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T.J. SIMERS

Chris Paul's Clippers go toe-to-toe with Lakers but lose this one

Paul likes being a Clipper and wants to help transform them into winners. They have a lot of work ahead of them, but Paul seems ready for the challenge.

April 04, 2012|T.J. Simers

It might be the single biggest moment in franchise history, Chris Paul saying he really wanted to be a Clipper.

No fingers crossed behind his back.

And yet no one would have been surprised to see five or six big guys carrying a kicking and screaming Paul into the Clippers' practice facility.

He was a Laker, then he was not, and then he was a Clipper.

There are some people in the NBA who might consider that cruel and inhumane treatment.

But Paul embraced the Clippers' experience saying, "I'm my biggest fan and I'm one of those people who think I have the ability to change things. That's what I'm coming in here to do and that's make sure the Clippers take the right steps."

So that brings us to what would otherwise have been a forgettable NBA Wednesday night in Los Angeles. But instead, here it is, playoff implications, momentum on the line and more than all that, great anticipation for a Lakers-Clippers game.

It doesn't happen without Paul, but are the Clippers ready to take the next step?

The Lakers have their trophies; the Clippers have a chance to beat them two out of three games in a season for the first time in two decades.

But they still need to learn how to host a big game. Three minutes to the start of the game, time for Clippers' highlights on the overhead scoreboard and they also are showing Andrew Bynum dunking and Kobe Bryant at work.

Bad enough there is still a large number of Lakers' fans in attendance for a big Clippers' game, but why jack them up?

By way of comparison, the sheets from the overhead scoreboard that drop before a Lakers game have become so tired and so trite in their inspirational messages.

The Clippers' "Get loud, everybody" music feels so much more stirring. I know this: It gets Bryant going.

He's unstoppable, 16 points in the first quarter and the Clippers have no one with the ability to force him into tough shots.

A Blake Griffin slam for the Clippers' first points immediately raises the intensity, while Bynum is back for the Lakers and looking as if he could hit a three-pointer without any limitation.

Caron Butler, who has played for both teams, throws in 23 points for the Clippers. In the first half.

The Lakers have a double-digit lead now in the third quarter, so obviously the Clippers have them right where they want them.

The Lakers appear to be the better team, but the Clippers seem to be having more fun as Griffin uses Pau Gasol as a ladder to go high into the air and unleash a monster dunk.

A moment later, Randy Foye makes a trick shot, and DeAndre Jordan follows with a jam. Staples Center sounds like a LAX runway with a whole bunch of jets taking off.

It's now a five-point Lakers lead. Paul had made the point after the morning practice to say the folks who gave up on the Clippers did so far too early this season.

"Are we playoff-worthy? No question," says Paul.

But how about being championship-worthy?

"We still have some building to do," he says. So what does that mean? Wait until next year?

"No, no," Paul protests. "As long as I'm out there on that court, playing and competing, we'll always have a chance."

Three quarters complete, the Lakers ahead by 11, and when I tell you two minutes from now they will be leading by three, I'll bet you're not surprised.

Four minutes to go, and it's tied. Just imagine if they play each other in the playoffs.

It's Paul versus Bryant, Paul weaving in and out to score or set up a teammate while Bryant is increasing the difficulty on every shot. If I sound like a fan now, how do you beat this for sports entertainment?

Bryant makes one of those impossible shots, the Lakers win, and the road just became tougher for the Clippers.

Apparently just the way Paul likes it.

GRIFFIN TAPED an appearance on "Sesame Street" the other day, spending a day with Elmo. No Donald Sterling jokes, please.

I told Griffin he better not have done anything to scare my grandkids.

It was like lobbing him the ball for a dunk, Griffin cracking with an emphasis on self-deprecation, "They're going to learn how to not spell a word correctly."

SO I'M sitting in the lobby of the JW Marriott at L.A. Live waiting to move over to Staples when I spot Angels President John Carpino and owner Arte Moreno.

I start to stand up to say, "Hi," Carpino, always the friendly sort, making a move to say the same until he must have remembered he's no longer allowed to be himself.

And so he just kept on walking rather than be trampled by Moreno, who was now making like Gary Matthews Jr. and acting as if he hadn't seen someone he's known for a decade.

"Nice talking to you guys," I said as they kept on moving.

Now I've probably written more positive words about Moreno than almost any other sports executive in town. I could even be accused of fawning over him.

But last October after the Angels had failed to qualify for the playoffs two years in a row, I wrote: "It must be asked: Is Arte Moreno the Angels' problem?"

I'm guessing now that Arte read it.

As the column asked: "If the club owner earlier got credit for being fan-friendly, building competitive teams and lowering beer prices, shouldn't Moreno also get blame for Angels' recent front-office and on-field failures?"

I didn't expect him to agree.

But what a surprise to discover Moreno is so thin-skinned he would go into an all-out pout when challenged. It's not what you would expect from a pro, but good to know now that Frank McCourt won't be around to write about all the time.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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