On any given night, for any given period of time, either team can play some of the most dominant basketball in the NBA. At the same time, however, both the Clippers and Lakers are no stranger to playing excessively inconsistent—and sometimes lethargic—basketball.
For 17 consecutive games—or rather, victories—we were inclined to ignore the latter when it came to the Clippers. It was during that stretch that the Clippers held their opponents to less than 100 points on 13 occasions. It was also during that stretch that they won 12 of their 17 games by a double-digit margin.
It was during that stretch, ultimately, that they appeared unbeatable.
As for the Lakers, their inconsistencies haven't been cloaked by spurts of dominance. Their longest winning streak of the season stands at five games, and they've won two or more games in a row just three times all season.
But which of these Staples Center-based teams is better? Which of them is better equipped to make a deep postseason run and, subsequently, a serious title push?
Records aside, the Clippers have the edge.
It's not as if the Lakers aren't capable of making some postseason noise—because they are. That said, their current dynamic, immeasurable ceiling and all, is dangerous bordering on detrimental.
My problem with the Lakers is not their age. Watching Steve Nash dribble around, his eyes constantly moving before he attacks the paint and precisely places a weak-side pass in the hands of a wide open teammate, has allowed me to understand that age isn't the sole conflict at hand.
Kobe Bryant's career-high 47.9 percent shooting coupled with his 30.3 points per game has demonstrated much of the same.
Instead, the Lakers' greatest strife is their lack of depth. They don't have the luxury of a deep bench or any quality supporting cast in general.
Five players average more than 30 minutes per game for them and four of them are over the age of 32.
Bryant, at 34, is playing 38.8 minutes per night. Nash, since returning from injury, has played fewer than 30 minutes just once, 35 or more three times and is currently at 31.7 for the season. Pau Gasol, plantar fasciitis and all, is at 34.6 for the year, and Metta World Peace logs 34.7. The 27-year-old Dwight Howard, whose back has yet to heal, rounds us out at 36 minutes a bout.
Outside of those five, however, no one averages 20 or more minutes consistently. Steve Blake is at 26 per night for the year, but he's still on the shelf and has appeared in just seven games. Antawn Jamison is at 20 himself, but he hasn't played in eight games. Chris Duhon wouldn't be at 22.9 if it wasn't for previous injuries, and the supposedly valued Jodie Meeks has yet to crack 20 a night.
All of this is a problem because the Lakers are exhausted.
And according to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, D'Antoni is puzzled as to why:
D'Antoni is puzzled as to why the Lakers aren't bringing consistent energy. Be it Dwight Howard still working his way back from off-season surgery, the team's age, talent level or even just lack of passion, the Lakers don't always seem to have the will to dominate their opponents.
For D'Antoni's system to work, on both ends, it requires constant effort. He'll push his players for big minutes in games but offsets the workload with shorter practices and extra days off.
Though D'Antoni steadfastly believes that "the ball with find energy," he must understand that his axioms coupled with shorter practices isn't going to be enough. Not for a roster that stretches just six or seven deep on any given night. Not when he is first to place the well-being of an entire veteran team on a few select shoulders.
More troubling than this, however, is knowing that D'Antoni really doesn't have a choice.
The Lakers are overly dependent on just five players because they have to be. Their bench is ranked 26th in points per game, and that's with the suddenly potent stylings of World Peace coming off the pine.
Simply put, the depth just isn't there for the Lakers like it is for the Clippers.
Los Angeles' red-jerseyed step-child currently has the league's third-best record, and their success thus far has been predicated on depth—not the overuse of key players.
Unlike the Lakers, the Clippers have six players who average 20 or more minutes per game. A total of nine guys receive 15 or more a night, and just two players log more than 30 minutes of burn per night. In case you're wondering, neither of those two players—Chris Paul and Blake Griffin—are over 30.
Don't think the Clippers fail to understand the importance of their depth, either. As Paul himself notes (via Jim Brigthers of The Sacramento Bee), other teams pine for the depth this team has:
With frequent All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin getting the starts and most of the headlines, and deservedly so in some cases, the Clippers second unit has been dazzling.
"It's very unique," Paul said of his super subs. "Every team in the league would love to have what we have. Teams usually have one or two dynamic players that come off their bench, but we come in with a group of starters."
No more was the value of the bench more evident than Christmas night against the Denver Nuggets. The reserves tallied 64 points, 25 rebounds, 14 assists, six steals and three blocks.
Not only do the Clippers boast the second-highest scoring bench in the league, but they are just one of two teams, along with the San Antonio Spurs, to be in the top five of both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Could they have laid claim to such a feat if they were devoid of a sizable supporting cast?
Of course not. Just ask Paul. If they were a shallow faction, like the Lakers, they'd be yielding similar results.
Remember, the Lakers are sixth in offensive efficiency, but 17th in defensive efficiency, the latter of which has prevented them from making the big splash they were intended to.
If the postseason began today, the Clippers would be staring at homecourt advantage, while the Lakers would be left watching from the confines of their actual homes.
I understand that the Lakers have one of the most star-studded rosters in the league, but stars alone can only carry you so far. Just ask the 2010-11 Miami Heat. Or even the 2011-12 Heat, whose added depth helped propel them to the championship they couldn't steal from the depth-laden Dallas Mavericks the year before.
Superstars have become a necessity in today's NBA, but a strong supporting cast is just as important.
And the Clippers are fortuitous enough to have both, while the Lakers continue to lament the absence of the latter.
Just as they'll be left agonizing over the absence of any postseason success should nothing change.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 2, 2013.
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