Lakers vs. Clippers: Best Moments from This Year's Battle of L.A.
Walk into the Staples Center and you wouldn't even guess that two NBA teams played there.
All you see are gold Los Angeles Lakers championship banners hanging from the wall behind Section 308.
There are even banners for the Los Angeles Kings and the Los Angeles Sparks.
Hell, there used to even be one for the Arena Football League's Los Angeles Avengers.
But none for the Los Angeles Clippers.
They've been irrelevant in NBA history throughout much of their existence—up until this year when they acquired Chris Paul, thus igniting a rivalry with the team they share an arena with.
The Clippers have gained respectability around the league and this year, they look to make their first playoff appearance since the 2006 season.
The Lakers and Clippers are separated by just a game-and-a-half heading into Wednesday's matchup. What was once an easy "W" on the Lakers' calendar is now a legitimate rivalry.
Wednesday's the rubber match.
Let's quickly take a look at what has transpired this season between the two teams to give us a better understanding of what's at stake on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
The Trade That Ignited the Battle
Right when the NBA lockout ended, Chris Paul was traded from the New Orleans Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Paul was a Laker...for just a few hours.
When David Stern vetoed the deal, citing a lack of competitive balance in the league, Laker fans were furious.
Just a few days later, Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, thus raising the hopes of a team that was once known as the doormat for the Lakers and the rest of the NBA.
Laker fans started to panic, especially when Lamar Odom was traded for no players in return and the Lakers' future seemed to be in limbo. They had a new coach, an old Kobe Bryant, an injury-prone Andrew Bynum and an inconsistent Pau Gasol.
Meanwhile, Clipper fans were jubilant and excited for Lob City basketball in Los Angeles. They were ready to take the crown from the Lakers as basketball kings in the Southland.
All of a sudden, a rivalry was born.
Before the regular season began, the two new rivals played in a pair of preseason games.
Preseason games are generally meaningless, but these two games had a great deal of anticipation surrounding them because of the Clippers' new acquisitions.
Everyone wanted to see where these two teams stood.
Were the Clippers, in fact, better than the Lakers?
Chris Paul's Clippers won both preseason games, leading many to think that there was a changing of the guard in Los Angeles even before anyone had played in a meaningful game.
Act I: Clippers Get the First Blow
Just three weeks later, the two met at Staples Center in a Clippers home game for the first real matchup between the two teams.
Once again, there was much anticipation surrounding the game.
Laker fans might have been a bit too arrogant heading into the game. Despite all of the talk about how tumultuous the Lakers' season was going to be, they were 9-4 on the season. The Clippers, on the other hand, were 5-3.
When the final buzzer sounded, Kobe Bryant had scored 42 points for the Lakers, but the Clippers were the victorious team.
Chris Paul dominated the game with 33 points and six assists, shredding then-Lakers point guard Derek Fisher into pieces.
The Lakers knew they weren't going anywhere this season without a decent point guard who would be a solid distributor and facilitator.
They needed a change.
Meanwhile, the Clippers made a statement and showed the NBA that they were a force to be reckoned with.
Act II: Metta World Domination
The second game between the Clippers and Lakers happened just about two weeks after the Clippers victory. It was just as heated and tightly contested as the first.
This time, though, the Lakers prevailed.
The highlight of the night came in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers were nursing a six-point lead with about three minutes to go.
Metta World Peace hit a huge three-pointer from the top of the key to give the Lakers a lead they would not relinquish. It halted the Clippers in their places for the moment.
With the victory, the Lakers sent a message to the Clippers, stating, "Hey! Slow down just one bit!"
The Chauncey Billups Injury
The game on January 25 was the last one between the two teams for a while.
Perhaps the biggest event that transpired in that time was the Chauncey Billups injury for the Clippers. The team just hasn't been the same without him.
Before their current six-game winning streak, the Clippers were just 11-14 after his injury. Now they're three games over .500 without him, but they lost the division lead to the Lakers. They lack the veteran leadership and experience they once had with Billups in the lineup.
There are bigger names on the Clippers roster that are more talented than Billups, but there is something about the former NBA champion that ignites every team he's played for. Billups has been a part of winning teams for a very long time and there is no doubt that his absence has hurt the Clippers.
The Mamba Strikes Back
While the Clippers have been trying to find ways to win without Billups, the Lakers searched for a new point guard and found him in Ramon Sessions.
They haven't been winning every game and they've blown some leads recently, but Kobe Bryant isn't ready to give up and say that the team has no shot of winning anything.
As reported by Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears, Kobe sounded off in late March and took a jab at the media's obsession over the Clippers from earlier this season:
“Why [is] everybody acting like we are in eighth place?” Bryant asked. “You guys [the media] were kissing the Clippers’ ass at the start of the season and now here we are in the third seed and everybody is acting like we suck. I don’t understand.”
Kobe had a fair point. There seems to be a huge overreaction after every Laker loss, but all they've done this season is prove naysayers wrong and fight through adversity.
The Clippers, on the other hand, will hope to make Kobe eat his words on Wednesday night.
The Final Act...For Now?
All of that hubbub leads to Wednesday night's huge game.
The hardwood will have "Clippers" written on it, but there will undoubtedly be plenty of Laker fans seated in the crowd.
The atmosphere will be rocking. If the Lakers win, they'll open up a two-and-a-half-game lead in the division. If they don't, the Clippers will be a half-game back with a seven-game winning streak.
It'll be the last game between the two in the regular season, but there's a slight chance that they'll meet again in a seven-game series in the playoffs.
Now, how awesome would that be?
I get shivers just thinking about it.
But until then, let's enjoy Wednesday's explosive showdown.