Los Angeles is, was and always will be a Lakers city. No matter how hard the Clippers may try, no matter the billboards they buy, there is no unseating of the Lakers.
Why so much certainty? Because for some time now, the Clippers have been the more well-run franchise, at least when it comes to the basketball side. They’ve put together a competent supporting cast around its superstars, a supporting cast so good that when the Clippers have suffered injuries to its superstars perhaps worse than the Lakers have, they’ve remained afloat all season long.
Part of that is because they committed to a coach like Ty Lue when the Lakers wouldn’t. They built a culture behind him that the Lakers haven’t. They’ve backed Lue when the Lakers haven’t treated Frank Vogel the same. Their front office and coaching staff work in harmony while the Lakers constantly seem at odds with one another.
The result is a Clippers side that has won four straight, six of their last seven and is surging toward making it out of the play-in game coming up against a Lakers side tonight that has lost three straight, six of their last seven and is plummeting down the standings, now only holding a two-game lead over the 11th seed.
These trends are not new, though. Once a series dominated by the Lakers when the Clippers were the league’s laughing stock, the series has flipped strongly in the Clippers' favor thanks to the Lob City era.
Despite 6 Laker titles since the LAL/LAC move to DTLA in 1999 as well as plenty of early mismanaged Sterling years, the Clips can even the Staples/Crypt H2H vs LAL with a W tomorrow after a decade of dominance.— The Lob, The Jam, The Podcast (@TheLobTheJamPod) March 2, 2022
The record currently stands at 45-44 in favor of LAL. It was 38-13.
The obvious caveat is the Lakers’ title in 2020 — a bubble where the Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead in case you forgot — but the Clippers have built the better foundation as a franchise. Sure, they’re still the Clippers and they still are regularly good for a peak Clippers moment to remind you of that.
Even taking that into account, it’s hard not to compare the two organizations heading into the final meeting of the two teams.
The Lakers are reeling and while they continue to speak words of confidence that they will eventually get it right before season’s end, nothing on the court indicates they will. LeBron James and Russell Westbrook don’t seem to be any closer to building chemistry than they were at the start of the season. The team is still experimenting with lineups without any sort of consistency despite it being March 2 and the schedule three-quarters of the way finished.
The Clippers, meanwhile, find a new contributor game in and game out. Over the last seven games, five different players have led the team in scoring. New players step up nightly. The entire roster can contribute on a given night because of the system they’ve built.
Across the preceding three games between the Lakers and Clippers, Kawhi Leonard has played zero minutes, Paul George has played 39 minutes, LeBron James has played 72 minutes, Anthony Davis has played 74 minutes and Russell Westbrook has played 105 minutes. The Clippers are 3-0 in those contests.
In each game, they have been the ones to execute late with a variety of different players making the big plays. It typifies a rivalry that, head-to-head, has been one-sided. And it typifies two franchises trending rapidly in different directions.
Notes and updates
- DJ Augustin and Wenyen Gabriel both were at practice on Wednesday and both are expected to be available for Thursday’s game.
Frank Vogel expects DJ Augustin and Wenyen Gabriel to be available tomorrow— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) March 2, 2022
- Augustin revealed after practice that he was picking up his children from school when he received the call that the Lakers intended to sign him. Since being waived by the Rockets at the trade deadline, Augustin had trained in Houston and spent time with his family.
- Gabriel had a far more interesting story. His agent called him that the Lakers had an interest in signing him while he was working out with the Bucks. Thinks moved quickly with the Lakers needing to make a series of moves to sign him, but not nearly quickly enough. Having been dropped off at the airport ready to check in his bags for a flight to Grand Rapids for a G League game, his agent stopped him just before heading inside to change his destination to California to sign with the Lakers.
The Lakers and Clippers will tip-off at 7 p.m. PT on Thursday with the game televised on TNT.