A TALE OF TWO LOCKER ROOMS Part 1

While LeBron Soars Like an Eagle, Kawhi is Playing Possum.

The Clippers talk tough about winning, but load management is going to sink their hopes of winning the heart of Los Angeles — at least during the regular season.

Should we rename L.A.’s other team the Clitters?

Naturally, I meant in the dictionary sense of the team making a thin, vibratory, rattling sound.

Sitting out Kawhi Leonard in a nationally-televised game against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks doesn’t exactly sound like the roar of a team laying waste to the NBA in its quest for a championship.

The Clippers’ last game was on Sunday night at home against Utah, with Kawhi Leonard playing 34 minutes.

On Tuesday, the Clippers announced the Kawhi Leonard will not play because of load management for his knee.

He is expected to play in the second game of a back-to-back the next night at home against the Portland Trailblazers, who are struggling.

From a regular season standpoint, winning easily against Portland — who just got embarrassed by the G-League team impersonating the Golden State Warriors — will count just as much as winning an epic battle against the reigning MVP and one of the best teams in the East.

It was understandable to sit Leonard on October 30th at Utah, given the difficulty of playing in altitude, and then traveling back to Los Angeles for another tough Western Conference opponent in the Spurs.

Sitting Kawhi against the Bucks feels different.

This is not protecting the player during a difficult three-games-in-four-nights part of the schedule.

Leonard has had two days off before the Bucks game, in the middle of a two-week home stand.

And the Clippers will probably beat Portland without Leonard.

The Milwaukee game is one of those rare games that could be a preview of the NBA Finals.

Not only is it a disservice to all NBA fans, it is a move that will erode the good will the Clippers have been trying to build in the city of Los Angeles.

Unlike the perception of outsiders, Los Angeles is a city with millions of blue collar fans who can’t afford tickets but who bleed their team’s colors every day of their lives.

There are people who bleed Dodger Blue, divide their world as being either Bruins or Trojans, and are united in their love of the purple and gold.

There are still untold numbers of people love the Silver and Black of the Oakland Raiders, even though the team only played in Los Angeles for 12 years.

And I wonder if the fans in L.A. will come to hate the term load management more than anything in basketball, except maybe the Boston Celtics.

Nothing makes the fans in Los Angeles fall in love with a team and its players like hard work and winning.

I’s why so many fans loved Rambis and Cooper while Magic and Kareem reigned supreme.

It’s why so many fans became Kobe zealots — because he never took a game off, and fought through every injury.

And it’s why this year’s Los Angeles Lakers have electrified the city.

Anthony Davis is a top-5 two way player who can dominate on both ends of the floor but his defense and rim protection transform the Lakers into ShowTime 2.0.

Davis is leading the NBA in blocks to go along with his 26/10.9/2.7 stat line.

His youth and energy show up in so many hustle plays, whether it’s going out to contest open three-point shooters, recovering to protect the paint, making the second jump to grab an offensive rebound, or running the floor in transition.

Everything about him screams “unicorn.”

Here’s a play that just blew my mind in a recent game against the guy everyone has been calling a unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis.

If you watch the play closely, you will see Davis fall down as Porzingis drives around him to the rim for a sure dunk.

There isn’t anyone within five feet of Porzingis, except Davis sprawled on the floor.

Davis reaches up from the floor and suddenly the ball flies straight up in the air, leading to a LeBron monster dunk.

The ball didn’t do that by itself.

Porzingis holds out his hands pleading to the ref for a foul that could have only come from Davis.

Whether Davis dislodged the ball without fouling is irrelevant; it is the second effort of a superstar while on the ground that proves these Lakers have the grit as well as the glitz to become a championship team.

LeBron James is going to transform himself a third time to become the beloved veteran player who makes everyone around him better.

James is no longer the detached good-stats-on-a-bad team guy that alienated fans last year.

