It May Just Be One Season, but Clippers Own LA...for Now
When Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers cruised to a 109-95 win over Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers on April 7, L.A.'s second-class citizens enjoyed much more than the satisfaction of a single victory.
The Clippers proved that this season, the Staples Center—and even more meaningfully, Los Angeles—belonged to them.
Historically, the Clips' win has massive significance. Not only did the club extend its franchise-best win total to 51, it also clinched its first Pacific Division title in history. In addition, the Clippers completed the first sweep of a season series against the Lakers since 1974-75, when the Clips were known as the Buffalo Braves.
It's hard to get a grip on the idea of the Clippers being the class of L.A., but it's just not possible to spin the story any other way. Once a perennial doormat, CP3 and Co. are now the toast of Tinseltown.
And they've done it in the simplest way possible: by being better than the Lakers on the court.
On the season, the Clippers have bested their intracity rivals in virtually every meaningful statistical category. Offensively, the Clips have posted an efficiency rating of 107.5 points per 100 possessions. The Lakers lag behind at 105.4.
On defense, the story is the same: Per 100 possessions, the Clippers allow a stingy 101.1 points per 100 possessions, while the Lakers check in at a more generous 103.7.
On the boards, the advantage again belongs to the Clippers, who pull down 51.5 percent of all available rebounds. Despite featuring the towering frontcourt duo of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, the Lakers grab just 51.1 percent.
Based on all of those statistical advantages, it shouldn't be a surprise that the Clippers also dominate the Lakers in one of the most important metrics of all: per-game point differential. Over the course of the 2012-13 season, the Clippers have handled their opponents by an average of 6.3 points per game.
In contrast, the Lakers have squeaked by with a mere plus-0.9 points-per-game differential.
And from a head-to-head perspective, the Clippers' statistical superiority is pretty clear. In the three meetings preceding this one, the Clips had utterly dominated the Lakers, winning by an average of 13 points.
In that sense, the Clips' latest 14-point victory was a pretty predictable outcome.
Stats aside, there's also a deeper, more meaningful difference between the two L.A. teams as the season winds down. And this one's a little more touchy-feely.
The Clippers are brimming with confidence, assured of a playoff berth and enjoying good health and good vibes. A final push could mean a seed as high as No. 3, especially now that the Denver Nuggets will be without Danilo Gallinari for the rest of the season after the forward tore his ACL on April 4. At this point, the Clips' biggest concern is getting everyone ready for what could be a deep playoff run.
On the other hand, the Lakers are stumbling to the finish, now motivated as much by a desire to avoid embarrassment as anything:
Very tense Laker lockeroom after the game. after all this time, the reality of missing playoffs is upon them— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) April 7, 2013
Should the star-studded Lakers actually miss out on the postseason, their 2012-13 campaign may well go down in NBA lore as one of the single most disappointing seasons by any team. Fear is a great motivator, but it's been a long time since the Lakers' top priority was saving face.
In the past, that's been the Clippers' job.
What's even more interesting is that the Clips' tenure at the top might last a while. As is the case with most comparisons between the two clubs, the Clippers' future objectives are remarkably simple compared to the Lakers'.
If Paul re-signs as a free agent this offseason, the Clippers are essentially set. They'll be worry-free and primed to add a piece or two to build on whatever happens during this year's playoffs.
The Lakers, however, are facing a bevy of tricky decisions. Howard will hit free agency right alongside Paul, but the center's future plans hardly seem certain. Plus, nagging injuries to Steve Nash and Gasol could have the Lakers entertaining a host of trade options in an effort to rebuild their roster with younger, healthier players.
With so many possible changes in the future, and a recent history of knee-jerk decisions, the Lakers could look markedly different next season.
Suddenly, the Clips are the model of stability in Southern California.
Over the years, the Lakers have held sway in Los Angeles as the city's marquee team. One season, no matter how historic, isn't enough to totally change the Purple and Gold hues that paint the city.
But right now, at this moment, Los Angeles is a Clippers town. And based on the way these two clubs are positioned for the future, it's possible that it could stay that way for a while longer.
All stats via NBA.com and are accurate through games played April 7.
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