Editor’s note: It’s Rivalry Week at SB Nation, which means we’re going to look back at some of the biggest rivalries in Lakers history, as well as a few that are on the horizon.
For the first time in NBA history, the Lakers and Clippers are the top-two seeds in the Western Conference, and the games they’ve played against each other have reflected how close they are in talent this season. In two of the three games they’ve played against each other this season, the score has been tied at the end of the third quarter. In the one other game they played, they were separated by just four points at the end of the third quarter.
To say that one team has asserted their dominance over the other would be inaccurate — at least in terms of the games they’ve played this year. Historically speaking, the Lakers have been miles ahead of the Clippers, which has made it hard for some fans buy into the brewing rivalry.
The Lakers hold a 103-54 lead in regular season matchups between the two teams because, prior to the 2010s, the Clippers were a consistently bad basketball team. Sure, they had their moments before then, but they never reached the heights the Lakers did. For context, the Clippers made the playoffs one time between 2000 and 2010. In that 10-year span, the Lakers made the Finals seven times and won five championships.
The Clippers still haven’t reached those heights, but they’ve enjoyed stable success over the last 10 years, making the playoffs eight times compared to the Lakers’ four, and winning 24 of their last 30 matchups with the Lakers.
There is enough history there for them to be considered rivals, if for no other reason than the fact that they play in the same city. And that’s without even acknowledging the current bad blood between the two rosters. So why is everyone so reluctant to acknowledge it as one?
In an interview with Joe Buck and Oliver Hudson on the “Daddy Issues Podcast” earlier this month, Lakers team president Jeanie Buss explained why she doesn’t view the Clippers as a rival, and her thoughts mirror the feelings of a lot of Lakers fans:
“You can’t build a rivalry until there is a rivalry... We’ve never played them in the playoffs. Whereas with Boston, we can go back and go, ‘Remember when this happened? Remember when that happened?’ All of our playoff experience against Boston, that’s a rivalry because you have a history. We just haven’t had a history with the Clippers in the playoffs.”
While that’s true, it’s apparent that there’s a ton of tension between these two teams and their fans — and why wouldn’t there be? As an organization, the Lakers are trying to maintain the status quo: Los Angeles is a Lakers town and it always will be, despite the strides the Clippers have made in closing that gap over the last decade. Meanwhile, the Clippers want to get out of the Lakers’ shadow, and they have an opportunity to do that by winning their first championship ever, which would come 10 years after the Lakers won their last championship.
Then, there’s the storylines between the players. Can Kawhi Leonard take the crown from LeBron James? Is Paul George a better No. 2 option than Anthony Davis? Can Alex Caruso be more impactful in a playoff series than Patrick Beverley or Lou Williams? And, my personal favorite: Which of the Morris twins will reign supreme once and for all?
The Lakers-Clippers rivalry might not be on the same level as the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, or even the Lakers-Kings rivalry, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a rivalry — it is, and we’d be remiss not to enjoy it in real time. At the very least, we can enjoy the beginnings of the rivalry, which will hopefully reach a whole new level this postseason.
After all, these teams meeting in the playoffs hasn’t happened once in 36 years — who knows when it will happen again?