7:30 pm PST, on TNT
Clippers vs. Lakers has always been billed as the "Battle for LA", even though the "battle" as it were, was never quite a fight between two titans. It wasn't a rivalry, or even a feud. It didn't resemble combat.
It was a mauling. It was the Varsity team beating up on the lowly JV. It was the big league club scrimmaging against the Triple-A squad. It was a joke.
Tonight, the script is very much the same, but altogether different.
In a season full of indignities, disgraceful turns and forgettable moments, this is one of the worst. The Lakers, it seems, are little brother. The Clippers are the ones laughing.
The 9th place, 25-28 Los Angeles Lakers take home court tonight against the 3rd place 38-17 Clippers in a battle that most at the season's beginning thought would be for the Pacific Division--not a crucial game for the Lake Show to keep it's head above water.
The Clips come into this game hot, having won 3 out of the previous 4 with a returning Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Blake Griffin, defeating the Knicks, Sixers and Rockets by an average of over 13 points. CP, who sat out for three weeks with a bone bruise in his knee, has looked fantastic in the victories, averaging 20 points, 10 assists and shooting 64%, while Griffin has poured in 21 points, 11 rebounds and shot 61% in the same time frame. As a team, the Clippers are defending well, with or without their superstars--only 2 teams have scored more than 100 against them this month, one of which was LeBron and the Heat last Friday (which, to be honest, should almost be omitted seeing as James is currently doubling as an indestructible basketball robot).
Even as well as the Clippers are playing, this is a game the Lakers know they have to win. This being the last game before the All-Star break, the Lakers have the opportunity to go 2 games under .500 for the first time since January 4th--in a loss to these same Clips--and head into the All-Star break feeling good about themselves. Despite winning 8 of their last 11 games, the Lakers haven't played all-world ball. In their last 7 wins, they've blown double digit leads in 6 of them, with the 7th win coming from behind 20 to defeat the Bobcats. Kobe Bryant will try to rebound from his most confounding offensive game since Game 7 against the Suns in 2006, with coach Vinny del Negro undoubtedly throwing Mamba defensive specialists Caron Butler, Matt Barnes and Grant Hill his way for most of the game.
With a win, the Clippers will take the season series from the Lakers for the first time in nearly two decades, another feather in the cap of a squad that's already the best in franchise history. The Lakers do have home court advantage tonight, but there's little doubt that the Clips are the favorites. In order to garner the W, the Lake Show's big men will have to put interior pressure on DeAndre Jordan and Griffin, getting the two into foul trouble and then punishing reserves of Ryan Hollins' ilk. Chris Paul simply will not be stopped, especially with the personnel the Lakers have on defense, so the key is to simply use size and strength to overmatch the other 11 guys active for the Clips.
One team on the way to the playoffs, ready to compete for a NBA title. The other gasping for air, merely trying to sniff the postseason. This is the same story we've always known. Just not the way the Lakers, or their fans, have always known it.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino