LOS ANGELES — We've all fought our share of losing battles. Here's a suggestion from a Los Angeles Clippers team still trapped in a Los Angeles Lakers world but figuring out that inferiority doesn't have to be complex at all:
Maintain your dignity as you lose the battle…and work your tail off trying to win some other one.
The natural human emotions of envy and coveting thy neighbor's 16 NBA titles have been staples of past Clippers teams and their fans. Those emotions aren't at the forefront anymore with this Clippers team led by a championship coach in Doc Rivers and a self-confident star in Chris Paul.
If you want an example of losing a battle with dignity, it was Paul painting the picture of fans yelling at him during the Clippers-Lakers game Thursday night.
"It's still a Laker town! It's still a Laker town!" they howled at Paul, who indeed first wanted that 2011 deal to the Lakers.
As Paul recounted the heckling, he followed up with complete calm about this Laker town: "It is. No secret. For us, we just have to worry about us."
Oh, and the Clippers won the game on the Lakers' home floor by 48 points.
That happened because the Clippers weren't solely about teaching the Lakers a lesson. The Clippers were unrelenting about playing the right way no matter the score, taking all that the careless, clueless Lakers were giving them.
Blake Griffin said the Clippers' chatter at halftime while up 33 was about "really finishing out a game. Why not go up 40? Why not go up 50? Why not keep getting better and executing? Why not keep getting better and executing? That's what's going to get us better in the long run."
More and more, the Clippers' energy is in the right place, in the moment, in pursuit of excellence. That spirit—"Every game is about us and what we do," Paul said—gives reason to believe something special could happen this season, even though there was a letdown in a near-loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night and logic suggests it'll take more than one season for Rivers' system to lock in.
One of the biggest stories early in Rivers' first Clippers year was his unilateral decision to cover the Lakers' banners (but not the Los Angeles Kings' banners at the other end of the arena) with posters of Clippers players for Clippers home games at Staples Center.
It seemed to be a direct gesture to defend the Clippers against the Lakers' history, the stuff of a classic inferiority complex. But stop and think about it: If the Clippers need to get the Lakers out of their heads, to feel completely like this is the Clippers' home arena, it makes total sense.
The square footage of the Lakers' locker room is noticeably greater than the Clippers' locker room at Staples, but ignorance can be bliss. The less the Clippers dwell on what the other guys have or had, the better they can focus on the tasks at hand.
Where we put our energy in anything we do is critical; it dictates our vision and our path. Of course, the Clippers find the Lakers' unquestioned legitimacy annoying, but the reaction needs to be making themselves legitimate.
Clippers guard Darren Collison knows the lay of the land: He grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, about 40 miles east of L.A., and played four years at UCLA, finishing up right when the Lakers were being crowned anew in 2009.
The first-year Clipper said after the 48-point margin of victory to follow up the 36-point margin of victory in a Clippers home game on Jan. 10: "We've got bigger goals right now. No disrespect to the Lakers."
The teams meet one more time in an ABC Sunday showcase April 6, with just more than a week left in the regular season—the Lakers' last flash of relevance.
The Lakers have their losing record—the loss to the Clippers was No. 41, followed by loss No. 42 to the Denver Nuggets—and come mid-April the Clippers will step up to a very rare window of opportunity to win over fans. The regular-season TV ratings that feature the Lakers' average being more than double the Clippers' average will be forgotten, and the epic spotlight of another comeback attempt against even greater odds will be barely a glint in Kobe Bryant's eye.
After the Lakers have made the playoffs all but one time in the past 19 years (2005, when the Clippers likewise failed to qualify despite the legendary one-two punch of Elton Brand and Kerry Kittles as their only players making more than $7 million), something very different awaits this spring.
All that will be happening come spring is the Clippers trying to win playoff games—and that is the battle they're already trying to win in understanding their winning template is to defend fantastically and run consistently.
Smaller goals just seem to get achieved when you're blazing a trail toward a larger goal, and whaddaya know, the Clippers have beaten the Lakers six of the past seven meetings—the aberration being the season opener in which Clippers forward Matt Barnes, UCLA product and former Laker, said the problem was the opposite of the norm: "Kinda overlooked 'em."
That's where the losing battle stands inside that smaller locker room the Clippers inhabit.
It's a smaller battle.
What would it take for the Clippers to wrest L.A. from the Lakers?
Someone in red and blue might've been annoyed by the headlines all over the web after the Clippers' most lopsided victory ever was trumped by the Lakers' most lopsided loss ever:
The news judgment in prioritizing the Lakers' worst loss ever over the Clippers' best victory over is fair. Reality remains that the Lakers being bad is a bigger deal than the Clippers being good.
The Lakers being anything is a bigger deal than the Clippers being anything.
Yet this isn't about local ratings or global popularity. Control what you can control. Focus on the task at hand. Leave everything else with the Lakers in the periphery.