T.J. Simers

More Clippers voltage on an electrifying night

Vinny Del Negro said the Clippers are the best team in L.A. because their record says so, and Kobe won't argue.

Everything is just a bit off for the Lakers so far.

Jimmy couldn't make it through a weekend and got Mike D'Antoni; Jeanie was willing to wait 13 years to land Phil.

Kobe said the Lakers are old and slow, while proclaiming the Clippers "fun to watch," and "spectacular."

Vinny Del Negro said the Clippers are the best team in Los Angeles because their record says so, and Kobe won't argue.

"I think they're expected to blow us out," he said.

Kobe usually knows what he's talking about.

The wife is so excited about the Clippers she goes to see "Parental Guidance" because it stars Billy Crystal who is a Clippers fan. She pronounces it a winner.

A Times' online survey, asking who is more fun to watch, favored the Clippers 79-21. The wife voted only once.

And so here we are, as much buzz for one of these hometown encounters as most can remember with the Lakers the poor souls trying to find a way to win more games than they lose.

It's only one game, but the final outcome might help answer two important questions: Are the Lakers as hopeless as they often appear? Are the Clippers as good as their fairy tale start suggests?

Right away the Lakers catch a break.

Del Negro announces that super sub Kobe Crawford will miss the game with a foot injury.

"Oh, that's too bad," says D'Antoni, the first indication D'Antoni has a pulse during his lifeless pregame briefing with the media.

No wonder the Lakers don't always show up energized.

Crawford, as much as anyone in a Clippers uniform, is responsible for the team's dynamic start. He's instant offense, and the Clippers have lost two-straight because they couldn't find a way to score.

Everyone's on their feet, and that's just for pregame warmups. The Clippers stand back to allow Blake Griffin to practice a monster dunk, the noise in the place rising.

A few minutes later, Griffin attempts the same dunk and Dwight Howard tries to behead him. He stops the dunk, but Griffin makes both free throws and the intensity in Staples hits a crescendo.

Hard to imagine it getting louder until Chris Paul tosses a lob to DeAndre Jordan who uses one hand to slam it down, a few seconds later Paul steals the ball and sets Griffin up for another blast.

Wow doesn't quite cover it when Kobe steals the ball and slams over Paul. L.A. sports fans, out on the town for a Friday night, have already won no matter how this goes.

This isn't the same lackluster Clippers team I saw play Denver and Golden State, Paul going on the offensive early and driving the Clippers to a seven-point lead after the first quarter.

Unfortunately, these are the same old Lakers that I saw on a trip back East. The difference now is Pau Gasol is back but parked so far from the basket he might as well be on the bench.

A year ago Magic was criticizing Mike Brown for making a jump shooter out of Gasol rather than planting him down low. Apparently it doesn't matter who coaches the Lakers; they don't know what to do with Gasol.

The Lakers go two-deep with Kobe and Howard, the Clippers' defense keeping Steve Nash from penetrating. As a result the Clippers build an 18-point second-quarter lead before Paul goes to the bench.

Without Crawford to keep the ball going in the basket and Paul on the attack, the Lakers climb back to within four. But now Paul is back, the first half ending with him going one-on-one with Kobe and hitting a jumper at the buzzer for a 10-point lead.

Say what you want about the NBA, but with this many great athletes on the floor playing with as much emotion as they are, it's just great theater.

The Clippers feasted on crummy teams to put together a 17-game winning streak. The Lakers have yet to officially be designated crummy, though, fighting back to within three early in the third quarter.

But then Paul asserts his leadership once again, a double-double already on his stat sheet with 11 assists and 16 points. The Clippers bounced ahead again by a dozen, a look of who knows what on Kobe's face as he showed almost no emotion.

As the electrifying show goes on, Paul waves all his teammates away and goes one-on-one with Darius Morris. Morris is still wondering where Paul went as Paul left him behind for layup.

Then Paul floats a pass above the basket for Jordan to bring everyone to their feet with a jam. How humbling it must be for the Lakers to feel what it's like to play the Washington Generals to the Clippers' show-stoppers.

The Lakers close to within eight in the fourth quarter, Grffin's immaturity helping their cause. He picks up a technical for saying something to a referee long after disagreeing with a call.

Gasol has been on the bench most of the fourth quarter with a total of two points, but the Lakers still find an old war horse way of hanging tough.

Kobe makes it a two-point game, the great upset now a possibility and isn't that funny to consider. But then Paul hits two free throws and turns to his brother, C.J., who is sitting on the baseline and tells him, "Game time."

He then takes Kobe one-on-one and runs out the 24-second clock to hit a jumper for a six-point lead. He finishes off the Lakers at the free-throw line later, and ends the night with a season-high 30 points.

The Lakers, meanwhile, remain just a bit off.

But I can't wait for the Valentine's Day rematch.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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