LOS ANGELES (NBA.com exclusive) -- New rings. New banner. Similar result.
The defending champion Lakers began their title defense Tuesday on the winning side, dropping the in-house rival Clippers 99-92 in the season opener in front of a soldout crowd at Staples Center.
"It's a great night," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "It's a magical night."
Emotions were high before tipoff as previous Lakers legends like Magic Johnson and Jerry West greeted this year's champs. But aside from the ring ceremony and a few Bryant reverse layups, there wasn't much for the Lakers to cheer as the Clippers kept it close.
They got to within one point, 76-75, at the end of third quarter, but too much Bryant, who finished with a game-high 33 points, and Lamar Odom (16 points and 13 rebounds) pushed the Lakers back to a 89-79 lead with 6:57 left in the game and never looked back.
"I think it's always tough to play games after those kinds of ceremonies," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "[But] we got it back. We did OK."
Added Bynum: "For me [the ceremony] was an energizer. I was out there jumping around. I didn't need to get re-wound up or nothing like that."
Bynum, who celebrated his 22nd birthday, also chipped in a double-double of his own with 26 points and 13 rebounds.
One of the many storylines coming into Tuesday's game was each team's lineup.
Clippers rookie Blake Griffin, who will miss up to six weeks due to a fractured left kneecap, left a question mark on who would step in for the No. 1 overall pick. This night it was reserve forward Craig Smith and center Chris Kaman, both of whom kept the Clippers' deficit to single digits. Smith scored all 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting in the first half and brought the Clippers to within three with 5:36 left in the first half. Kaman finished with 18 and 16 rebounds.
"You know, I don't really care about all that stuff," said Kaman of having to deal with Griffin being out. "You're dealt the cards and you play them. All we can do is look forward and try to get some wins."
With Lakers center Pau Gasol out with a sore right hamstring he suffered in the preseason, Bynum shook off doubts of last season's lingering MCL injury. However, the Lakers' second unit was stagnant on offense, Bynum said. At one point in the second quarter, the reserves clanked six straight shots, including a DJ Mbenga airball, and the Lakers went without a field goal for seven minutes.
Clippers guard Eric Gordon, who averaged 16.1 points in a stellar rookie season, showed it wasn't an aberration. Guarded by Bryant most of the night, he cobbled together a team-high 21 points and was a major catalyst for the Clippers getting back into the game in the third quarter.
But it was Lakers' defense that was the difference. The Clippers had 20 turnovers which led to 24 points for the Lakers.
All night long, the soldout crowd tried to will in a few of Ron Artest's shots. In his Lakers debut, Artest scored 10 points on just 3-for-10 from the field. He made his mark on the defensive end, however, holding Al Thornton to eight points on 4 of 11 shooting.
"Some offensive things he had opportunities for he didn't complete, but I thought he looked like he was in the mix and knew what was going on most of the time," Jackson said.
Much of the Clippers success this season will rest on Baron Davis' shoulders. The oft-injured guard, who shed nearly 20 pounds in the offseason, looked spry in the first quarter, but couldn't get anything going offensively. Davis sat out the entire second quarter and picked up three quick fouls in the third. He finished with two points on 1-for-10 shooting and eight assists. He didn't score until making a layup with 6:49 left in the third quarter.
"It was disappointing for us, but at the same time it was encouraging, because we still stuck to it," Davis said. "We're close to making something happen."
Like last season, Bryant set the tone early. He had 13 of his 33 points in the first quarter, but he did it defensively, recording three steals in the early going. The Lakers as a whole set the tempo on defensive end, causing nine turnovers in the first quarter, which led to 14 points and a 32-22 lead at the end of the first quarter.
With the Lakers' first win of the season, not much has changed in the L.A. rivalry. The Lakers have won nine straight against the Clippers while taking a positive step as defending champions.