After a transformative couple of weeks, the new-look Clippers did not disappoint, beating the Lakers 114-95 in the first preseason game for both teams. The Clippers' new starting backcourt of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups combined for 40 points, 12 assists and eight steals while playing only three quarters, proving too much for Kobe Bryant and Steve Blake to handle.
Not many teams have the option of starting two All-Star point guards, a pairing that should make the Clippers one of the more exciting teams to watch this season.
"It is a very deadly combination, we really just play off one another," Billups said after the game. "Sometimes he runs the point and makes plays, sometimes I'll take over and do the same. I think we're going to cause a lot of players a lot of problems."
The second quarter featured as many highlights for the Clippers as some teams manage an entire game, with Paul finding DeAndre Jordan for an alley-oop one minute and Billups bouncing the ball off the backboard during a fast break for a trailing Blake Griffin to slam home the next. Expect more of the same all year. Paul celebrated the win with an enthusiastic tweet after the game:
Had wayyyyy 2 much fun 2nite...felt gr8 to get up and down the court and compete in front of the fans...we still have A LOT of work to do!!!— Chris Paul (@CP3) December 20, 2011
Paul finished the game with 17 points (6-of-9 shooting), nine assists, seven rebounds and five steals in 24 minutes. Billups was nearly as impressive, scoring a game-high 23 points (5-8 shooting, 4-of-6 from three-point range) to go with three assists and three steals in 20 minutes.
Griffin, meanwhile, finished with 12 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes. Caron Butler, the Clippers' third veteran addition this offseason, scored eight points with a rebound and an assist in 23 minutes.
The Lakers, meanwhile, looked like a team playing its first preseason game. Bryant did his usual thing with 22 points on just 10 attempts, doing most of his damage at the free-throw line, where he shot 12-of-15. But Metta World Peace shot 0-for-8 off the bench, with Matt Barnes going 0-for-3 from the starting lineup. One bright spot was rookie point guard Darius Morris, a second-round pick out of Michigan, who finished with 11 points (5-of-9 shooting), three assists and three rebounds in nearly 24 minutes.
Rookie Kemba Walker may have come off the bench for the Bobcats, but he was in the game when it counted, scoring Charlotte's final five points to help the home team over the visiting Hawks, 79-77. He finished with a game-high 18 points in 19 minutes, shooting just 4-of-13 from the field but 9-of-11 from the free-throw line.
Hawks fans shouldn't worry too much about the loss, since it's obvious coach Larry Drew treated this game like the exhibition it was. All 15 players who saw action for the Hawks played at least 11 minutes, with nobody seeing more than the 21 minutes and change logged by Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams. Josh Smith and Al Horford scored a team-high 11 points.
The Trail Blazers set the tone early against the Jazz, building upon a 32-19 first-quarter lead before ultimately winning the game 110-90. Wesley Matthews paced the Blazers with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, with Nicolas Batum adding 13 points, four rebounds and three assists while starting in place of LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge, who underwent a minor heart procedure on Dec. 9, was not active. Newcomer Jamal Crawford scored eight points with seven assists in 22 minutes off the bench.
Derrick Favors was the big story for the Jazz, scoring 25 points with 12 boards in 29 minutes off the bench. Devin Harris was the only other Utah player to crack double-digits scoring, adding 10 points with three steals, although his contributions were mitigated by his five turnovers.