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T.J. SIMERS

Even with Kobe Bryant, Lakers' status is questionable

And with Bryant injured, that's even more reason to get excited about the Clippers.

December 21, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • Lakers forward Josh McRoberts, center, is held back by teammate Derek Fisher, right as Devin Ebanks, left, and McRoberts argue with a referee during the Lakers' 108-103 exhibition loss to the Clippers on Wednesday. Kobe Bryant's injury may be the least of the Lakers' problems.
Lakers forward Josh McRoberts, center, is held back by teammate Derek Fisher,… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Kobe Bryant is hurt, and so many questions remain unanswered.

How is Blake Griffin? Did he get a good night's sleep?

How's Chris Paul feeling?

Did Chauncey Billups have anything to say about Bryant's injury and what impact it might have on Chauncey's game?

PHOTOS: Lakers vs. Clippers

Sorry to hear about Bryant, but by now doesn't everyone have the Lakers pegged as goners, whether Kobe is playing or not?

Aren't they too old; too slow; and too brittle to be any good? Derek Fisher hasn't grown any taller, Kobe is hurting, Lamar Odom is no longer here and the sooner Ron Artest leaves maybe the better for the Lakers.

As insults go, when's the last time a Clippers coach walked off the court thinking his team might win more games in a season than the Lakers?

Monday night.

"I felt that way before the game," says Vinny Del Negro. The Clippers went on to win by 19 that night, and here we are Wednesday night for Preseason Mismatch No. 2.

It's a home game, but Clippers Nation doesn't seem to know how to behave now that it has a team worthy of their support. The place is lifeless except when the Lakers score.

Staples Center is loaded with Lakers fans, and they are louder than the red, white and blue. What's up with that? They must think there's some kick left in their old heroes.

But there will be no Kobe for the Lakers, and no solid answers on when he might play.

"OK, so you're the Lakers coach, you're making your debut on Christmas Day and you haven't grilled [Bryant], haven't grilled the doctors to see if when he might play, or tried to get a definitive answer?" I ask Coach Mike Brown.

"Correct," Brown said.

"Why not?" I wonder. "There's only one [player] that matters."

"To you guys, or to me?" Brown asks.

It's going to be a long season. For all we know Jason Kapono is the player who matters most to Brown.

"The doctors say Kobe is day to day," says Brown, and aren't we all? "You tell me, what else to ask [the doctors]?"

I'd want to know if he's as excited about the Clippers as everyone else seems to be. But I played along with Brown.

"Can Kobe hurt his wrist more if he keeps playing? What are we waiting for now — the swelling to go down? What's your expectation as a doctor whether Kobe will be able to play on Sunday?"

Brown laughs. "Those are great questions. How much do you make? I've got a spot on my staff.…"

I go to work for the Lakers and according to the NBA schedule we would be in Utah the same night the Clippers are here in Staples against Miami.

No thanks, I'll stick with the dying newspaper business rather than the fading championship franchise and hope we're still printing when the Heat comes to town.

But check this out, the underdogs are winning at halftime. It's so exciting, like the Chiefs beating the Packers; the Lakers beating the Clippers.

Andrew Bynum is playing like he cares, and for a minute or two flashing a hint of competitiveness.

New guy Josh McRoberts goes macho defender on a dunking-intent Griffin and lives to be appreciated by his teammates. Devin Ebanks brings athleticism and accurate outside shooting to the Lakers' attack and Pau Gasol is five for five from the field.

Steve Blake hits a trio of threes and they don't stop the game to give him the ball. Maybe they can beat Sacramento the second game of the season if they can play like this.

But as a team the Lakers remain committed to not playing defense. They are shooting 67% for the first half, and leading by only three, raising the question whether the Clippers are just toying with the Lakers as the Lakers used to do with them.

!!!!!!

That's the only way to describe Paul's lob pass and Griffin's dunk in the third quarter to remind everyone these are two teams headed in different directions.

Dateline: Lob City. It's the Clippers' version of Showtime — Lob City giving the Clippers their own identity, with DeAndre Jordan and Griffin taking turns to see who can fly higher.

The Lakers' three-point halftime lead, by the way, is now a 10-point Clippers advantage to begin the fourth quarter. The Clippers were probably hoping for more competition to get them ready for Golden State.

Before the game Brown was telling everyone he doesn't care who wins or loses these preseason games. But he was running up and down the court like someone who knows it wouldn't be good as new Lakers coach to get embarrassed again.

He's calling timeouts to teach, one to get on Fisher, another to jump all over Artest and we'll see if old dogs really can learn new tricks.

It gets close as the fourth quarter goes, the Lakers throwing up Hail Marys and closing to within three points with the ball until Matt Barnes runs into Griffin for an offensive foul.

It's a terrific moral victory for the fading champs, only three shopping days until Christmas but how many more before Plaschke concludes the Lakers seem to play better without Kobe?

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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