The Artest experiment, Clips can survive minus Griffin and more
In debut, Ron Artest looked like he was focused on fitting in than finding his shot
Lamar Odom showed no signs of being affected by the circus around new wife
After struggling in his first year with the Clippers, Baron Davis looks leaner
LOS ANGELES -- Who was the evil NBA schedule maker who thought it would be funny to have the Clippers play the Lakers on opening night? It's one thing to be viewed as the "other team" in town, but it's another to be present on the night the Lakers are given their championship rings and unveil their most recent championship banner at Staples Center, which is also the Clippers' home -- although you'd never know it by looking up at the rafters.
Having the Lakers try on their championship rings for the first time in front of the Clippers seems as wrong as Bill Gates eating caviar and sipping on champagne in front of a group of people waiting in line at a food bank.
That's probably why Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy saved his players from salivating over the Lakers' new 15-karat, yellow-and-white gold rings by taking them back to their locker room before the presentation.
"We're in the locker room doing stretches and yoga," Dunleavy said. "You have a choice to sit out there or come back in, and we don't want to sit out there."
When the Clippers finally got on the court, however, they were far more competitive than most thought they would be on a night that was more a celebration of the Lakers' championship than the beginning of the new season. While the Lakers won 99-92 (RECAP | BOX SCORE), led by Kobe Bryant's 33 points and eight rebounds, the Clippers showed that they might not be bad as most predicted they'd be after the loss of No. 1 pick Blake Griffin for the first six weeks of the season.
Here are six storylines to watch for both the Lakers and Clippers following their season opener.
1. This Ron Artest experiment is just that until further notice. Everyone will be quick to judge the Lakers' signing of Artest based on his performance on a nightly basis early in the season. It will be a great pickup if he scores 20 points and gets 10 boards and it will be a bust if he goes 0-for-10 and jacks up shots five seconds into the shot clock. The truth is, like with most experiments, there needs to be a sufficient body of work to fully judge.
On Tuesday, Artest had 10 points, five rebounds and four assists, and he connected on only 3-of-10 shots in 42 minutes. It looked at times as if Artest was more focused on fitting in and finding open teammates than finding his shot, which isn't a bad thing considering most of the questions surrounding Artest in the preseason were if he would be happy simply being a role player. If the only outrageous thing he does this season is cut the Lakers' logo and assorted designs into his hair, this marriage might work.
2. The Circus, er the Kardashians are in the house. On a night when their was an extravagant movie premiere for the Michael Jackson film, This Is It, across the street from Staples Center, complete with chandeliers and dancers lining the red carpet, the biggest circus was actually inside the arena. Lamar Odom's wife, Khloe Kardashian, and the rest of her reality-show family attended the opener, sitting behind press row (hey, it's a tough economy; they can't all be sitting courtside). While Odom was warming up, Entertainment Tonight interviewed Khloe and Kim Kardashian as a camera crew from their reality show followed them.
So how did all of this affect Odom? Not much, as he scored 16 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked two shots. The Hollywood lifestyle of this team (half the roster has personal publicists) will constantly come up this season, but if the Lakers can somehow block that out and ignore the new $1.2 million nightclub built above the court (yes, seriously), they will be fine.
3. Andrew Bynum is back. Bynum looked dominant Tuesday, controlling the paint and showing off a wide array of post moves, but the question isn't really how good Bynum can be October and November as much as it is how healthy he can be in May and June. After being hampered by knee injuries the past two seasons, that's really the only concern the Lakers have about their talented center, who celebrated his 22nd birthday before the game. Bynum followed up a strong preseason by finishing with 26 points and 13 rebounds against the Clippers. The Lakers often ran their offense through Bynum, who is wearing a brace on his right knee that he says he will use for the rest of his career.
"His teammates are going to find him, and when you have a player like Kobe, who draws players, he's going to find Andrew," coach Phil Jackson said. "It's really hard to keep Andrew away from the basket. That's going to be a force to be reckoned with. He's going to score points."
4. Baron Davis looks better, but will he play better? For all the optimism that Davis created when he signed a five-year $65 million with the Clippers last season, he came to embody everything that went wrong in 2008-09. He butted heads with Dunleavy, got out of shape and had his worst statistical season in nine years. This year, however, Davis looks leaner, has an open line of communication with Dunleavy and has been working with assistant John Lucas on improving his game. But on Tuesday, Davis had only two points (on 1-of-10 shooting) and eight assists.
"I think we're great now," Dunleavy said of his relationship with Davis. "The main thing with Baron is his conditioning is so much better this year. He's down probably 20 pounds from last year. That lends himself to being a better defender and better able to push the ball and be in attack mode, and that's what we want him to do. He's at his best when he's a bully and using his size and strength on people."
5. The Clippers will survive without Blake Griffin ... for now. This was not the way Griffin envisioned making his NBA debut: sitting behind the Clippers' bench in a three-piece suit and cheering his teammates. In the final game of his highlight-filled preseason, Griffin broke his left kneecap on a dunk against the Hornets. With the rookie power forward expected to miss six weeks, Craig Smith and DeAndre Jordan will fill his void. On Tuesday, Smith had 12 points and five rebounds, while Jordan went scoreless in 11 minutes.
"I don't think this will be a setback for Blake," Dunleavy said. "He's the most advanced rookie I've ever had as far as knowing his stuff mentally and IQ-wise. When we came in the first day, he knew all the plays and that's why he was able to play the way he was in the preseason. There should be no question what he's capable of doing when he comes back."
6. Will the Clippers ever reverse the curse? The Clippers have long been associated with the word "curse," but there is no interesting backstory behind their plight. You know, like trading Babe Ruth or not allowing a goat into a game. They've just been bad for a really long time. Considering what has happened to many of their top draft choices and the franchise's long-standing futility, it would be normal to assume the "c" word has crept into the Clippers' consciousness as well.
"I don't believe in curses or magic," Dunleavy said. "The bottom line is that we've had some bad luck that we've got to get through, and we have a better opportunity to get through it with our roster this season."
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