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Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012
Clippers looking like the real deal
By PETER VECSEY
NEW YORK — In Kobe Bryant's initial meeting with Mike Brown, he cautioned the Lakers' newly hired coach "not to pull back," to coach him "like everyone else; otherwise the players will turn on you," he told me during dinner in Los Angeles just before Christmas.
Kobe said he had heard Brown didn't yell at LeBron and acknowledged Phil Jackson didn't yell at him.
"Phil coached everyone different because he's Phil," he added. "His rings gave him license to do that. Pat (Riley) and Pop (Gregg Popovich) also have earned that right; nobody else."
Entering Monday, Brown had coached Kobe, floppy (right) disc aside, to four straight efficient 40-point (31, 31, 31 and 28 attempts) and eight-of-nine 30-plus, out-of-wedlock productions.
In his 16th season, the 33-year-old Kobe leads the NBA (31.2) in scoring. He is the oldest in league history to do what he's in the midst of doing. What's more, his weapons of construction have amassed 111 40-point-or-more monuments.
Only fellow Philly native Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged an unthinkable 50.4 in the 1961-62 season, and Michael Jordan compiled more.
Alas, they look "a lot better when you win," pithily reasoned esteemed telecaster Ralph Lawler moments before my Hedge Clippers — and his, I suppose—splintered L.A. Lore's victory march at five, 102-94, on Saturday.
Win or lose, the Paul-y Pavilion hallway throwdown was as rasping and riveting as it gets without the consequent fear of fines and suspensions. There were four individual technical fouls whistled and plenty of provocation for more. Only conscientious objectors left the court not pockmarked with powder burns and blood on their risers.
Chris Paul left with his left hamstring hurting, mentally anguished and 33 points, six assists and one turnover to his credit. Counting Wednesday's contribution to Miami's demise, that makes 50, 17, 10 rebounds and 6 steals in his last two outings
Unfortunately, the likelihood Paul will be available for duty any time soon is remote. He pulled up lame with 4:01 remaining after burying a 4-meter fallaway jumper over Andrew Bynum and Darius Morris. However, I saw him grab the back of his leg on the previous possession following a slick feed to Blake Griffin.
For the time being, the injury is being described as a "strained hamstring" by team trainer Jasen Powell. Perhaps Paul could have returned had the verdict been in doubt. He told the coaching staff he was ready. Powell wisely talked him down, saying it was in his best interests not to play.
Nobody could believe the Clippers actually manufactured enough good luck to out-maneuver the Lakers for Paul, yet everybody was confident the team's curse eventually would re-establish its dominance, sooner than later in all probability.
Predicting such doom and gloom was the logical next step. The thought of printing who would go down first, Paul or Griffin, made me squeamish. It was not something I wanted on my résumé when the Clippers' bad luck returned, as it did in that victory.
Until then, until Paul was forced to sit, I had filled page after page with staggering occurrences and observations:
Griffin's liftoff over two luxury-sized Lakers, ensuing acrobatic layup and leisurely landing will be the highlight of Matt Barnes' career. His Airness, Dominique Wilkins and Vince Carter would have been proud to pilot that hang glider.
The more Clippers that converged on Kobe in the second half, the more determined he was to disentangle and devastate. His third-quarter hoist from the great divide with Paul on him like plaque was preposterous.
"Nobody else would have made that shot," analyst Michael Smith gushed.
"Nobody else would have taken it," Lawler added.
"Nobody else would have been allowed to take it," Smith countered.
After the Lakers had closed to within 79-74 with 11:18 left on the game clock, Paul downed an 11-meter shot a tick before the shot clock expired as if it was business as usual.
Earlier, the dipsy-doodling, airborne Morris swished a 16-meter heave to beat the first-quarter buzzer.
During preseason, Kobe said he wasn't concerned about the Clippers, branding them "tiny." But that was before they signed extremist rebounder Reggie Evans. In 17 minutes, the 203-cm, 115-kg forward muscled for eight boards, six of them offensive. The Lakers don't pay Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol enough to go through the grief of boxing out Evans.
More amazing than anything, I submit, was Bynum (6-for-13 FG, 0-for-3 FT) not so much as sniffing leather in the final 9:22 unless he managed to retrieve missed shots, which he did 16 times, overall.
As Lawler mentioned, those 40-point presentations look a lot better when you win.
Think the Clippers' home game vs. the Lakers was a hot ticket?
Jack Nicholson offered to beat any price, plus throw in some light gardening.
You might want to start dating, befriend or adopt an L.A. scalper at least a few days before the Jan. 25 rematch.
* * *
Column contributor Tom Davis has kindly pointed out, "the Heat are playing as if they are in the Finals."
Still, say this much for the Beach Ballers, at least they didn't wait until the waning moments of their latest lapse to assume the fetal position.
Not naming any names, but the ball-hog-less 8-5 Nuggets convincingly outplayed them, shooting a staggering 55 percent while being a step, a thought and a pass quicker all evening. At one jagged juncture, the unpacking Heat trailed by 19, their largest crater of the season.
Peter Vecsey covers the NBA for the New York Post.