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Fran Blinebury

In a familiar scene for the Lakers and Clippers, Kobe Bryant played the hero once again.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Same potholes remain in road to success for Clips, Lakers

Posted Apr 5 2012 10:16AM

LOS ANGELES -- It was the kind of awesome, devastating event that is usually followed by thankful survivors saying they heard the sound of an approaching train. Maybe after that there were giant oak trees flying like paper airplanes and a couple of cows that wound up crashing through the neighbor's roof.

Pau Gasol didn't have a storm shelter to hide in. By time he landed back on this side of the rainbow, he was just another mounted head on a trophy room wall that already includes Timofey Mozgov, Kendrick Perkins and that sporty little Kia.

The difference between Gasol and the Kia is that Lakers forward looked more like something that had been T-boned at an intersection after Blake Griffin's third quarter dunk.

"You don't really see it, because you don't really see what happened ... it was hit and run," Gasol said with a sheepish smile. "The ball went in and I was on my ass. I woke up, I stood up and I told the referee I had a (bleeping) forearm in my face and my throat and I think it was something that needs to be looked at. Again, it happened so quick I didn't even realize."

Gasol and his family will have plenty of opportunity to see what happened after ESPN and NBA TV replay the dunk enough times in the coming days to give it the historical significance of the invention of fire.

At the end of a rousingly fun and entertaining night at Staples Center, the "visiting" Lakers walked out with a 113-108 win over the Clippers, pyrotechnics notwithstanding.

"Same old same old," said Kobe Bryant.

Yes it was, in so many different ways leaving so many of the usual questions.

There were Griffin and the Clippers making the noise with chippy and maybe-right-up-to-the-line-if-not-over-it play. There were the Lakers pretending not to notice.

"It was a legitimate dunk," Bryant said of the slam on Gasol. "It was a helluva basketball play. But two points is two points."

Griffin also managed to give Gasol a little extra push in the lower back on a fast break a few minutes later that sent him sprawling into the baseline seats.

"He tries to be physical, I guess," Gasol said. "He tries to play his game. I hope he doesn't intend to be dirty or anything like that."

There were the Lakers continuing their season-long habit -- that begin on Christmas Day against Chicago -- of giving up big leads, yet for the second straight night they were bailed out on another one of those how-in-the-world-does-he-do-that shots that only Bryant can make. On Tuesday night it was a seven-bounce rim-rattler that finally put down the Nets. This time, it was a killer 22-foot fallaway out of the left corner over a helpless Randy Foye.

"What's a good shot for Kobe?" mused Lakers coach Mike Brown rhetorically.

The bigger question as the blink-and-you-missed-it regular season slips away is still how many of those "good" shots does Kobe have to make between now and June for the Lakers to become the championship contenders they keep saying they are?

Here was the so-called "Battle for L.A." played to the hyped-up drumbeat of the Clippers ready to run down the Lakers for the Pacific Division lead and finally establish a new world order. But there were the Lakers winning the season series 2-1 and the Clippers failing to get the best of their intra-city rivals just like in every other season since 1992-93.

The Clippers have plenty of zip, pizzazz and talent these days to justify their now-regular sellout crowds. But in the construction of Lob City, the municipal planning committee forgot to draw plans for "de-fense." After they came back from a 15-point hole to take a one-point lead with 3 1/2 minutes to play, the Clippers allowed the Lakers to get open looks and easy drives to the basket.

"We have to learn how to win these games," said point guard Chris Paul. "I think it was a good learning process for us. This is how the playoffs are. Down the stretch, everyone in the gym knows where the ball is going at both ends of the court. We have to find ways to manage it."

While the Clippers are still trying to find a real identity, the problem with the Lakers is that they know all too well who they are. There was center Andrew Bynum returning to the lineup after a one-game absence due to an ankle injury and standing tall with 36 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. There was Gasol taking all the beating he could withstand from Griffin on defense and not backing down. There was Metta World Peace ringing the defensive bell down the stretch with his work on the smaller, quicker Paul and coming up with a key steal.

They are the kind of box score numbers that should stamp the Lakers' ticket to a spot deep into the playoffs. But it won't happen as long as they drift off for naps and leave it all up to Bryant to bail them out.

It was the kind of macho display throughout that had the Clippers fans in full-throated belief that somehow a big play here and there made more of a difference than the scoreboard.

"He (Griffin) can have the highlight," Bynum said, shaking his head. "We'll take the W."

It was the kind of high-wire walking effort by the Lakers that can be breathtaking or go splat.

"Same old same old," said Kobe.

There's still a lot to prove at both ends of the shared hallway.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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