The Lakers had a first hand look at Blake Griffin and the Clippers. Photo by Jae C. Hong (AP)
This is still a Lakers town, but for this moment the Clippers are the better team.
Depending on who you talk to, the Clippers have done the unthinkable: they have supplanted the Lakers for basketball supremacy in Los Angeles.
In years past even the slightest insinuation at such a ludicrous statement would be met with widespread laughter and ridicule. The Lakers always beat the Clippers.
That’s the way three of the four contests between the teams went last season. That’s the way the overwhelming majority of games between the franchises have gone over their history. That’s the way most Angelinos expect it to be.
But if the Clippers‘ 102-94 victory over the Lakers on Saturday is any indication, the NBA’s perennial punch line may finally be in a position to have the last laugh.
Not since the 2005-2006 season have expectations been this high. That was the season that Elton Brand and Sam Cassell had the Clippers one game away from the Western Conference Finals.
Round one of this season’s hallway series didn’t feature many of the anticipated acrobatics of the Lob City leapers, but it did showcase the kind of performance from Chris Paul that made it clear why the Clippers gave up so much to bring him to Los Angeles.
Paul finished the game with a season high 33 points to go along with six steals and six assists. Even as Kobe Bryant did what Kobe Bryant always does, Paul was able answer right back with big shots of his own.
With Mo Williams sidelined due to a strained right foot Paul played 39 minutes. He likely would have played more had he not injured his hamstring late in the game.
The Clippers led the Lakers by as much as 14 and never trailed them in the game. Previous Clippers teams would have squandered such a lead, and this current team almost did just that with poor shooting nights from Caron Butler and Randy Foye, who combined to shoot 6-for-35 from the field.
In an inevitable scenario that surprisingly hadn‘t happened until Saturday DeAndre Jordan got charged with two fouls early in the first quarter. The Lakers were able to take advantage of Jordan being on the bench, exploiting the mismatch of their two seven-footers against Reggie Evans.
But Evans held his own against the Lakers. His tenacity helped the league’s worst rebounding team win the battle on the boards against the league’s best, 50-42.
As much of a statement game Saturday’s win was to the nation, Monday’s game against New Jersey was just as paramount to the Clippers’ fan base.
Good teams are supposed to beat bad teams. Sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic Division with just three wins, the Nets are a bad team.
Some would call such a contest a trap game. The Clippers were not only coming off the emotional high of beating the Lakers, they would also be without their top two point guards due to injuries.
After a great first half, the Clippers gave up an 18-point lead as the Nets tied the game early in the fourth quarter. In the absence of the floor general in Paul the Clippers turned to Chauncey Billups, who Paul has referred to as his big brother.
Billups’ 20-point outing is the kind of production this team will need to go far. His clutch free throw shooting is the one constant for a team that is ranked second to last in that category.
By winning these so-called trap games the Clippers can go a long way in credibility. Achieving long-term bragging rights will be even more difficult, with the Clippers having won just 29 of 124 games against the Lakers since moving to L.A. from San Diego in 1984. There’s also the matter of the Lakers’ 16 championship banners hanging up in the arena they both call home, compared to the Clippers’ zero.
Donald Sterling’s team may never achieve the Herculean task of making Los Angeles a “Clippers town.” But if they keep winning games against big-time teams — and teams they are supposed to beat — they can finally get some more of the spotlight in Tinseltown.
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