Clippers cruising as the Lakers and UCLA keep losing – San Bernardino Sun

Jim Alexander, Mirjam Swanson

Jim Alexander: Happy New Year, first of all. Last night was a reminder of why we’re lucky to live in this region as sports fans: Five teams playing at roughly the same time, which meant lots of channel changing. (And why is it that every time I shift from one game to another, they always seem to be in a commercial break?)

Anyway, the Clippers won, which I’ll get to in a moment. USC men’s hoops won, and Bronny James had a better night than his dad did across town. The Lakers lost and looked really bad, and so did the UCLA men (and we’ll get to both of those today). And the Ducks couldn’t nurse a 1-0 lead and lost to Toronto in OT, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s a rebuild, after all.

Did I miss anybody? No? Good.

Anyway, the Clippers: I acknowledge that I was one of those who urged them not to trade for James Harden, figuring that the confluence of four stars and one basketball would eventually blow up in their faces. It still might, I suppose, but the results lately have been so promising to elicit some mea culpas, of which this is one.

Harden said this after last night’s win in Phoenix:

I’m here (he said, sheepishly). And I’ll take the ‘L’ on this one. I’m not sure this is totally the reason for their surge, because accomplished players have a way of figuring things out, but Tyronn Lue should get some credit here. I suspect he tends to get a lot of static from the fan base, but one thing that impressed me about him as a coach from the start was his willingness to be blunt and tell players what they don’t necessarily want to hear, which is the NBA’s version of speaking truth to power. I’m betting that trait has helped.

Your thoughts?

Mirjam Swanson: Happy New Year to you too, Jim – and everyone reading!

I think Harden’s right – it sure didn’t start off well. It’s going OK now though, isn’t it? I mean, winning 13 out of 15 seems pretty good, no? And Harden has been a huge help: 17.7 points and 8.1 assists per game. He’s really THE point guard that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have been dreaming of for these past few seasons.

And, look, I’d love to take a victory lap, because when we discussed Harden’s arrival in L.A. in the Nov. 2 Audible, I was like, “I can picture it working. People forget how good the Brooklyn superteam looked until things got super-weird over there…” but then if anyone actually went back to that week’s edition of this back-and-forth between us, you’d see I was also like, “So, do you think the Rams’ season is said and done?” And those guys are sitting their key pieces Week 18 because they already have a playoff spot locked up!

That’s the fun part of all this, right? The suspense, the not knowing how it’s all going to play out in the end. Does this hot spell bode well for the Clippers’ postseason prospects? Can they actually outrun the curse? Maybe! Or will the Lakers figure it out by then and again figure more prominently in our playoff coverage? Maybe!

For now, though, one of those teams is much more dialed in than the other.

Jim: We’ll get a closer look on Sunday evening, when they play each other in downtown L.A. But the Lakers are struggling so much right now that … well, if the NBA won’t allow them to take that In-Season Tournament banner down, the decent thing for them to do would be to cover it up, at least, until they start looking like a championship-caliber team again.

There’s a good reason LeBron James declined to speak to the media after last night’s loss to Miami, because I suspect he was apprehensive of saying something he couldn’t take back. Yes, there are injuries, and yes, the stretch of games including and immediately following the IST was grueling, and yes, it’s still early. But they need to figure out some answers, fast, and maybe that means another trade deadline shakeup.

In the meantime, consider this: The Lakers drafted Jalen Hood-Schifino at No. 17 in June. The Heat took Jaime Jaquez Jr. at No. 18. Anyone who had seen Jaquez’s development in his four years at UCLA could have told you then that it was a draft-day mistake. But maybe it’s for the best because Jaquez is in a better situation in Miami. Those “Heat Culture” alternate jerseys the visitors wore last night may seem hokey or condescending, but that franchise – at Pat Riley’s insistence – does take its institutional culture seriously, and Jaquez has thrived within it.

Jaquez has played in all 34 games, averaged 30.0 minutes and 13.8 points and shot 50.4% from the floor. Seriously. Meanwhile, Hood-Schifino has appeared in eight of the Lakers’ 35 games. Again, it’s early, and maybe there’s a gem that will ultimately reveal itself. But right now it looks like a mistake.

Mirjam: It’s hard not to be happy for Jaquez – and to feel like yelling “Airball!” at the Lakers.

Though, thinking about it, I see why they wouldn’t target the former UCLA star when they already had young talents at his position in Rui Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt. But know who they really should’ve taken at No. 17? The guy who went No. 19, to the Warriors.

Santa Clara’s Brandin Podziemski – or as my Twitter mutual @CountOnVic described him in a way that I can’t now unsee: Headband Jack Harlow – has been great for Golden State. Since December, he’s averaging 39 minutes per game and double figures in scoring and just regularly making winning plays. He’s finished with a negative plus-minus in just three of the Warriors’ past 14 games – a span when the team is 7-7.

And newsflash: With the injuries to ballhandlers D’Angelo Russell and Gabe Vincent, the Lakers could sure use a 6-5 shooting guard who’s hitting 41.1% of his 3-pointers.

Instead, they took Hood-Schifino two spots earlier, and he isn’t close to ready to contribute like the Lakers need him to be.

But the Lakers aren’t the only team that could use some of Jaquez’s skills right now…

Jim: Nice transition, and I’m betting you saw those clips of Mick Cronin laughing it up with Jaquez after the Heat’s off-day practice at UCLA on Tuesday.

The current UCLA team is the antithesis of the one that went 31-6 last season, won a conference regular-season championship and reached the regional semifinal – where the combination of Gonzaga and Las Vegas again proved to be so much Kryptonite. This year’s team, which is awfully young and has a heavy European component, is now 6-8 overall, 1-2 in conference, and might not even make the NCAA tournament without a severe mid-course correction.

And I found it curious when I went back and listened to Cronin’s postgame presser after Wednesday night’s loss to Stanford. It was a heavy dose of “Boy, I coached good but they played bad.” Lots of rhetoric about how his players lacked the “aptitude” to make adjustments and kept making mistakes. In one particular case – that of French guard Ilane Fibleuil, who keeps getting pulled quickly for making mistakes – Cronin said, “That’s on him, not on me.”

Bad, bad look. I like Mick and I understand his demanding style, but he’s the one getting paid to figure these things out, and he’s the one getting paid to develop these players. Maybe it’s just midseason frustration – and again, it’s early enough that things can change – but he recruited these guys. If he can’t develop them sufficiently, or if he made mistakes with the players he recruited … well, that’s on him, not them.

Mirjam: Cronin is such an interesting case in 2024. That hard, critical coach who’ll put you on blast publicly? Who’ll criticize your “aptitude” and tell the world you’ve lost your confidence? I feel like there are fewer of them these days than before, and maybe there were too many before? But it’s been his style for so long, so we’ll see if he’s really in the midst of breaking down to build up there in Westwood – or if he’s purely frustrated.

As our UCLA men’s hoops writer John W. Davis said, the Bruins should be frustrated, in part because they aren’t actually all that far off. They’re in these games because they’re among the best defensive teams in the conference still, holding opponents to 39.0% shooting – tied for first in the Pac-12 with Washington State. And UCLA is holding opponents to a conference-low 61.9 points per game – and still losing.

Jim Alexander, Mirjam Swanson Clippers,College Sports,Lakers,NBA,Sports

2024-01-04 21:03:58 , San Bernardino Sun

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