Why Lakers vs. Clippers Will Be a Better Rivalry Than You Think

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterNovember 1, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 30:  Head coach Mike Brown of the Los Angeles Lakers  confers with Dwight Howard #12 of the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on October 30, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  The Mavericks won 99-91.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images))
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Well, that was fast.

Suddenly, the Lakers are in trouble and Mike Brown is left, squinting open-mouthed at his job prospects. While cooler heads would suggest that L.A. fans calm down, there is the pervading sense that Brown is on a warming seat.

In the background, soon to possibly be the foreground, are the Clippers.

I would argue that this particular roster is championship contender-worthy—just not with this particular coach. Disagree if you will, but do so after mulling the hypothetical of, "What if Tom Thibodeau coached this Clippers team?"

The two teams present an interesting contrast because it seems to be a battle between slightly undervalued talent and slightly overvalued talent.

The Lakers, great as this collection of Hall of Famers sounds, are not quite what they were made out to be. 

The Lakers are a contender until proven otherwise, but the expectations are a little too high, and it's resulting in a bit too much harshness in Mike Brown's direction. "Four Hall of Famers" is a great selling point, but the situation could easily be reframed as, "Two guys who should be playing center, two guys who dominate the ball and a hideous, disgusting bench."

Look at Mike Brown's situation and have some sympathy, as ridiculous as that might sound.

He has inherited a mediocre defensive cast, one that Dwight Howard was supposed to single-handedly save. But, Dwight Howard is not healthy right now, and he's a step too slow to compensate for everybody else.

Flanking Dwight Howard is a fantastic center in Pau Gasol, but the seven-foot big man is ill equipped to guard modern, athletic, three-point shooting power forwards. Pau is also a more effective offensive player closer to the rim.

In this roster, he's forced to sacrifice much of his low-block skill.

In the backcourt, Steve Nash is not what he once was. He's 38 years old after all, and though still a fantastic shooter, he lacks the elusiveness we saw in the mid-2000s. His decline is most noticeable on pick and rolls, where he's more easily trapped. Pick and rolls are still his bread-and-butter, though, which is why you can quibble with Mike Brown for barely employing the tactic.

As for Kobe Bryant, the 34-year-old shooting guard has looked good in the early going.

My problem is not so much Kobe's game, but how it might mesh with Nash's approach. Both guards dominate the rock as playmakers. Bryant's a scorer, but he also served as ersatz Laker point guard over the years.

How do these two guys reconcile their roles? 

Kobe's defense has been lacking, but compared to Antawn Jamison, Bryant is Tony Allen. This brings up another issue: The Laker bench is terrible, especially on the defensive end. Last night in Portland, Antawn Jamison claimed a -21 in 13 minutes, only to be outdone by Jordan Hill and his -20 in eight minutes.

Small sample size caveats apply, but expect Jamison's defense to hurt the Lakers and hurt them often.

And the Clippers? Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom were better than expected in the early going. We've only seen one game from the Clips, so I'll resist extrapolation. All I know is that Chris Paul is currently the best player on either Los Angeles team, and Blake Griffin grazes superstar status.

The talk of how "overrated" Blake was obscured the finer points of his game. Griffin shot 37 percent on long twos last season, and he's approaching jump-shooting competence. He remains a fine passer as well as dribbler, to go along with elite rebounding.

Dismiss him as a mere "dunker" at your peril.

The Lakers clearly have a high ceiling, and if Dwight Howard returns to form, they're the best team in town. But until then, Chris Paul's crew is tops in Los Angeles.