Why Los Angeles Will Always Belong to the Lakers and Not the Clippers

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 04:  Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers keeps his dribble away from Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 107-102 Clipper win at Staples Center on January 4, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  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 Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

As of the NBA All-Star break, Los Angeles has seen a tale of two very different teams with regard to the Lakers and Clippers.

The Clippers are 39-17 at the break, which is good for third place in the West and puts them only four games out of first.

The Lakers, meanwhile, are 25-29, 17 games out of first and three-and-a-half games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final playoff seed.

Yes, it's been a tough season for the Lakers so far, but it's not like they'll be moving back to Minneapolis anytime soon.



The Lakers have 16 NBA championships to their credit, 10 of which have come since the merger. And those titles are pretty simple to attribute: five to Magic Johnson and five to Kobe Bryant.

The franchise also has a staggering 31 conference championships to its credit.

The Clippers, by contrast, have never won a championship. In fact, in their 43-year history, they have never even won their division. They have carried a legacy of struggle and mediocrity with them from Buffalo to San Diego to L.A.

And the Clips' tenancy in the City of Angels has been tumultuous in itself.

Aside from a couple of good seasons out of Danny Manning in the early '90s and Elton Brand a decade later, the franchise has been burdened with the weight of losing, which is very difficult to cast off.

The Lakers can celebrate the likes of Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal. Jerry West's silhouette is the logo for the NBA.

The Clippers, on the other hand, have never had a player worthy of having his jersey retired.

At the end of the day, it's about the rings. And in that respect, the Clippers just can't compare to their intercity rivals.


This Season

Prior to the start of the 2012-13 season, The Las Vegas Hotel and Casino had the Lakers as favorites to win the NBA championship, with the same 9-4 odds as the Miami Heat (via the Los Angeles Times).

The odds of a Clippers championship were set at 30-1, the same as the Philadelphia 76ers. That just goes to show the deep stain left by a losing legacy.

But things look different for the Clippers now. Last season was no fluke.

They have an MVP candidate in Chris Paul, another of the league's marquee players in Blake Griffin and a whole lot of depth behind them.

Everyone from Eric Bledsoe to DeAndre Jordan to Matt Barnes has been huge for the Clips so far.

The team is exciting to watch, and they have developed their own distinctive style of play. Far from the ruthless, grinding efficiency of the San Antonio Spurs, the Clippers feature an explosive, exciting and erratic brand of basketball that draws fans.

This is what the Lakers roster was supposed to have achieved. After finally pairing Kobe Bryant with two future Hall of Famers in addition to Pau Gasol, this season figured to be another dominant run for the purple and gold.

But Dwight Howard has battled shoulder issues and Steve Nash just hasn't clicked under old coach Mike D'Antoni the way he used to. 

The Lakers are exciting to watch this season, but not for their enthralling style of ball. Rather, they have been compelling only as something to rubberneck at—the NBA's most gruesome wreck of twisted metal and max contracts.

The Clippers have also surprised somewhat this year, but in a different manner.

Their identity is lobs and alley-oops, but if you examine the statistical difference between them and the Lakers this year, you'll find that the crucial edge is on defense. 

Per 100 possessions, the Clippers average just one more point scored than the Lakers (109 to 108), but they yield three fewer points on defense (103 to 106). The Clippers also force turnovers on five-percent more of their defensive possessions than the Lakers (per 82games.com).

It's the improved defense that has buoyed the Clippers in their close games. They're allowing fewer points, forcing a lower opponent's field-goal percentage and creating more turnovers compared to last year, when they finished fifth in the West overall.

And as the old saw holds, defense never goes cold.


Metropolitan Hegemony

Los Angeles is a town obsessed with style and trends. A legacy of winning, even one as great as that of the Lakers, doesn't guarantee a city's devotion to a franchise in perpetuity.

But it's awfully hard to unseat the king. Especially when the throne is built upon a winning pedigree comparable to that of any of the finest franchises in pro sports.

A parallel example of this battle for Los Angeles can be found in the MLB rivalry between the New York Yankees and New York Mets.

Despite the Yankees' hallowed history of success and copious championships, the mid-'80s found them hitting the skids while the Mets were flourishing in Queens.

After a ground ball through Bill Buckner's legs, the Mets were World Series champs in '86 for only the second time in team history. Young guns Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry captivated fans.

But it was far from enough to take the New York crown from the Yankees. Maybe a three-peat would've helped, but one glorious championship did not suffice.

That title did cement an entire generation of younger Mets fans, however.

And the same could be the case for these Clippers. This could be the start of something big.

In order to seriously challenge the Lakers for NBA supremacy across Los Angeles County, the Clips would need to win at least back-to-back championships. Winning just one would be a great start.

But they would need to establish themselves as an NBA dynasty.

And continued futility from the Lakers at the same time would also help.

If reality TV has taught me nothing else, it's that Los Angelenos are vain, fickle people relentlessly enslaved by what's trending.

Therein lies the best hope for the Clippers to take at least some ownership of LA away from the Lakers. They need to capture the younger generation which has grown up watching Kobe Bryant win five titles. 

With the Showtime era long gone, the sun setting on Kobe's career, and if Jim Buss intent on giving his team a new signature—that is, losing—the door may be open just a crack for the Clippers to assert themselves.

They won't make anyone who's old enough to remember them forget about George Mikan or Magic Johnson, but they could capture a whole new generation of fans who grew up insisting that LeBron James is better than Kobe Bryant. 

Now, Chris Paul is better than Kobe, too.



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