Thunder coach Scott Brooks didn't take the bait Tuesday when asked which team was better, the Los Angeles Clippers or Los Angeles Lakers.
This being an election year, Brooks opted to tiptoe through a minefield of political correctness. Wise decision, given OKC still has four games remaining against the Lakers and three against the Clippers.
The season's first meeting against the Clippers is at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“Both are really good,” Brooks said of the dueling LAs. “The Clippers are playing probably the best basketball in the league right now. I would say Memphis and the Clippers. They are experienced; (they have) Chris Paul; their bigs are good. The Lakers are still good. They've got two of the best players at their particular position, maybe one of the best of all-time (in Kobe Bryant). Both are great teams.”
Brooks balked, but we won't, which is why we offer five reasons why the Clippers are better than the Lakers:
The best point guard on the planet, a title he earned in August by jump-starting Team USA when their outside shots weren't falling in London. This year's MVP could be a three-legged race involving LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul. The Lakers acquired Steve Nash during the offseason, but he's already missed nine of 11 games with a fractured bone in his leg. The captivating, but aging, Nash will head directly to the Hall of Fame as soon as he's eligible, but he's no Chris Paul these days, even when completely healthy, which is never. While the omnipotent Paul seems to know all and see all with the Clippers, Nash will try his darndest to run the Lakers' offense … whatever offense that is exactly.
Quotable: “He is as important as anybody on that team, what he does. He's a great leader. I see him all the time talking to his entire team on the court. He's always facilitating something. He just makes plays. He knows time. He knows score. He knows opponents' plays. He's always calling out the opponent's plays. He's one of the best in the league.” – Brooks
When Nash returns, the Lakers will have four Hall of Famers in their starting lineup, and yet the Clippers still have much more overall talent. The Clippers are as deep as the Pacific Ocean, while the Lakers are about as deep as that Jungle Cruise in Adventureland. Jamal Crawford, the Clippers' leading scorer by 2.5 points per game, doesn't even start and is the early front-runner for Sixth Man of the Year. Eric Bledsoe and Matt Barnes also are wicked good as reserves. The Clippers will have an embarrassment of riches off the bench when Chauncey Billups (torn left Achilles tendon) and Grant Hill (bone bruise in knee) are fully healed. Meanwhile, forward Jordan Hill is the Lakers' only consistent non-starter.
Quotable: “Our bench is not your typical bench.” – Paul after Monday night's 92-87 victory at San Antonio
The Clippers rank second in the league to Miami in field-goal percentage (.492), second to Denver in points in the paint (47.0) and third behind Miami and OKC in scoring (101.5). Paul (.539 2FG) can burn you inside, outside and numerous places in between. DeAndre Jordan (.681 FG) and Blake Griffin (.511 2FG) have been known to dunk, which tends to be a high-percentage shot. Good luck to you and yours when Crawford (.539 2FG; .434 3FG) and Bledsoe (.534 2FG) heat up. Matt Barnes (.595 2FG) should ignore the 3-point line and Willie Green (.500 2FG) has filled in admirably in place of Billups. As for the Lakers, they have just four players shooting 50 percent from two-point range in Dwight Howard (.608), Kobe Bryant (.566), Antawn Jamison (.529) and Jordan Hill (.529). Reactivate former Lakers player/general manager Jerry West?
Quotable: “Bledsoe off the bench is a force. He has tenacity. He has toughness. He seems to always make the right plays, hustles plays. … They had a good team last year, but obviously I think they're much better this year.” – Brooks
The least successful franchise in NBA history has been transformed into a high-performance unit bound for success with four players who own world championship rings in Billups, Ronny Turiaf, Caron Butler and Lamar Odom (two), and two future Hall of Famers in Grant Hill and Paul who are worthy of a ring before their playing days end. The second-most successful franchise in NBA history, the Lakers have awarded five championship rings to Bryant, two to Pau Gasol and one to Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace). The Clippers essentially have four coaches in Paul, Billups, Hill and, um, … there's one more … oh, yeah, Vinny Del Negro. Meanwhile, the Lakers used their third different head coach when Mike D'Antoni finally made his debut Tuesday night.
Quotable: “Once I went down, everyone was counting me out because of my age and the stage in my career, but that fire doesn't just go away. I'm looking forward to getting back out there and helping my team out.” – Billups
Who ever would have thought the Clippers could earn a checkmark in management, particularly over the Lakers? The NBA's worst franchise assembled a stellar offseason haul with the signings of Crawford, Hill and Turiaf, plus the re-signings of Griffin and Billups. Meanwhile, Lakers management has Magic Johnson fuming about Mike Brown being hired as coach in the first place and Phil Jackson not being rehired. “I love (owner/president) Dr. (Jerry) Buss. I don't believe in (executive vice president) Jim Buss. To me, they made two critical mistakes,” said Johnson, who is more than just a former Lakers great. He also serves as a vice president on the club's executive committee.
Quotable: “It's kind of cool because I'm sitting there watching Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom and all these great players on the court. I've never really seen that.” – Paul watching his new teammates on the first day of training camp