There’s loads of animosity between the NBA’s two Los Angeles groups, however it will hardly be honest to name the Lakers and Clippers rivals. After all, one group has 17 championships and the opposite has none. The Lakers and Clippers have by no means confronted off in a postseason collection, and so they’ve solely even made the postseason in the identical 12 months eight instances. For most of basketball historical past, the Lakers have contended whereas the Clippers have tanked, and the second the Clippers have been prepared to affix them on high of the mountain, the Lakers tumbled again right down to Earth.
The summer time of 2019 was imagined to lastly give us the fabled streetlights vs. spotlights rivalry. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George spurned the Lakers for the Clippers. The little brother was the championship favourite… after which blew a 3-1 result in a Nuggets group that the Lakers beat on their solution to the 2020 title. Injuries depleted the 2 groups from there. For the entire opening night time and Christmas showdowns, the Lakers and Clippers have nonetheless by no means actually managed to play a really significant recreation with important stakes for either side.
Well, that is about to vary. The Lakers have by no means led the Clippers within the standings this season, nor have they been tied since opening night time. In truth, the Clippers have led the Lakers by as many as 6.5 video games this season, however fortune has slowly shifted in favor of the purple and gold ever since. The Lakers acquired wholesome. The Clippers caught the damage bug. The Lakers dumped Russell Westbrook and soared. The Clippers signed Russell Westbrook and noticed firsthand why the Lakers have been so keen to maneuver him within the first place. On Friday, the Lakers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves for his or her 14th win of their previous 21 video games. The Clippers misplaced to the Memphis Grizzlies for his or her tenth loss in the identical time-frame.
They are actually separated by solely a single loss within the standings. The 39-38 Lakers are the Western Conference’s No. 7 seed. The 41-37 Clippers are No. 5. The Lakers have two of the best video games on their schedule developing: street dates with the tanking Rockets and Jazz. The Clippers play the second half of a back-to-back on Saturday in opposition to the Pelicans, and Paul George will not swimsuit up once more within the common season. All of that is to say that the Lakers and Clippers will most likely be fairly shut within the standings by the center of this week, maybe tied, and there’s a very actual likelihood that the group that slips will get caught preventing for a postseason berth within the play-in spherical whereas the victor sits comfortably within the high six. They will not have to attend passively to learn the way their competitors is doing, both.
On Wednesday, the Clippers will “host” the Lakers for what’s shaping as much as be a very powerful recreation the 2 have ever performed in opposition to each other. For the primary time on this non-rivalry’s historical past, each the Lakers and Clippers are all-in on profitable the championship proper now, and each the Lakers and Clippers will badly must win this recreation to set themselves up to take action. There are, in fact, no ensures right here. The convention is so condensed that different groups would possibly push the victor down or prop the loser up. But the Clippers know properly simply how scary the play-in spherical may be. They have been eradicated final season after they misplaced there twice. Anything can occur in a single recreation, notably for groups as injury-prone as these two.
And if something, the narrative stakes are higher than the sensible ones. Trading Westbrook saved the Lakers’ season. A deep postseason run with out him would solely additional validate the concept that he’s not able to enjoying a major function on a group with championship ambitions. An early Clippers exit could be the ultimate nail in that coffin. It’s no secret that Lakers followers soured on Westbrook shortly, and he voiced his frustrations with them publicly on quite a lot of events. There might be no higher revenge for him than knocking the Lakers again into the play-in morass they have been making an attempt to flee with out him.
It is not fairly the Western Conference Finals showdown we have been promised in 2019, however it’s virtually extra applicable. The NBA’s fiercest non-rivalry would not fairly deserve the postseason stage, however that does not imply its best recreation would not warrant the highlight the Clippers so notoriously keep away from. The Lakers and Clippers have given us 4 many years of meaningless basketball, but when they’re ever going to kind a real, high-stakes rivalry, Wednesday looks as if nearly as good a spot as any to begin.
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