Historically, the Lakers have been one of the greatest franchises in NBA history. Great franchises usually have rivals that echo their superiority. The Lakers' archrival has been and always will be the Boston Celtics.
However, the crosstown Clippers have been resurgent the past few years, focusing a new spotlight on Los Angeles via this year's best rivalry.
Despite the all-time head-to-head record between the two franchises (143-49 Lakers), the last three years have been much more competitive. The Lakers have won seven out of the last 11, but the highlight-savvy Clippers have turned the corner and are expected to be one of the league’s best teams again, with enough firepower and depth to match up with the Lakers.
Over the past few seasons, the Clippers have drafted very well. The result of such promising draft picks led to the trade for Chris Paul. What's more, the acquisition of Paul came off the heels of NBA commissioner David Stern overruling a three-team trade that would have sent CP3 to the Lakers.
Adding Chris Paul made the Clippers a legitimate Pacific Division contender, especially with the development of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the addition of Caron Butler. For the first time in years, the Clippers had the talent to not only make the playoffs but compete with the Lakers.
While Laker fans were…angry (to say the least) about missing out on CP3, all seems to have been forgotten. The additions of Los Angeles’ newest version of Superman and the once-hated Steve Nash, have Laker fans riding cloud nine again while expecting another NBA Finals appearance.
Furthermore, the 2012-13 showdowns between the Staples Center tenants are sure to be hard fought and will likely decide who wins the division. Never before has a Clipper team been so talented, thanks to the additions of Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes. However, the same can be said about Kobe Bryant’s Lakers.
During the Lakers' media day, Kobe said of the new roster (h/t Marc J. Spears, Yahoo! Sports), "On its face, it’s the best talent I’ve been around. Whether that translates into winning a championship remains to be seen. But just on paper, you’re talking Defensive Player of the Years, MVPs, All-Stars."
Kobe is right; this may be the best Laker team he has ever played on, and that is saying a lot.
One thing is for certain: This season’s Los Angeles Lakers should undoubtedly be better on both sides of the floor. Last season, the Lakers had one of the slowest-paced offenses in the league, finishing 21st. Meanwhile, for as good as Andrew Bynum was last season, the team finished 10th in offensive efficiency.
The defense was not much better under new head coach Mike Brown, finishing 14th in defensive efficiency. Nobody expected Brown to transform the Lakers defense in one season, but giving up 96 points per game surely did not make Brown—or Lakers fans, for that matter—very happy last season.
However, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard should help shore up both sides of the ball, respectively. Additionally, Jodie Meeks finally gives the Lakers a reliable three-point shooter capable of taking the pressure off of Kobe and the big men.
Meanwhile, despite the Clippers' unbelievably slow pace, the offense was as effective as any in the league, finishing fourth in efficiency. While the success of the offense can definitely be attributed to the addition of Chris Paul, the defense cannot say the same.
The Clippers were 18th in defensive efficiency last season, resulting in the team giving up 95 points per game. The defense was somewhat addressed this offseason.
Eric Bledsoe has proved he can be a lock-down perimeter defender off the bench. The team added Grant Hill, a solid wing defender despite his old age, and a versatile defender in Lamar Odom. The defense needs to be better this season in order for the Clippers to advance past the second round of the playoffs.
Regardless of who has the better team, there is no doubt this season that the best rivalry in the league will determine the Pacific Division. In fact, ESPN's Marc Stein has both teams ranked in the top five of his power rankings.
Much like last year, multiple All-Star starters will square off when the two teams meet. The high-flying acrobatics of Griffin and Jordan will battle against the skill of Pau Gasol and the raw power of Howard.
Two of the greatest point guards of this generation, Nash and Paul, will dazzle with their ball-handling and breathtaking passes. Finally, one of the best shooting guards in league history (Bryant) will attempt to cement his legacy as the greatest Laker ever against the Clippers' barrage of athletic defenders.
Two of the deepest and most talented teams in the NBA will square off four times this season. The implications are huge, and the highlights are sure to be plentiful. These will not be your average Lakers vs. Clippers games.
The battle of Los Angeles will be between two of this season’s titans. Expect to see more of this when the best rivalry in the NBA tips off.