There was a time when Clippers-versus-Lakers was less rivalry, and more something to scoff at. But despite both sides attempting to downplay the so-called “Battle of L.A.” there is certainly substance to it now.
The Clippers (1-0) have found a way to get under their hallway neighbor’s skin the last two seasons, winning twice in the last five regular season meetings and coming within minutes of two more victories. If things were testy in 2010-11, the arrival of Chris Paul in December 2011 boosted it, and after the Clippers retooled their bench and the Lakers (0-2) added All-Stars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, this summer made things feel somewhat like a full-fledged call to arms.
The two nemeses meet again Friday at Staples Center, which will masquerade as a Laker home game in the first of four games this season.
“Obviously, it’s a big rivalry, same city, down the hall and all that,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “There are no easy games, but that’s a little bit of a special game just because of the situation. I think everyone makes it a bigger deal than we do at times just because of the history there.”
The recent history has consisted of flagrant fouls, pushing matches, pats on the head, body slams, and hip checks. There were Blake Griffin’s two iconic dunks over the head of two-time champion Pau Gasol, and Kobe Bryant’s baseline jump shot to seal a victory in April 2012, and Paul’s crisscross dribble move to free himself for a step-back fade away to pull out a January 2012 win for the Clippers.
On Friday that backdrop will collide with the present. Four current Clippers were once Lakers and one Laker a former Clipper. There is the new-look Lakers offense, struggling to find its way, engulfed in its second consecutive 0-2 start, despite making wholesale changes to last year’s lineup. There is the ever-present Clippers bench which outscored the Grizzlies by 32 on opening night without two of its key members.
Grant Hill (knee) will be absent once again, but Matt Barnes (suspension) will make his season debut against his former team. The Clippers will be without Chauncey Billups (Achilles) as well. Nash (shin) is listed as doubtful for the Lakers and Bryant continues to nurse a sore foot. To some extent, it matters very little who plays, the last three preseason meetings have been as heated as some regular-season matchups against opponents without such close proximity.
“As long as we worry about us and how we play I think we’ll be fine,” Eric Bledsoe said. “We’re really not worrying about them and what they’re doing.”
The Clippers have never been more confident heading into a season, the Lakers, struggling or not, arguably never more dangerous.
And that is just the beginning.
LAST TIME OUT
Clippers 101, Grizzlies 92: Opening night between the Clippers and Grizzlies Wednesday may not have been a continuation of the two teams’ seven-game playoff series, but it certainly seemed like it. There were technical fouls, glares at each other, and a game that came down to the final two minutes as the Clippers survived at home behind 29 points off the bench from Jamal Crawford and 12 points and 12 assists from Chris Paul
The Clipper bench outscored the Grizzlies, 49-17, which helped offset 22 turnovers. The Grizzlies also managed 17 offensive rebounds, including seven by Zach Randolph, who finished with 16 boards for a game-high. Rudy Gay led Memphis with 25 points.
Trail Blazers 116, Lakers 106: The Trail Blazers put together a 30-19 third quarter and capitalized on 25 Laker miscues at the Rose Garden to send the Lakers to consecutive 0-2 starts for the first time since the 1950s. Nicolas Batum, Wes Matthews and rookie point guard Damian Lillard toppd 20 points each for Portland, while the Lakers got 33 points and 14 rebounds from Dwight Howard and 30 points on 10-for-20 shooting by Kobe Bryant. Portland led by as many as 19 points in the second half.
Earl Clark (Magic), Chris Duhon (Magic), Dwight Howard (Magic), Antawn Jamison (Cavaliers), Darius Johnson-Odom (Draft), Jodie Meeks (76ers), Robert Sacre (Draft)
Matt Barnes, Andrew Bynum, Christian Eyenga, Andrew Goudelock, Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy, Ramon Sessions
DeAndre Jordan vs. Dwight Howard. Howard and Jordan have matched up three times since the
beginning of the 2010-11 season. In those games, Jordan shot 50% from the field (down from his usual 65%) and Howard forced Jordan into a whopping 7.4 fouls per 36 minutes. Of course, Howard was a member of the Magic then and Jordan was hardly the new and improved version who put together a productive offseason and training camp.
“[Jordan] has stepped his game up more than anyone in this room,” Eric Bledsoe said following the Clippers win over Memphis.
Del Negro talked about the matchup defensively for his fifth-year center. “Just be physical as much as you can, work angles, do your work early. If you let him catch it deep, obviously, it’s a problem. We can’t leave DeAndre all alone down there at times. We have to mix in our coverages.”
TWO THINGS TO WATCH
Intensity on both sides. There is a belief that Lakers will be extra motivated by their 0-2 start, but a few of the Clippers players do not seem to subscribe to that logic. Griffin said he expects that the Lakers will be “fine” despite their inconsistent beginning and Crawford said, “You have veterans who are proven winners. You know they’re going to turn it on at some point. We just hope it’s not against us.”
Still, Barnes, who is the only player on either team to be on both sides of the Chris Paul era of the rivalry, believes it will be a second-straight physical game for the Clippers. “Anytime you play your former team it’s a little more edgy and a little more touchy, so I’m just going to be out there in the mix.”
Bench marks. Throughout the preseason the Clippers bench was perceived as a strength, while the Lakers bench a weakness. Antawn Jamison, though, could prove a valuable asset as a stretch forward off the bench and Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks provide some youth and athleticism.
The Clippers, with Odom, Crawford, Bledsoe and Barnes, can counter with a group that could start for several teams. “We want to use our depth, we want to use our pressure with [Bledsoe’s] athleticism, push the tempo and pace when we can,” Del Negro said. “We have to be smart as well. We can’t be turning it over like we did last night and expect to have consistent success.
“Hopefully, having Matt back will give us some more stability on the defensive end.”
In the first of the three games the teams played last regular season, Paul had 33 points and Bryant had a game-high 42 in the Clippers’ 102-94 victory… It is the first game of a five games in seven days stretch for the Clippers… Barnes, Butler, Odom and Ronny Turiaf played at least one season for the Lakers. Steve Blake, who could start in place of Nash, spent 29 games with the Clippers in 2010… Odom and Metta World Peace played on the same AAU team in Queens, New York as youth basketball players… The Lakers have been outscored by an average of 8.5 points in the third quarter of their first two games… The Clippers converted 29 fast-break points in their opener against the Grizzlies on 11-for-15 shooting in such situations.
Del Negro: “You have to look at the consistency and the history, and the Lakers have won a lot of championships so there’s a lot that’s expected there. I don’t spend worrying about that. I spend time worrying about our organization and how do we put this team in an area of success. I feel we’re headed in that direction, but there’s a lot of improvement, a lot of things we have to go through as a team and an organization to get there.”