It was less than five years ago when players in the Clippers locker room were visibly upset over a 48-point victory.
They had just demolished the Lakers, set a bevy of records, and quite literally laughed through a “road” win at Staples Center. They not only proved supremacy in the Battle of L.A. but did so with the kind of emphatic bravado that in the second and third quarter was like watching Mike Tyson eviscerate opponents pre-Buster Douglas.
But Clippers players, not so privately, yearned to hang a 50 on the yellow-clad team down the hall. A Ryan Hollins foul shot got the margin to 51, but an innocuous Kendall Marshall 3-pointer in the final 20 seconds sealed it.
Not losing by 50 was a rare moral victory for the Lakers in the recent head-to-head series against the Clippers. Talk all you want about 16 championships (five in Minneapolis), but there is no question that most of the last decade has been owned by the Clippers.
“I’m not trying to disrespect the Lakers,” Clippers stalwart forward Montrezl Harrell said leading up to their second matchup with the Lakers of the 2018-19 season Thursday. “Their accomplishments are legendary. But that’s not them now. You can’t keep sitting here talking about what happened 15, 20, 30 years ago. That’s not coming back. Whether you like it or not, there’s two teams in L.A. No matter how much you boo us, we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere.”
There are children who turn 8 years old this year who have never known a time when the Lakers were better than the Clippers. It’s been six years since those same children would have seen the Lakers make the playoffs.
In 34 games since January 2010, the Clippers are 25-9 against the Lakers. That’s including three wins prior to Chris Paul’s arrival and four following his subsequent departure. The Clippers have finished with a better record than the Lakers in every season since 2012-13 and are on pace to do so again, six years later.
Harrell is right to point out things that happened 15 years ago do not signify the Lakers now. But he took the high road in not disrespecting them because on the court, the disrespect has long been evident. There was the incredible dunk-a-palooza en route to a 142-94 loss that the Lakers endured, which, from a Schadenfreude angle, was one of my favorite all-time games to be sitting near the court. There was the Valentine’s Day Massacre, a 125-101 Clippers victory that wasn’t even that close. There was the combined 20.45 average margin of defeat from 2012 to 2015 where the Clippers went 11-1 in three years and seemed to salivate at crushing the collective spirits of Kent Bazemore, Devin Ebanks and the rest of the woebegone Lakers. There was Patrick Beverley dogging Lonzo Ball in the rookie’s underwhelming debut. There was Blake Griffin staring down everyone, DeAndre Jordan sticking his tongue out on a breakaway dunk, Harrell howling, Lou Williams preening, and lots and lots of empty seats by the fourth quarter.
Sure, the Lakers are a LeBron James groin injury away from likely getting a leg up (pun intended) in the standings this year. But it wouldn’t be much. And after watching the Lakers falter more often that not with James in the lineup, I would take a fully healthy Clippers team over a fully healthy Lakers team anyway.
The point is that even with the Lakers signing the game’s most transcendent talent and a Twitter arousal over the prospects of adding Anthony Davis, the Clippers are keeping up nearly a decade’s worth of owning their hallway “rival.”
So, tonight when the Clippers (hopefully) make it eight out of the last nine, again. Just be humble and remember, your team couldn’t even beat the Lakers by 50.