The Los Angeles Clippers have dramatically shifted "Battle of L.A." supremacy into their favor against the Los Angeles Lakers. In recent years, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, “Lob City” and “A Tribe Called Bench” have altered the Clippers’ fortunes from NBA laughingstock to playoff contender.
The Lakers, meanwhile, saw three different head coaches on the sidelines after bringing in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Their struggles led to one of the worst seasons in franchise history—certainly one of the most disappointing.
The Lakers’ championship aspirations in 2013 crashed, burned and ended with a four-game, first-round sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. At the same time, however, the Clippers were ousted in the first round 4-2 against the Memphis Grizzlies (yet another disappointing playoff showing).
All things considered, though, Clippers fans have it better than Lakers fans as we approach the 2013-14 NBA season for a variety of reasons.
Clippers Current Advantage
Last season, the Clippers won the "Battle of L.A." matchup with the Lakers 4-0. They didn’t drop a single matchup against the reeling Lakers and won those four games by an average of 13.25 points (not what you’d call closely contested).
For the first time since 1992-93, the Clippers won the regular season series against the Lakers while also finishing the season with a better overall record. Clippers fans rarely have bragging rights against their purple and gold foes, but they did last season for the first time in two decades.
A major reason why the Clips dominated the head-to-head matchup with the Lakers is because, quite frankly, they’re the better team right now.
Depth, Age and Injuries
No player on the Clippers roster can match the career accolades of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol or Steve Nash. Those three Lakers combine for seven championship rings and three MVP awards. Nevertheless, the Clippers' depth from top to bottom nets them a huge advantage in the rivalry.
A year ago, the Clippers bench ranked first among all NBA teams in minutes (21.4 per game) and third in points (40.1 per game), according to Hoops Stats.
By contrast, the Lakers bench ranked 29th in minutes (14.3) and 28th in points (25.8).
The Lakers inability to get steady production from the second unit led to a dismal year, but their bench problems were simply exacerbated by age and injuries.
With an average age of 28.6 years, the Lakers are the third-oldest team in the league, according to Hispanos NBA. Championship contenders like the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs round out the top five of that list, but the major difference with those teams is health.
Nash missed 32 games in his first season with the Lakers after missing just 37 games combined from 2004-2012 with the Phoenix Suns.
Gasol was absent from 33 games after missing just one game combined over the previous two seasons.
Bryant tore his Achilles on April 12 against the Golden State Warriors after playing 48, 47, 43, 47, 41 and 48 minutes in his previous six games, respectively. He played an additional 45 minutes against Golden State before going down.
The Lakers are completely and utterly dependent upon those three veterans to win games. Without a solid bench, those three have to play big minutes. By playing big minutes, their bodies are prone to break down. If their bodies break down (which they certainly did in 2012-13), their lack of depth is exploited even further.
As you can see, there’s a distinctive pattern there.
With guys like Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes, Darren Collison, J.J. Redick, Antawn Jamison and Jamal Crawford on the roster, the Los Angeles Clippers can beat teams in a variety of different ways while resting their starters.
The Lakers don’t have that luxury.
Lakers' Uncertain Future
Clippers fans can take solace in the fact that the core of Chris Paul (28), Blake Griffin (24) and DeAndre Jordan (25) is younger than 30 years old across the board.
The Lakers no longer have youth on their side. The current core of Nash (39), Bryant (35) and Gasol (33) is inching its way toward retirement. The age and injury trouble of those three guys leads to uncertainty in the present, as well as a problematic future.
The only Lakers players under contract past the 2013-14 season are Nash, Robert Sacre, Nick Young (player option) and Elias Harris (non-guaranteed). As a result, general manager Mitch Kupchak and the rest of the Lakers front office will have to rely upon free agency in order to maintain a winning culture.
With upcoming free agents like Bryant, Paul Pierce and Luol Deng, as well as early termination options for LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the 2014 offseason is shaping up to be a busy one.
The Lakers usually come out of uncertain times unscathed, but that shouldn’t be a consolation. They’ll essentially have to reload the entire roster from scratch after the 2013-14 season.
If they fail to land big-name free agents—like when the Dallas Mavericks whiffed on Deron Williams, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul—the Lakers will face a long road to rebuilding. Trading away numerous first-round draft picks sealed that fate long ago.
The Los Angeles Lakers may have the best winning percentage in the history of the NBA (.619), as well as 16 championship trophies, but with so many question marks facing the storied franchise, the Clippers are currently in the driver’s seat.
The Clips still have work to do in order reach the NBA Finals, but Doc Rivers may be the final piece needed to get them there.