With their slew of stellar offseason moves, most NBA fans expected that the Los Angeles Lakers would firmly reassert themselves as the top dog of the Pacific Division and once again relegate the Clippers to little-brother status in Staples Center.
The team needing some time to gel and get its shiny new pieces working together is hardly surprising, but many expected the Lakers to simply be able to win on pure talent early on in the year, something they have not done.
This gives the Los Angeles Clippers a tremendous opportunity to swoop in and steal the thunder of their co-tenants.
Like the Lakers, the Clippers were extremely active in the offseason.
In an effort to revamp their bench they added veterans Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes while dealing Mo Williams and letting Randy Foye walk in free agency. The L.A. front office then re-signed Chauncey Billups, inked Blake Griffin to an extension and made a few low-key pickups in Willie Green, Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf.
Unlike the Lakers though, the Clippers return the same starting five from their 2011-2012 season—the best in the history of the franchise—once Chauncey Billups returns from his Achilles injury. Because of the lockout, the team had some difficulty initially developing chemistry, but began to click late in the season
Now, the team is picking up right where they left off and appeared in sync during their season opening 101-92 home win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Though Griffin had some struggles offensively, he was involved in a very physical battle down low against Zach Randolph.
The Lakers and Clippers are set to square off for the first time on November 2nd in a game that, although it is extremely early in the season, will be quite heated and could have serious implications come playoff time.
Can the Clippers supplant the Lakers as L.A.'s team?
The Clippers’ chemistry is one thing that they can laud over the Lakers, even if it is only for a short while. Obviously it is extremely early in the season, but should L.A. experience prolonged turbulence coming out of the gate, the Clippers have a shot to build a sizable lead in the Pacific Division.
Another asset that the Clippers have is a very stingy defense, which took care of business against Memphis as they scored 29 points on 21 turnovers.
With a backcourt of Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe, the team can lock down any perimeter player easily, and the interior play of DeAndre Jordan, and apparently Lamar Odom, who had four blocks, should bolster their defense in the paint.
Los Angeles has Dwight Howard manning the middle and Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace playing solid, if unspectacular defense on the wings, but the team is among the oldest in the league and lacks the athleticism necessary to keep up with the NBA’s more high-octane offenses on a nightly basis.
The Clippers also have playmakers at nearly every position on the court—a major asset that the Lakers cannot boast about.
Beyond just Chris Paul’s passing wizardry and pick-and-roll prowess, the team has capable passers in Bledsoe, who can penetrate the lane and find open men, and Jamal Crawford, who can also run offenses for stretches if necessary.
Add to that trio the passing abilities of Lamar Odom in a point-forward role and Blake Griffin, who has exceptional handles for a big man, and you get a team where absolutely no one can be left open.
The Lakers have Steve Nash, who is a brilliant creator but has struggled in his career playing off of the ball, and Kobe Bryant, who has solid, but underutilized passing instincts, but they could never trot out a lineup of five strong passers the way the Clippers can.
An obvious advantage the Clips have over their biggest rivals is athleticism, something the Lakers lack but the Clippers have in spades. Today’s NBA is moving farther away from half-court play and as a result, teams are relying more on pushing the pace and trying to speed up their opponents.
The Lakers have Dwight Howard, who can run the floor effectively, but the brunt of their team is better suited for halfcourt play. The Clippers, on the other hand, have the talent and open-court speed to run on every opportunity and attempt to catch a defense sleeping for an easy attempt at the rim.
Teams like Miami and Oklahoma City have proven that the ability to consistently score in transition can separate the good teams from the elite teams, and the Clippers certainly have the Lakers beaten in that department.
Both teams have revamped second units, but the improved depth of the Clippers should be a major boost for them during the grueling 82 game season.
L.A. has a true super-sub in Antawn Jamison and a solid third big man in Jordan Hill, but they do not have the overall talent that the Clippers have, as they are one of the few teams in the league with a truly game-changing bench.
Though they may not be favored for 2012-2013, the Clippers, with their youthful core nucleus have a far larger title window than the Lakers, who will likely be entering rebuilding mode in two or three years as their veterans begin to break down and the team retools around Dwight Howard.
A team with Howard as the sole franchise player is certainly playoff-caliber, but as long as the Clippers can retain Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, they should have the leg up going forward.
Los Angeles can be a fair-weather city as far as sports go, and it would not be surprising to see a fair number of fans shift their allegiances over time if the Clippers are still contending while the Lakers are rebuilding.
The Los Angeles Lakers may have the history of success on their side and they may appear to be the better team on paper, but it is certainly not inconceivable for the Clippers to turn the Lakers’ stumbles into an opportunity to supplant L.A.’s main team and earn themselves, not only a higher seed come playoff time, but a chance at the title of the city's team.
If the Clippers can play to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses like their lack of frontcourt scoring, they have the chance to do the unthinkable and steal the Lakers' thunder despite their much-ballyhooed roster.