Los Angeles Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe was ordained “Mini LeBron” by teammate Jamal Crawford and LeBron James himself apparently confirmed the coronation when the Clippers beat the Miami Heat last November. Some NBA cognoscenti might refute the adequacy of that nickname, but Bledsoe was Wednesday night’s king on the court, scoring a career-high 27 points in an 86-76 Clippers win over the Orlando Magic at the Amway Arena.
Both teams were injury-riddled with their top three scorers missing in action. The Magic were without Arron Afflalo, J.J. Redick and Glen Davis. Missing for the Clippers were Crawford, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Nonetheless, both teams made it competitive and you can hardly blame them—the Magic wanted to break a 10-game losing streak and the Clippers were in their own three-game funk.
"We were in a little slump," said Bledsoe. "We were in the games, playing good, playing tough, but we just couldn't finish the game. So it was a huge win for us."
The Clippers’ strategy was simple—stop the Magic’s only true offensive threat that evening— point guard Jameer Nelson. Nelson ended up with 18 points, but it came on a bleak 6-of-16 shooting performance.
"For the most part we know that he's (Nelson) the only person on their team who can get them going," Bledsoe said. "I just tried to make it hard for him to get the ball."
That he did. Bledsoe played his typical ball-hawking defense and it translated to six steals, as well as three blocks.
Both teams were not exactly pinpoint precise. The Clippers only mustered 40.2 percent from the field while the Magic were even worse, 34.5 percent.
The first half was closely contested with the Magic up two, 42-40, heading into halftime. The Clippers won the third quarter 24-13 and nursed a nine-point advantage at the start of the fourth quarter.
In the final frame, the Magic stuck around and cut the lead to five at the 9:10 mark. However, back-to-back baskets from Bledsoe, including a key three-pointer put the Clippers up by 10 and the Magic could get no closer than seven.
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan did what he dutifully does—he dunked and dazzled his way to 13 points and 14 rebounds. Lamar Odom, starting in place of Griffin, had eight points and six steals. Ryan Hollins scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench.
Magic center Nikola Vucevic chipped in 15 points and 13 rebounds in the loss. The Magic extended their losing streak to 11 games, the franchise’s longest slide since 2004.
However, the night belonged to “Mini LeBron”—Bledsoe scored 19 of his 27 points in the second half alone. He also had three assists in the victory.
History says it’s not usually a good thing to be called a scaled down version of another great player. In the past, Harold Miner was called “Baby Jordan” and he was extradited from the NBA after four seasons. In recent past, former Los Angeles Lakers guard Andre Goudelock got the nickname “Mini Mamba” last season as a rookie. Goudelock is now playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the NBA Development League.
Even so, Bledsoe’s recent play is putting teams on notice around the league. Since taking the helm of the Clippers’ offense for the injured Paul on January 22, he’s been averaging 15 points, 5.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.6 blocks per game.
Bledsoe’s name came up in trade rumors recently involving the Boston Celtics. Purportedly, both teams were in talks to draw up a deal that would send Celtics center Kevin Garnett to the Clippers for Bledsoe and forward Caron Butler. That was until other reports emerged that debunked earlier rumors of trade talks.
LeBron James and the Heat have bounced the Celtics out of the playoffs in 2011 and 2012. Maybe Boston figures that if they can’t beat James, they can at least acquire a miniature version of him.
Whatever the case, the “Mini LeBron” will meet the full-sized LeBron on Friday night as the Clippers prepare to do battle with the Miami Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena.