Make no mistake, the Lakers and Clippers are a legitimate rivalry. Just ask Chris Paul and the guy who patted him on his head, Pau Gasol. There is no love lost here.
After decades of one-sided dominance, the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers finally have a distinct edge to their regular battles inside Staples Center. Still, L.A. remains a Lakers town, and it will take more than winning a season series by the Clippers to supplant that.
And so the Clippers may ultimately win a season series from the Lakers this year, but the rivalry and dominance remain with the purple and gold.
“I don’t know if it is a rivalry,” said All Star forward Blake Griffin last season. “It’s something where we need to accomplish something like what they have accomplished before.”
If that's the case, it could be years before a true rivalry materializes, considering that 16 championship banners with the Lakers name on them hang from the rafters at Staples Center. The Clippers have 0, as in zero.
Last season, the Lakers beat the Clippers two out of three times, with Kobe Bryant going for 36 points in the Lakers' 113-108 victory that clinched the series. All three games were close battles, and the Clippers are no longer the butt of jokes in L.A. basketball circles. The Lakers still ruled the hardwood.
If you watched the games between the two L.A. teams this past year, you would think there's been a rivalry for many years.
There are several reasons to feel that the Lakers may once again win the season series but that the Clips may be winning the bigger battle for long-term supremacy.
1. Point guard: Steve Nash vs. Chris Paul. Can you imagine the first time these two teams go at it with two of the league's best point guards trading punches? At 38, Steve Nash is still a dominant player, and although his minutes are diminished to about 30 per game, he still gets a slight nod over the younger Paul for his on-the-court leadership, exceptional passing skills, outside shooting and overall efficiency. Granted, Paul is 27 and coming off a stellar year in which he averaged 19.8 points, 9.1 assists and 2.4 steals in 36 minutes per game. His 48 percent shooting accuracy was exceptional, except for the fact that Nash shot 53 percent from the floor, including 39 percent from beyond the arc. Nash also averaged 10.7 assists, making the most out of his 31.6 minutes.
Smart draft choices and recent player upgrades by the Clippers have helped fuel this heated relationship. One in particular helped set the tone—that being the trade that brought Chris Paul to the Clips after the Lakers were shot down in their attempt to land the 6' point guard last December.
2. Center goes to the Lakers regardless of who plays there in 2012-13. Either Andrew Bynum or Dwight Howard will be the starting center for the Lakers when training camp opens this fall, and there is absolutely no way the Clippers can come close to matching either of these two super talents.
These are the top two centers in basketball. The Clippers' DeAndre Jordan is a very high-priced, underachieving, fourth-year, second-round draft pick. Howard is the league's top defensive player, and Bynum may just be its best offensive threat. The latter, who as of today was still a member of the Lakers, had a breakout campaign last season averaging 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds while shooting 56 percent. Howard played in 54 games and was having an MVP season of 20.6 points and 14.5 rebounds when he shut down his season in order to undergo back surgery.
Who Wins the Rivalry Between the Lakers and Clippers?
3. Power forward: Paul Gasol vs. Blake Griffin. You have to give the Clippers the slight edge with Blake Griffin. In his second season, the 6'10", 250-pound Griffin averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds and would have been the starter on this year's Olympic "Dream Team" had he not injured his knee in practice last week.
These are two entirely different kinds of players—Griffin is mostly about powering to the rim, and Gasol has the much better shot and passing skills.
Last season was a difficult one for Gasol as he was the subject of intense trade rumors for most of the year. He did not make the All-Star team in 2012, yet his numbers and play did pick up toward the end of the regular season, and he finished with a 17.4 scoring average on 50 percent shooting for the year. He faded badly in the postseason, prompting the trade rumors to resurface this summer.
4. Bench. Ironically, one of the players the Lakers thought they had traded last year to get Paul was Lamar Odom, who now finds himself back with the team that drafted him first in 1999. The former Laker, who was the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in 2010-11, will once again give his team the energy and versatility it needs coming off what is now a far superior bench. Add in shooting guard Jamal Crawford, forward Ryan Gomes, guard Randy Foye and small forward Grant Hill, and you have a Clippers bench mob that will give the anemic Lakers splinters fits.
The Lakers bench consists of Steve Blake. Josh McRoberts. Devin Ebanks. Darius Morris. Andrew Goudelock and Christian Eyenga. As Bill Plashke writes in the L.A. Times today: "The last time we saw them, nobody saw them, as they were outscored 35-5 by Oklahoma City's bench in the final game of that second-round playoff mess. The last time any of them were asked to make a big play, it was earlier in the series, and Steve Blake clanked it."
5. Shooting guard. The Lakers still have that old guy—Kobe Bryant—who, at 34 (Aug. 23) continues to play at an extremely high level. His counterpart at shooting guard would be Chauncey Billups, no slouch himself but nowhere near the elite status of Bryant, who averaged just under 28 points a game this past season.
Billups re-signed with the Clippers and will continue to help them with his outside shooting and floor savvy. But the decided edge here goes to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
Look for the Lakers to win the immediate battle over the Clippers in the 2012-13 season.
But, unless they add more pieces (Antawn Jamison would help) to their sad-looking bench, the Lakers may ultimately lose the war.