Clippers vs. Lakers: Battle of LA Is Must-Win for Lake Show's Momentum

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIFebruary 14, 2013

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 7: Kobe Bryant #24 and Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers look on following a foul against the Boston Celtics during the game on February 7, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The panic button seems to be permanently pressed for the Los Angeles Lakers during their tumultuous 2012-13 season. Subtle laundry references aside, it's critical for the Lake Show to clean up their act, air out any tensions before the All-Star break and notch a critical win over the crosstown rival Clippers.

It appears to be constant crunch-time for the Lakers, who have traditionally dominated this rivalry and would greatly benefit from that trend continuing.

As of this edition of the Hallway Series, though, it has completely turned on its head, with the Clippers suddenly emerging as one of the premier teams in the Western Conference. The big brother Lakers are fighting to remain in the postseason picture with a record of 25-28.

The first matchup went in favor of the Clippers 105-95, as they handed the Lakers their first 0-3 start in 34 years.

Kobe Bryant has essentially been holding the Lakers together, gutting through injuries and playing the most minutes in the NBA despite being in his 17th season. He put up 40 points in the first meeting, including 26 in the second half, all to no avail.

He is fourth in the league in scoring and has helped make up for the absences of fellow studs Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.

But the Black Mamba can't always bail his squad out, as was evident in the team's most recent game against the Phoenix Suns. Although the Lakers won, Bryant made just one of his eight shots from the field and had eight turnovers to go with nine assists.

Both the Lakers and Clippers are fresh off victories but are playing the second of back-to-back games, so it will be interesting to see how each squad adjusts with no rest.

However, with several days to relax ahead, there should be no holds barred in what promises to be an entertaining affair. It's somewhat of a bad matchup for Mike D'Antoni's team, which knows how to score but not exactly how to defend despite the massive paint presence of Howard.

The Clippers, meanwhile, have established themselves as a top-five defensive team and are a much deeper squad than the Lakers, whose immense star power hasn't quite translated the way it was meant to.

There is no doubt that the Lakers have improved lately even with Gasol out for an extended period. Nash and Bryant's chemistry continues to stir, and D'Antoni's offense is clicking with more frequency and efficiency.

Clippers guard Chauncey Billups provided some interesting thoughts before the game on Thursday, as reported by ESPN's J.A. Adande:

For the Lakers to win this game, it shouldn't be a warm, welcoming Valentine's Day. Bryant should galvanize his team to play with an edge and to set a physical tone against the Clippers.

It's not about making enemies or stirring up bad blood, but the Lakers must bring the fight to the Staples Center. If the lackluster defense continues, you can count on Lob City being in full effect with the combination of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

Jamal Crawford is the big x-factor that the Lakers must contain on the perimeter. The problem is, they don't have many good defenders on the wing outside of Bryant.

A win here would set the tone for the rest of the season for the Lakers, while a loss would simply leave questions lingering heading into the break. They desperately need the win to build momentum toward a potential playoff run.