The past is a foreign country. So is Los Angeles. If you’re at Staples Center Tuesday night (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT), you’ll see all the Lakers championship banners on full display, and you’ll see the usual A-list celebrities in the first row. But you’ll probably see the Lakers lose to the Clippers in their 2013-14 regular season opener. The NBA Odds have the Clippers laying up to nine points, and two-thirds of bettors are on L.A.’s B-Team according to our consensus reports.
Love Will Never Do (Without You)
Actually, we’ve visited this strange land before. Let’s travel back in time to 1991, when Magic Johnson retired from the NBA after contracting HIV. The Lakers instantly went from title contenders to mediocre; Sedale Threatt was their leading scorer in 1991-92 and 1992-93. Meanwhile, the Clippers had Danny Manning at the peak of his career, putting up a better record than the Lakers in both those seasons.
Twenty years later, they’ve given Arsenio Hall another talk show, and the Lakers are once again on the back burner. We’re not sure when Kobe Bryant will return from his torn Achilles tendon, but it won’t be this Tuesday. It’ll be up to veterans Steve Nash and Pau Gasol to hold down the fort, and Nash is a big question mark given his age (39) and his own recent history of missing games to injury. He’s already listed as day-today with a stiff neck and a sore ankle.
This particular version of the Clippers also happens to be much better than Manning’s team. They won the Pacific Division last year at 56-26 SU and 45-37 ATS, overtaking the Lakers after finishing one game behind them during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season (40-26 SU, 33-33 ATS). The combination of point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin trumps the Nash-Gasol pairing in last year’s advanced stats:
Paul: 26.43 PER (No. 3 overall), plus-8.2 RAPM (No. 2), plus-5.80 VORP (No. 3)
Nash: 16.00 PER (No. 116), plus-0.7 RAPM (No. 100), plus-0.91 VORP (No. 145)
Griffin: 22.44 PER (No. 12), plus-4.5 RAPM (T-No. 17), plus-3.97 VORP (No. 12)
Gasol: 16.75 PER (No. 93), plus-2.4 RAPM (No. 49), plus-0.94 VORP (No. 139)
I wonder if Paul has gotten used to getting overlooked. It happened at the draft, it happened in the MVP voting before LeBron James was at the height of his powers, and it’s happening every day at the NBA betting window. Griffin also has his share of detractors; in both cases, it has a lot more to do with personality than it does with basketball. I love Nash and Gasol as people. I wish them all the success in the world this year, but I’m not betting on it.
Best Supporting Actors
This could conceivably be the year that Paul finally wins the MVP. It won’t be because he plays any better (that would be virtually impossible), but because the voters out there have jumped on the Clippers bandwagon by the end of the season. They’re already migrating there with the Clippers adding head coach Doc Rivers, whose reputation is solid after taking the Boston Celtics to the championship.
The Clippers have also done an excellent job of surrounding Paul and Griffin with talent. Shooters J.J. Redick (57.1 True Shooting Percentage) and Jared Dudley (58.2 TS%) fill out the wings quite nicely, and Byron Mullens (15.8 points, 9.4 rebounds per 40 minutes with the Charlotte Bobcats) is a decent “stretch big” in relief of the more defensive-minded DeAndre Jordan.
It might not be easy making money backing the Clippers with your NBA picks this year, given their expectations. But as far as Tuesday’s matchup is concerned, I’m happy to fade the Lakers. I think they’re going to perform a lot worse than people are used to seeing from the Purple and Gold. But don’t worry, Lakers fans. At this time next year, we could be talking about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love instead of Nash and Gasol.NBA Pick: Take the Clippers –8.5 at Ladbrokes