The Clippers Are Facing An Identity Crisis

Bend but don’t break defense would be a compliment based on what we saw on opening night in Los Angeles, a fitting evening for the City of Angels.

In TNT’s gritty opening matchup between the Miami Heat and Chicago Bullyball Bulls, led by Doc Rivers' former Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau, basketball aficionados and casual fans alike were treated to a punishing chess match between defenses.

Ultimately, rusty Derrick Rose was unable to complete the Bulls comeback from a 25-point deficit, and his cohorts lack the offensive rhythm to pick up the slack.

If they were around a visual platform to watch the Lakers and Clippers, they’d be marking their calendars for Jan. 20th and 24th.

The Clippers vs. Lakers has become L.A.’s toughest turf war over the past two seasons, and Rivers’ arrival on the Clippers sideline has only exacerbated the beef. Rivers’ Celtics once denied Kobe’s Lakers a banner in 2008, and this season he’s gone the extra step of draping Clippers banners over Lakers championship banners during Clippers home games.  

Even when Dwight Howard was patrolling the paint in Los Angeles, you expected Mike D’Antoni’s to defend the basket with the tenacity of a thick fog. Last season’s starting lineup was defined by Howard as The Justice League. The Clippers were expecting to run through a drastically inferior lineup that could best be described as the equivalent of Diddy’s Making the Band. Instead, Doc’s boys got surprised like Ricky in the alley and 48 minutes later were licking the wounds from a 116-103 loss that was punctuated by 76 points from the Lakers reserves.

"We were not ready tonight," said Doc Rivers. "(The Lakers) have heard for probably the last two months how good (the Clippers) were going to be … so you knew that they were going to play like this was the world championship — with that type of energy. And I thought we never matched it. Everything they did was harder than us and more physical than us. They destroyed us on the glass and destroyed us in turnovers.”

Doc Rivers’ primary objective when the Clippers essentially traded for him was to perform a complete reconstruction of the Clippers’ defensive attitudes. He made some cosmetic changes, but on Tuesday night, the Lakers exposed the unfortunate truth: There’s still major work left to be done.

Most walked away from the Clippers loss lamenting Blake Griffin’s lack of post-scoring prowess or his 30 percent free throw shooting clip. That’s a red herring.

DeAndre Jordan has been receiving inexplicable preseason hype as a 2014 Defensive Player of the Year candidate, however, if nights like tonight occur on a regular basis, he’ll continue hearing about the player he’s not – Kevin Garnett.

In the third biggest most prominent instance of cockblocking in recent L.A. memory (the CP3 trade rejection plus Assembly Bill 332), Stern’s interference prevented Rivers from swapping Jordan with K.G. as the captain of his defense, and it remains to be see if he can mold the 6-11 highlight reel into the Clippers’ defensive anchor.

In my preseason Western Conference preview, I raised doubt over whether the Clippers were actually going to kick their finesse style to the curb or if they were Michael Jackson in the “Bad” music video, trying to convince themselves and the rest of the league that they were now tough guys.

Just as thousands of Los Angelinos undergo extensive rhinoplasty procedures in Beverley Hills to repair their poor self-esteem, the Clippers bet the house on Rivers reconstructing Lob City into a viable title contender while altering the perception of their tragic franchise along the way. Like M.J.’s nose, it doesn’t appear that the Clippers will be a quick fix, either.

Rivers may want to seek out Mike D’Antoni’s on how (or how not) to handle a roster that doesn’t fully match his preferred style of play. The Lakers psyche endured a similar identity crisis last season when D’Antoni tried to inject nitromethane into Mike Brown’s half-court based Lakers offense to force them into playing a frenetic pace. Unfortunately, an up-tempo style was nitroglycerin for the Lakers aging roster, and their season quickly went up in smoke as a result. The Opening Night Lakers may have been nameless, but they also had more youth and the pep in their step to run at Coach Pringles’ pace.

Rivers could have worked wonders with the 2012-13 Lakers and D’Antoni’s 7 Seconds or Less offense would have brought Showtime to L.A.’s “other team”. Instead, Doc is heading back to the chalkboard to reset the Clippers bones and continue molding the Clippers into his image. Yep, that’s L.A. for ya.