Clippers' interior defense woes on full display

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

A small, cheap Lakers lineup killed the Clippers' starters in the paint late on Tuesday. Is there a fix? Plus: The Hook looks at Andrew Nicholson's short night and Grant Hill on TNT.

Consider the Clippers' opening night loss to the Lakers one data point in the argument that getting Kevin Garnett in the offseason would have been much more important than getting Doc Rivers. The Lakers, not exactly depending on paint dominance in the absence of Dwight Howard, owned the rim area in the fourth quarter on Tuesday night to take over the game and pick up a win. And it wasn't even Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman doing the damage!

Mike D'Antoni went with a small second-string lineup for the entire fourth, and it paid off. Jordan Hill was the only Lakers' big man on the floor. Wesley Johnson played power forward, and three guards Xavier Henry, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Farmar filled out the unit. Given that the Clippers played DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin most of the quarter, you'd think that they'd have the advantage inside. Nope.

In the fourth, behind that tiny scrap-heap lineup, the Lakers scored 41 points in 22 possessions. A big part of getting to 41 was the seven offensive rebounds, five by Hill. Each of the seven offensive rebounds resulted in points. In the aggregate, they resulted in 17 points. Hill did a good job kicking the ball back out, and the Lakers shot lights out from beyond the arc. The Lakers went 8-12 in the paint in the fourth.

Getting 12 shots close to the rim is failure of everyone on the Clippers' defense. Farmar, in particular, abused Chris Paul. Hill took and made three shots at the rim in the fourth, and Johnson missed both of his attempts down there. That means that the three guards went 5-7 at the rim. That Jordan and Griffin allowed that against guys making a combined $3 million this season is rather gross.

The Clippers' offense was no great shakes either. Griffin, in particular, was meager against Johnson, a converted small forward who has played more shooting guard than power forward in the NBA. Blake managed a grand total of zero shooting possessions against Johnson and the Lakers zone in eight fourth-quarter minutes. But there's less to worry about on offense: any team with CP3, Griffin and J.J. Redick will put up points over the long haul.

The concern is that interior defense felled L.A. last season, too. Memphis had a pretty poor offense for a playoff team (No. 17 in the league), yet Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol destroyed Jordan and Griffin en route to a 4-2 series win. Letting Jordan Hill do the same in the opener this season isn't encouraging. (And it's not as if the Clippers bench offers much defensive help: Ryan Hollins is a horrible rebounder, and Byron Mullens is a stretch five.)

This is an interesting problem for Doc. The calling card of Rivers' great Celtics teams was a nasty, aggressive defense anchored by KG. Now he's stuck with Jordan and Griffin on that end, two guys who didn't show much will or skill on Tuesday. Can Doc scheme the Clippers' way out of this, or will L.A. rely increasingly on its offense to get the job done?

TAKE A BREATHER, CANADA

I assume we're all going to be on hypersensitive tank watch all season, so I'm going to go ahead and join the party. In the Magic's visit to Indiana, Orlando big man Andrew Nicholson had 18 points on 8-9 shooting in 13 minutes ... in the first half. Orlando led by four at the break.

Magic coach Jacque Vaughn didn't put Nicholson back in for Jason Maxiell (0-5 from the floor) or Nikola Vucevic (4-11, five turnovers) in the third quarter as Indiana took over the lead. Vaughn played Nicholson the first six minutes of the fourth before yanking him with the Pacers up 19. Nicholson got one shot in the second half and didn't score. He was still the Magic's high scorer for the game.

I don't want to cast aspersions on Vaughn in Game 1 of 82 for a definite cellar-dwelling squad. But keeping Nicholson off the floor is certainly a little weird. Can someone do a comparison study on that infamous anonymous GM tanking confession and Rob Hennigan's old college papers?

That said, Vaughn had a pretty good explanation for why he sat Nicholson in the third. Via Tyler Lashbook of Orlando Pinstriped Post:

"I thought Max [Jason Maxiell] was unbelievable against David [West] and Frank Vogel ended up playing David West the entire third so I thought that matchup was great for us.

"Andrew scored all of his points on [Luis] Scola. Scola wasn't in the game so it was on me to make that call and I did."

The more important point here, of course, is that Nicholson is awesome. Between the Canadian, Vucevic and Tobias Harris (out with an ankle sprain right now), Orlando has a neat little frontcourt.

GRANT US MORE

The normal NBA on TNT crew was on location in New York City on Tuesday, giving us the studio stylings of the typical NBA TV crew, featuring the great Matt Winer, the great Chris Webber, Steve Smith and newcomer Grant Hill. Hill is, as you'd expect, really smooth and smart. He'll be busy on Inside Stuff, but I do hope TNT finds a way to get the national audience more of this crew beyond the weekly NBA TV games. And, for the love of God, bring back Gary Payton.

One highlight from Ernie Johnson's crew: after Pedro Martinez told Chuck he'll teach him Spanish for $1 million via video, Barkley announced that Kenny Smith is already fluent in "English and hoodrat." There will never be another Chuck.

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