“We want to be the best team in LA (Los Angeles),” said Matt Barnes, the LA Clippers’ Small forward.
In the three seasons that have passed since LA Lakers’ last NBA triumph, the Clippers have indeed managed to be at least on par if not better than their cross-town rivals. So much so that in the last season, the Lakers lost all four matches against the Clippers. Injuries, coaching changes, form dips all contributed to it. A string of free-agent acquisitions of relatively unknown talent raised eyebrows and it was tough to refute claims that their inexperience would show up and not their potential.
For close to three-quarters of the season opener between the two LA sides at the staples center on Tuesday, it seemed that there would be no change in the storyline. But a commanding display by the Lakers’ bench — both the experienced hands, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, weren’t on the court — ensured a 106-103 win. Prior to the game, the Spanish international Gasol spoke on the very same aspects in an interaction.
Q: How different are the expectations this season from last year? Then the word ‘title’ was being mentioned in spite of a bad pre-season but not now. Will it then be about trying to prove people wrong?
A: Yeah. They are different situations. We need to play as well as we can. Try and improve every day. We knew something wasn’t clicking last year. After that pre-season [0-8] there were alarm bells. But this pre-season has been a lot more positive and we have done things a lot better; the attitudes of the players, the togetherness and the atmosphere have all been good.
Q: So will there be extra build-up and excitement?
A: We have been looking forward to this moment throughout the summer. There will be more energy and more tension as well, especially for me. I didn’t play in the off season with my national team, which is rare. I am coming off an injury but I had a good pre-season, perhaps one of the best I have ever had. I focused well, maximised every opportunity and so it’s about bringing all that together.
Q: Is it odd that people have more expectations of the Clippers rather than the Lakers?
A: Life is a cycle, so is NBA. There are ups and downs. But every year is different so it doesn’t mean much to me. We have had high expectations before and they ended in failures. So we need to try and turn these low expectations into successes.
Q: Any additional responsibilities that you will be carrying this year with Kobe Bryant still out with an injury?
A: Yeah. I’ll be carrying more load offensively and to an extent defensively as well.
Q: Is that more exciting then and the fact that all the balls have to go through you?
A: It is and I am looking forward to it. I hope to make my team better by making better decisions and finding the open man, to make sure that every player moves and is active. And to make everybody understand that if he is open he is going to get the ball.
Q: Any personal targets?
A: Not really. I am just looking to good individual performances that can contribute to the team’s success.
(N. Sudarshan was at the NBA season opener on an invitation from Sony Six which has bagged the telecast rights for the current season)