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No Changing of This Guard

Times Staff Writer

Advantage, still the Lakers.

What once was a chasm separating two teams has dwindled in size and scope, but the Lakers continued their dominance of the Clippers, 103-89, before 18,997 Wednesday night at Staples Center.

With Kobe Bryant scoring and passing, Chucky Atkins pushing the Lakers forward with 12 fourth-quarter points, and six Lakers scoring in double figures, the Lakers moved to 26-3 against the Clippers since 1997.

In the process, a surge of relief could be felt from a pro-Laker crowd when Bryant converted a one-handed dunk on a lob from Atkins with 6:48 left to play, ending what little Clipper threat remained and curbing speculation that Bryant’s foot just wasn’t right.

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Bryant, diagnosed last week with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, had 23 points, 11 assists and made nine of 16 shots. He missed two practices this week and played a pass-first role in the first half but played all 24 minutes in the second half, 45 in all.

“He’s a pretty amazing guy, his toughness,” Laker Coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. “I have not experienced it. Talking to our trainer, I asked him, ‘Should I be worried about him?’ and he says he’ll play with a lot of pain. Pretty amazing.”

Along the way, Bryant picked up another victory against the team he pondered joining during the off-season as a free agent.

But a Laker victory against the Clippers is, well ...

“For me, it’s old hat,” Bryant said, acknowledging he had heard some predictions of the Clippers winning. “Sorry to disappoint you guys.”

Either because he wanted to -- or because his foot forced him into it -- Bryant was a passer instead of a shooter in the first half. He did not score a basket in the first quarter, coming up short on a 15-footer 22 seconds into the game, and he did not take another shot until making a jumper from the wing with 7:09 left in the second quarter.

But he contributed in other ways, compiling eight assists on the way to a 53-46 Laker halftime lead.

Bryant brushed off questions about his foot, which he said tightened and throbbed at times during timeouts.

“I’m not going to make myself out to be a tough guy,” he said. “Sometimes it hurts, sometimes it doesn’t.”

The Clippers, who checked in at 5-3 for the first time in nine years, stood up to the test in their first game against a team that made the Western Conference playoffs last season.

The Clippers trailed at the end of the third quarter only 75-71, primarily because Bobby Simmons made all six of his shots in the quarter on the way to 23 points.

But Simmons and the Clippers couldn’t stop Atkins, who worked the pick-and-roll to near-perfection in the final quarter.

“We’re not like the Lakers of last year, where you had Shaq [O’Neal] and Kobe scoring almost all of the points,” Atkins said. “On our team, Kobe will still do his scoring, but we have Lamar Odom that can score 20 points, Caron Butler can score 20, Chris Mihm can score 20 and I can score 20. That’s just the way we are.”

Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy played up the underdog role beforehand, saying “they’re projected to be a playoff team and we’re wanna-bes.”

Afterward, he talked of a team that ran out of energy.

“I think some of our guys were a little bit tired, a little bit worn,” he said.

Mihm had a solid game, giving the Clippers an added glimpse of what they could have had. Mihm was property of the Boston Celtics when the Clippers called over the summer to see if a trade could be worked out for the former lottery pick.

No deal was reached, so Mihm was still available when the Lakers came calling in August, dangling Gary Payton. As such, Mihm was on a plane headed to Los Angeles, where he has compiled steady, workmanlike stats over the first nine games.

He had 15 points against the Clippers, 12 in the first quarter.

“That’s what I want to be for this team,” Mihm said. “I want to provide an impact down low.”

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Losing It

Clipper coaches since Kobe Bryant entered the league:

*--* Year Coach Rec. 1996-97 Bill Fitch 36-46 1997-98 Bill Fitch 17-65 1998-99 Chris Ford 9-41 1999-00 Chris Ford 11-34 Jim Todd 4-33 2000-01 Alvin Gentry 31-51 2001-02 Alvin Gentry 39-43 2002-03 Alvin Gentry 19-39 Dennis Johnson 8-16 2003-04 Mike Dunleavy 28-54 2004-05 Mike Dunleavy 5-4

*--*

*

Rivals?

Lakers vs. Clippers since Kobe Bryant joined the former:

*--* Year Results 1996-97 Tied, 2-2 1997-98 Lakers, 4-0 1998-99 Lakers, 4-0 1999-00 Lakers, 4-0 2000-01 Lakers, 3-1 2001-02 Lakers, 3-1 2002-03 Lakers, 4-0 2003-04 Lakers, 3-1 2004-05 Lakers, 1-0

*--*

Note: The only season in which the L.A. Clippers won the season series was 1992-93 (3-2).


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