For lack of anything better, local writers – of whom I’m one – have used that lords-of-all-they-survey-vs.-dregs-of-the-earth angle for Lakers-Clippers meetings since 1984, when Donald T. Sterling relocated his team from the mid-market paradise of San Diego, only to see it become the Promised Land’s village idiots.
At the moment, the royals have traded roles with the village idiots, going into Friday’s meeting to see who’s whom here now.
Not to deny Sterling his due – multiplying his franchise’s value, defying the NBA – which barred the move – and beating David Stern in court. Of course, Stern got Sterling to forgo $6 million in TV and expansion money to be welcomed back into the bosom of the NBA family.
The Clippers then dropped out of sight, or would have liked to for the next four decades or so.
But it’s not like the Clippers never, ever beat the Lakers.
It happened twice. The first time was in 1991-92, the season after Magic Johnson retired. The Clippers won 45 games to the Lakers’ 43 after Larry Brown replaced Mike Schuler with 35 games left and won 23.
The other time was in 2005-06, two seasons after Shaquille O’Neal left LA. Mike Dunleavy’s team with Elton Brand and Sam Cassell not only won 47 to the Lakers’ 45, they made the second round against the Suns, who had sent the Lakers home in the first.
For those who wonder if the Clippers could ever eclipse the Lakers, the answer is: They already have – once, however briefly.
In Game 5 at Phoenix, the Clippers were within one second of going home with a 3-2 lead when Raja Bell’s 3-pointer at the end of the first overtime forced another, where the Suns won.
Not that LA fans were frontrunners, but the Clippers’ playoff TV ratings against the Suns were better than the Lakers’ ratings. Jack Nicholson even flew to Phoenix for one of the Clips’ second-round games.
Then came this season.
Of course, we’re only two months into it. On the other hand, the Clips – 9 1/2 games ahead with an .812 percentage – could play .500 from here on and the Lakes would have to finish 36-15 to beat them.
Forget the Clippers. If the Warriors go 26-25 the rest of the way, the Lakers would have to go 33-18 to catch them.
The Lakers were still playing raggedly while winning six of eight. Worse, with preseason optimism long since gone, there’s growing awareness that Dwight Howard is anything but a lock to stay this summer, when he will be a free agent.
Fun-loving and used to being adored, Howard is still getting used to the somber Lakers and being all but ignored. Stan Van Gundy, the coach he loved to hate, noted Howard isn’t what he was before back surgery, telling the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t think he looks quite as explosive or as quick as he has in the past. Now, he’s still above almost everyone in the league at that size athletically, but he has not totally looked like himself to me.”
Local observers have been harsh, as when Mike D’Antoni was asked what they lost when Howard was ejected in a loss at Denver “Not a whole lot,” the coach said.
As another Los Angeles coach, the Raiders’ Tom Flores, once noted, “It’s still early but it’s getting late.”
On to the rankings.