Lakers Insider: Clippers' Playoff Run Adds Spark to Growing Rivalry with Lakers

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterMay 15, 2014

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LOS ANGELES — It has been a pretty good couple of weeks for all you Los Angeles Lakers fans.

All your concerns—more like undying, vociferous detestation—got Mike D'Antoni's attention. And much the way the now-former Lakers coach espoused that the "ball finds energy," the negativity found D'Antoni—and it was unpleasant enough from you, Kobe Bryant and others that the Lakers are getting a new head coach.

Then your one and only deserter, Dwight Howard, didn't "stay" in the playoffs with the Houston Rockets either. Howard's first grand foray with his new team and co-star James Harden ended just as quickly as last year—in the first round. Plus, Howard was shot down by Damian Lillard, a Kobe fave whom Bryant promoted for the 2014 All-Star team and heralded in a tweet way back in April 2013: "#vintagevino. Lillard is the real deal #mambasalute."

Then, Phil Jackson—known in these circles as the one who got away—took his first big swing as New York Knicks president and missed...with Steve Kerr spurning him Wednesday to go coach the Golden State Warriors, the team announced.

All in all, a nice run for Lakers fans.

(Well, only compared to the disaster of the past season, of course. Once upon a time, the Lakers used to view the second round of the playoffs as their on-deck circle to gear up for titles and parades.)

The one thing that hasn't broken right for the Lakers lately?

Those talented, resilient, exciting Clippers.

The Lakers' intra-arena rivals were on the brink of a first-round disappointment amid the Donald Sterling fiasco, but they held off the Warriors in Game 7 and are engrossed in another serious series with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers' preseason decision to cover up the Lakers' championship banners at Staples Center has been proved fortuitous. (The only flaw in the plan: Jared Dudley, who has played six total seconds in the past two games, was featured in one of the posters of Clippers players covering the Lakers' banners. Maybe if someone colors outside the lines on Dudley's picture, people Thursday night will just assume it's Glen "Big Baby" Davis.)

The Clippers covered the Lakers' title banners with posters of their own players this season.
The Clippers covered the Lakers' title banners with posters of their own players this season.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

In any case, there has been no hint of the Lakers' existence at these home Clippers playoff games, with even the shiny door to the Lakers' locker room hidden by stacks of stored chairs.

The guy helping drive the Clippers' fast-paced game is associate head coach Alvin Gentry, who could've chosen to help the Lakers and his buddy D'Antoni develop their offense. But Gentry, who learned all about offensive spacing and rhythm as D'Antoni's assistant in Phoenix, instead went with Rivers—and Rivers brought Gentry up at a news conference last week as a key to the Clippers' style.

Then there's Matt Barnes, who signed on but failed to help extend the Lakers' dynasty in 2011 and '12. Now, Barnes has become a prominent member of the Clippers' rotation.

The Clippers' leader is Chris Paul, who could've been a Laker, of course, had David Stern and the NBA not nixed a proposed deal that would have put Paul in purple and gold in 2011. In some alternate universe where righteous Adam Silver rose to power sooner, would the Paul trade have gone through, Lakers fans?

But even Silver, who may look the hero to Lakers fans for urging Jeanie Buss to seize more of the team's leadership, has become a Clippers convert, of sorts. Consider that the new commissioner is the one boosting the Clippers' fortunes through the roof by booting Sterling, helped Stern undercut free-spending teams in the last collective bargaining agreement and now could be greasing the wheels for Lakers legend Magic Johnson to own the team—that's not a recipe to make Lakers fans happy.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

As far as Johnson goes, his Lakers loyalty goes as far as the eight to 12 months he estimated to CNN's Anderson Cooper it will take before the Clippers go on the market.

"What I would really want to do is own the Lakers," said Johnson, who sold his 4 percent of the Lakers in 2011. "Any team I really want to have or be a part of would be the Lakers—not the Clippers. But if I can't be a part of them and [there] is a team out there like the Clippers that I like and my partners like...we have to wait and see."

In my book, it's a good thing if the Clippers can gain and maintain legitimacy, helping spur Lakers fans to be actively engaged in rooting against them in the playoffs right now. Those 48- and 36-point losses to the Clippers this season should sting...and to add some fuel to the fire, recall that Blake Griffin said the Clippers' annoyance with their opening-night loss to the Lakers was rooted in the Clippers whiffing in such a big game, as opposed to in such a big game against the Lakers.

However, as much as we in the media are pushing the concept of the Clippers' potential, it's impossible to fathom the Clippers threatening the Lakers' mythic status in the city, league or sports world.

This Clippers run isn't about a potential changing of the guard. This is about building up one franchise to respectability—and maybe cultivating a real, meaningful rivalry.


Lakers Learn Lesson in Kerr's Move to Warriors

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 16:  TNT announcers Reggie Miller, Steve Kerr and Marv Albert during the 2014 NBA All-Star Game as part of the 2014 All-Star Weekend at Smoothie King Center on February 16, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expr
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With their immediate future prospects questionable, the Lakers have more interest than usual in hiring an unproven head coach. Considering Steve Kerr is a Pacific Palisades native and San Diego resident, it would've made sense if the Lakers had decided to go hard after Kerr, a rare potential coaching gem with new ideas.

They obviously didn't. And that unto itself is noteworthy because it's not the Lakers way to sit out a high-profile, high-priced fight. The Lakers could've made it a three-ring circus of massive media-market teams—bear in mind that the Warriors owners are intent on moving to San Francisco—throwing millions at the unproven Kerr.

But as revealed in Kerr's decision to refuse the Knicks, having a championship-ready roster is of colossal importance to coaching candidates who know how much grief they'll get if they don't win.

Remember how Rivers ditched the prestigious but rebuilding Boston Celtics for the chance to win immediately (and wield more power) with the Clippers? Being the Lakers' head coach is obviously desirable, but right now, it's not what it once was.


Graduation Day

Apr 8, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Jodie Meeks (20) is defended by Houston Rockets forward Omri Casspi (18) at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Let's take a moment to high-five Jodie Meeks. Though a free agent this summer, Meeks made it clear he was more excited about getting his diploma from the University of Kentucky in May than he was about cashing in for the first time this June.

Meeks graduated Saturday—walking in cap and gown five years after he left Kentucky to begin his NBA career. His degree is in business marketing, and he got there by going back to Kentucky each offseason to take classes.

Meeks turned pro after his junior season rather than stay once John Calipari got the job as Kentucky coach. In his new book, Players First, Calipari writes about Meeks: "It's worked out for him—he's made it in the league—so he did the right thing."

Via Twitter on Saturday, Calipari also offered this: "Jodie has proved you can chase your dreams AND get a degree."

Kevin Ding covers the Lakers for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.


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