In spite of those three consecutive triple double monster games, James is feeding his teammates so much, so early, we don’t even realize he’s averaging 26 points a game.

What we have seen is a league leading 11.1 assists per game, a career-high ast/to ratio, and defense.

Yes, I said defense.

He’s playing hard-nosed defense, and drawing charges (T8 among NBA players with over 20 minutes).

Even though he’s 35, he played 43 minutes in an overtime win over Dallas, then 37 minutes two days later in a rare Texas sweep over San Antonio.

The team was gassed for their third game against Chicago and in the middle of a bench-powered comeback from a big deficit, this happened.

Watch LeBron’s chest bump with Caruso.

This is a superstar that wants a championship.

Alex Caruso has become almost a cult figure among Lakers fans.

People don’t see a sculpted athlete with a 36" vertical leap.

They see the stereotypical YMCA weekend player with a receding hairline, who has earned the nickname “The Bald Mamba.”

But the fans also see his work ethic and hustle, and respect his journey through four seasons of college basketball, going undrafted in 2016, followed by playing three years in the Summer League and the G-League before signing his first NBA contract this July.

Caruso brings a toughness and intelligence to the Lakers that no other point guard on the team provides.

He does all the little things that don’t show up in the box score: team defense (leads the Lakers point guards in screen assists and points, deflections, defensive loose balls recovered, and charges drawn), ability to switch and guard larger players, screen setting and off-ball movement.

He has played a big part in helping the Lakers turn around three of their victories and is becoming a fixture on the crunch time unit.

His net rating in the 4th quarter is +28.0, the best of player on the team who has played significant minutes over the last six games (he was a DNPCD against the Clippers).

The player with the second highest 4th quarter net rating of +26.2 is the guy who may become the NBA’s Comeback Player of the Year.

Los Angeles is the city of dreams, but it is also the city of second chances.

In the same way Lakers fans are loving the way LeBron and Caruso are playing, we are completely shocked by the transformation of Dwight Howard.

He’s playing defense and rebounding like a man who wants to win a championship.

Even Kobe, who once call Howard “soft,” has changed his views on his former teammate:

Dwight Howard was a disaster for the last few years, bouncing from team to team, and being considered a locker room cancer.

No one thought he could get his attitude in the right place before signing with the Lakers.

I certainly didn’t.

So far, he has proven us wrong, much to the delight of Lakers fans.

Howard’s play has been remarkable because he is doing everything for the team.

He is in the top 10 in blocks, top 20 in offensive rebounding percentage (among regular players playing at least 10 minutes), and has a gaudy +22.5 net ratings.

According to NBA.com hustle stats, Howard is leading the Lakers in screen assists and points, even though LeBron and Davis are involved in the vast majority of the pick and roll actions.

Howard is also the enforcer the Lakers need to compete against the more physical teams.

He sets hard screens off ball and intimidates players who drive to the basket.

If the Lakers want to have a chance to compete for a title, they will need Howard’s effort for the entire season.

Will the Clippers’ gamble pay off with a title?

Assuming Kawhi misses every game where the Clippers play back-to-back games, he will play 69 games.

Without Leonard and the still injured Paul George, the Clippers looked awful against Utah, trailing by 20 for a good part of the second half and losing by 14.

The Clipper at full strength look to be the best team in the NBA.

If resting Leonard means he can have another playoff run like he did at Toronto, it won’t matter if the Clippers don’t have home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

It certainly won’t matter in the West, where the Lakers look the the only team standing in their way, considering both teams play at Staples Center.

The biggest IF will be if the Clippers can win a title.

With their first banner, they will win a new generation of young fans who have only known the Lakers as a lottery team.

For now, the Lakers have energized their fans with their hustle and defense, and the team still owns the town.

This is going to be an amazing season to be a basketball fan in Los Angeles.

And if you’re wondering why there are no Clippers highlight videos in this article, just blame it on load management.

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Written by

Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at https://guttmanshapiro.com. Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

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