The Lakers' Robert Sacre and the Clippers' Blake Griffin fight… (Harry How / Getty Images )
The Lakers and Clippers will play many dramatic, high-caliber games against each other this season and will bring fans at Staples Center to their feet with a parade of dunks and alley-oops and the sheer brilliance of their superstar-stuffed lineups.
Wednesday's game wasn't one of those times.
What was left of the Lakers after Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard sat out to rest their sore bodies stumbled to a 97-91 loss to a team that generally resembled the Clippers, who held out Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford in addition to many injured depth players. Reserves ruled as both coaches tried to piece their rotations together and auditioned players in different roles, with varying results.
The most impressive performance came from Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe, who started in place of Paul and had game highs with 22 points, 11 assists, nine steals in nearly 44 minutes. He showed more of the emotional control the Clippers believe he must add to his impressive athleticism and speed, responding to a poor performance against Golden State on Monday and the lengthy video session he sat through the next day with teammate Chauncey Billups and assistant coach Robert Pack.
Bledsoe committed only three turnovers and showed an assertiveness that could make the Clippers' second unit one of the best in the league — and easily better than the Lakers' bench.
"Last game I thought I played pretty bad," he said. "I wanted to come into this game with the mind-set of focusing. My teammates kept telling me, 'Be aggressive. Get to the paint as much as you can because nobody can stop you if you get to the paint.'"
And for the most part, they didn't.
Overall, it wasn't always pretty but it was entertaining in spots as the 0-7 Lakers tried to remember what winning feels like and the 4-3 Clippers tried to get past many of the same injury and inconsistency problems the Lakers have had.
"I was excited about some of the things that I saw," Lakers Coach Mike Brown said.
But he was much less excited about the 21 turnovers, after a 22-turnover game on Sunday. "I think we had some turnovers where we were trying to dribble the ball and create too much," he said.
The passion was there in spots, even if all the starters weren't, and, even better, it appeared that no one got hurt.
"Of course there's going to be that intercity thing, that down-the-hallway thing and all that, but we play each other four times during the year and there's a lot of other basketball to be played beside between us," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said.
"Of course, there's heightened expectations because of the situation but we're just concerned about our improvement every day and how we go about things. And the games are around the corner so we have to do a lot of work."
Del Negro said Bledsoe must become "a student of the game" and avoid losing emotional control, as he did in the Clippers' previous game against Golden State.
"I want him really to learn how to run the team. And he's doing a better job of it," Del Negro said.
For the Lakers, Robert Sacre (13 points and seven rebounds in nearly 35 minutes) playing in place of Howard, reinforced his already strong case to keep a roster spot behind Howard and Jordan Hill, who have been hampered by back problems.
Sacre, sporting a cut on his nose and smudges beneath his eyes as the result of an elbow in practice, said the damage "messes up my GQ look," but it didn't hold him back Wednesday.
"I just need to keep doing what I'm doing and help this team by any means necessary," said the 7-foot center from Gonzaga, the last player chosen in the June draft.
"And I feel comfortable. I feel comfortable with all the guys. It's a great environment. Guys are helping me out as much as possible, so if I keep doing what I'm doing I feel like I'm in a good place."
Each team has one exhibition game left and a precious few days to sort everything out before the games and the drama will be real. That can't happen soon enough.