The Lakers can only lament how Paul would have looked alongside Kobe Bryant, whose 42 points Saturday give him four straight games with 40 or more. Bryant's right wrist, which he injured in the first preseason game against the Clippers, is apparently not hindering him. The Paul trade, however, may nag at him for a while longer.
"Chris Paul is really the only other guy in the league, other than Derrick Rose, who has also that competitive edge," Bryant said. "He's a dog. He's going to fight to win and not too many teams can deal with him."
Paul throws a pretty lob pass, sure, but he and the Clippers have already demonstrated they are capable of so much more.