Lakers are big kids in the hall
If parting is such sweet sorrow, so might be the reunion, the Clippers probably none too thrilled to see the Lakers after losing to them by 38 points last week . . . in a home game . . . in their season opener . . . after dropping red, white and blue streamers on their fans during pre-game festivities . . . after Baron Davis promised the crowd that this season would be different.
It’s the Lakers’ turn to be the home team tonight at Staples Center, the resumption of a down-the-hall rivalry that looked pretty ragged after the Lakers’ 117-79 victory seven days ago.
The first quarter was actually competitive -- 30-27, Lakers -- but then the second unit sparked a 17-0 run and that was that.
The Lakers had more rebounds, assists, three-pointers, free throws, field goals, a better shooting percentage beyond the arc, a better shooting percentage inside the arc, and fewer turnovers. The Clippers did have more steals.
The Lakers are now 3-0, the Clippers 0-4, and even the involved parties have trouble referring to this thing as a rivalry.
The Lakers are 38-11 against the Clippers since Kobe Bryant came into the league, but Bryant carefully chose his words Tuesday, allowing that the Lakers had “probably” swung back to dominance after splitting the season series with the Clippers from 2005 to ’07.
Bryant, however, was emphatic about one thing. He did not want to revisit the fact that he almost became a Clipper when they offered him a lucrative free-agent contract in 2004.
“I don’t know, I don’t remember, and you’re not pulling me into that . . . ,” Bryant said Tuesday when asked if he could recount some of the details of his agonizing decision. “I’m not going for it. I’ll pass on the bait. No te entiendo.”
The last part was Spanish for “I don’t understand you,” but the point came across in any language -- he’s pretty happy to be where he is now.
The Lakers haven’t lost a season series to the Clippers since 1992-93, but the Lakers were the ones who failed to hold up their end of the bargain in the 2006 playoffs, fumbling a 3-1 series lead against Phoenix and missing out on a “Hallway Series” against their Staples Center co-tenants. (Phoenix went on to beat the Clippers in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals.)
Most recently, there have been five consecutive Lakers victories against the Clippers, making rivalry questions so moot that queries of greater historical context are almost in order.
Clippers center Chris Kaman offered an interesting observation when asked if the Lakers’ depth made them more daunting than their recent championship-caliber renditions.
“Shaq and Kobe, that’s been the most lethal combo that’s been in the league for a long time,” he said. “They have good players now, but I think with Shaq in his prime, he was one of the most dominant in the league ever. So I don’t think it’s that good, but they’re good. They have the potential of doing it again, making the Finals again.”
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, for his part, has taken plenty of whacks at the Clippers in years past, picking on their annual presence in the NBA draft lottery and their (alleged) second-rate status in Staples Center, including an observation two years ago that “Don Sterling has been eating off of Dr. [Jerry] Buss’ plate for years.”
Jackson, however, has been suspiciously mum on the Clippers since a 119-82 Lakers victory in March, the third-largest margin of victory in the teams’ head-to-head history. (It was originally the second-largest margin of victory, and then last week happened.)
Jackson made a wisecrack after an exhibition game last month that Fresno would be a nice place for the Clippers to play, but he was back to toeing the company line after Tuesday’s practice.
“I expect them to play with renewed vigor [tonight] because they’re looking for that first win,” said Jackson, who is 26-7 against the Clippers while coaching the Lakers. “This team has some talent.”
The Clippers will have some more players than last week, with Marcus Camby expected to play in a second consecutive game after sitting out the first two because of a bruised heel. Davis will also play despite nagging finger and hip injuries.
Will it be enough for the Clippers to beat the Lakers? More rhetorically, will the Lakers ever lose again, to anybody?
“I hope I know one they’re going to lose,” Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy said, smiling. “I hope they lose one [tonight].”
Times staff writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this report.