LeBron James and Anthony Davis against Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Frank Vogel against Doc Rivers. The offseason reshaped the Lakers and Clippers, and now they’ll be in playoff contention against each other for the foreseeable future.
But in the meantime, all that we know for sure separates L.A.’s powerhouses is a hallway in Staples Center.
For anyone on the outside looking in, what’s brewing in L.A. has all the makings of a rivalry. The Lakers and Clippers each have some of the best players in the league and both can easily make their way into a deep run in the playoffs. But the actual players in said rivalry are conveying different sentiments.
“We’re here to play basketball, and I’m sure they are as well. They have a great team, a great coach and a great organization. For us it’s about getting better each time we step on the floor.” Davis said when he was asked about Tuesday’s game against their newly-improved foe.
Much like his teammate, Danny Green has said that the Lakers don’t see the Clippers as rivals. They recognize the talent the Clippers have, but for the Lakers, the only threat they see to their own potential is themselves.
But before that, in July, Green said that matchups between the L.A. teams would be fun, while Avery Bradley echoed that those games were the type to be circled on a calendar.
Leonard and George have kept their thoughts about the rivalry on the down-low. The only time they’ve talked about it was the day they were introduced to the NBA world as Clippers, and even then, both took two different approaches.
George spoke through the Clippers’ lens, that they’ll drive the focus on themselves to reach the top spot. Leonard, on the other hand, talked about the Clippers being the better team in L.A. recently.
“As far as the last few years, as far as a basketball standpoint, the Clippers have been better, but it’s just media. They’re going to get the attention. They’re the Los Angeles Lakers, they been winning championships for a long time,” Leonard told reporters then. “It’s just a media aspect. Even if we do win, who knows how the coverage will change over?
“If we go to the championship and win we’re not getting no coverage, that’s fine with me. I’m good.”
The Lakers and Clippers have dwelled in a big brother, little brother relationship since they’ve started sharing L.A. residency.
Since relocating from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984, the Clippers have watched the Lakers win eight titles. But with their last playoff appearance being in 2013, the Lakers have watched the Clippers develop a talented team that has been in the playoffs in seven of their last eight seasons. But their success has never overlapped for very long, so this has never really felt like it has a real chance to be a rivalry. Until now.
Leonard, arguably the biggest free agent in 2019, by all indications came really close to signing with the Lakers this summer. Had the Clippers not been able to trade for George, he could have been wearing purple and gold tonight.
But instead of creating arguably the greatest big three of all time, two of NBA’s most talented dynamic duos are separated by a hallway in the heart of Los Angeles.
Both teams have made major roster changes since last season, and playoff contention is likely for both of them over next couple of years. Whether or not either team actually does have a turnaround season is a waiting game. Per ESPN’s preseason predictions, the Lakers and Clippers are expected to have big turnaround seasons, with the Clippers winning seven more games and vaulting several spots up the Western Conference standings, and the Lakers jumping into the playoff bracket with 14 more wins than last year. Still, it’s worth keeping in mind that there are 82 games in a season and we have yet to see one happen in front of our eyes.
But regardless of exactly how many wins either team eventually accrues, tonight starts a new chapter between the Lakers and Clippers, one that involves some of the most talented players the game has seen (even if George won’t be playing tonight, so we’ll have to wait a bit to watch these two juggernauts battle at full strength). Whether the players claim they see this as a rivalry or not almost doesn’t matter. Once these two are scrapping and clawing for Western Conference supremacy, it’s going to feel like one.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. PST from STAPLES Center on TNT nationally and Spectrum Sportsnet locally.