The Clippers and Lakers simultaneously took the court Wednesday night, and their matchups could not have been any more diametric.
The 28-11 Lakers donned their purple roadies for a barnburner in Oakland against the mediocre Warriors, while the developing Clips had a daunting undertaking: The 30-9 Heat.
Conventional wisdom would have the Lakers beating up on the Warriors in high-scoring fashion and the Clippers melting into a puddle of fear on the STAPLES Center court against "The Heatles."
There was nothing conventional about this night.
The Clippers showed no fear, scorching the nets for 44 points in the first quarter on 77 percent shooting. The 18 point lead they collected at that point would mark the high point of the game for L.A., as the Heat, like clockwork, made their methodical comeback.
To see them climb out of a few big holes lately has been fascinating to watch. Even when they're down by 18, you never count them out because of the talent they have.
Still, the 68 first-half points against the East's best record symbolize that this immature and undisciplined team is growing up.
Meanwhile, the Lakers were taking a while to get into gear in Oakland. The offense looked sluggish, scoring only 45 in the first half en route to an eight-point deficit. Kobe had five turnovers before halftime, and it looked like the same old Laker story: An undisciplined, disinterested, lackadaisical showing against a vastly inferior team.
As good team's do, and as the Heat did a few minutes earlier, the Lakers scratched back into the contest. Phil Jackson went to the well in the third, when Kobe and Pau Gasol combined on 6-10 shooting to cut the margin to six.
That's when the drama started.
The Heat, trailing by 12 to start the fourth inside a raucous Staples, quickly cut the lead to two in less than six minutes. With no lead to fall back on, this game looked like a signature Clipper meltdown—look like a playoff team for a half, be the most exciting team in the league and work the crowd into a maniacal rage, then give the game away in a series of errors reserved only for the Clippers.
Tempers flared on the court as the Clipper crowd roared from the stands. Due to the loose game called by the refs, some chippy plays led to a pile-up after a whistle that netted Mario Chalmers and Blake Griffin technical fouls.
As a side note: Blake was getting pounded on all night, and he looked so mad that the top of his head was about to blow off. He got his revenge with 24 points, 14 boards and three assists.
As time winded down, the Clipper lead stabilized and things were looking optimistic.
The Lakers were playing catch-up while the Clips nursed their lead. They took their first lead of the second half at the seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter, and played nip and tuck with the explosive Warriors down the stretch.
Once again, Kobe Bryant made the last five minutes his own and his brilliance cannot be understated.
Much has been made of the aging Kobe's decrease in playing time due to knee troubles. His NBA mileage is supposedly threatening to cut his career short, the athleticism and explosion of his youth are a distant memory and he has settled into a post-prime jump shooting routine, a la MJ.
Who cares about all that?
Kobe sure doesn't and he showed it in crunch time, draining two difficult jumpers, setting up Ron Artest for a wide-open three, nailing a long three and grabbing two rebounds on defense all in a two-minute span.
Kobe scored 17 of his game-high 39 in the last 5:49 of the game, to leave no doubt that the Lakers would pull away.
It's finishes in tonight's game that support the notion that Kobe is a top-five all-time player: The way he elevates his own game, sets up his teammates and crushes the opponent's hope.
It was a true pleasure to watch Kobe do all of those things.
But even as the Oracle Arena crowd was silenced for the last time by the visiting Lakers, there was still more drama to be had back at STAPLES Center.
After all the chippiness, the Clippers still had to finish the job they started two hours earlier. So many times they've started the job so admirably and capably, only to sputter before completing it. But this Clipper team is revitalized, you can see it in the way Baron Davis and team-jester-no-longer DeAndre Jordan are playing.
Winners of seven of their last 10, the Clips are looking like a bunch that actually believes in itself.
It helps that it has the entire NBA fan base rooting for the bumbling, skiddish step-brother of the mighty Lakers, but they still have to put the work in on the floor. The Spurs saw what the Clips could do in early December when they waxed them in LA.
After the jubilee of beating Miami, the Clippers are maturing together by the game and developing a reputation for themselves as giant-killers.
The next giant to visit the Clippers? The Lakers later this week. After getting so much joy from both Los Angeles wins on Wednesday, this is one torn sportswriter.