In L.A. NBA battle, Lakers have the past, Clippers have the present

In L.A. NBA battle, Lakers have the past, Clippers have the present
Lakers Coach Byron Scott and Clippers Coach Doc Rivers greet each other before their teams' first meeting at Staples Center on Oct. 31. The Clippers beat the Lakers, 118-111. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Byron Scott smiled in late October when asked which of Los Angeles' NBA teams ruled the city.

"When they get about 13 banners," the Lakers coach said of the Clippers, mindful that his team had won 16 championships and its cross-town rival zero, "then it will be a rivalry."

The Clippers could just as easily play a different numbers game.

They have won four consecutive games and eight of the last nine in the rivalry, including a seven-point victory on Halloween, as the teams head into their latest encounter Wednesday night at Staples Center in a designated Clippers home game. It's an unprecedented run of success for the Clippers in a series the Lakers lead, 144-57.

Bob McAdoo and the Buffalo Braves won five consecutive games and seven of nine against the Lakers from 1974-76, two years before the franchise became the San Diego Clippers and eight years before moving to Los Angeles.

The San Diego Clippers had a brief flurry in the 1980s, winning four of six games early in Magic Johnson's legendary Lakers career.

The Clippers' best previous stretch in the rivalry since calling Los Angeles home was four wins in five games from 2005-06 against Lakers teams that would miss the playoffs and lose in the first round. Lakers star Kobe Bryant would probably summarize that era with two words: Smush Parker.

No matter one's allegiance, there's no denying the Clippers (23-12) are the superior team in the rivalry right now. They are probably headed toward a fourth consecutive playoff appearance, a first in franchise history.


Meanwhile, the Lakers (11-24) appear to be bound to miss the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since the 1974-75 and 1975-76 seasons and only the second time in their storied history.

So maybe it made sense for Scott to cling to memories of happier days, even if the Lakers' banners will be covered inside their home arena Wednesday because they technically will be the visiting team.

"They do have their history, and you know what, they should celebrate it," said Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, who ordered giant pictures of his players to be placed over the Lakers banners for his team's home games starting last season. "They can talk about it. That doesn't bother me at all."

But isn't the onus on the Lakers considering their recent history?

"They're right, though," Rivers said. "Our job is to win a title. Not because of the Lakers. Our job is to win a title because we're the Clippers and we want to win a title as the Clippers. But that's it. We're not going to catch them in the 13 years or 16 years, for sure. It's going to be hard to do that. They have one hell of a head start right now."

Forward Blake Griffin said it wasn't fair for the Clippers to be burdened with past failures considering no one on the team had been there longer than DeAndre Jordan's seven seasons.

"It's not like our guys have been here for the past 30 years and had all this history," Griffin said. "So it's not like we go out and carry this history of not making the playoffs and all these things because we haven't been here. We're working on us right now. We're not really working on our past.

"The Lakers have a great franchise and have had a lot of success. Kobe's had an unbelievable career but right now we're worried about right now."

To Jordan, those concerns extend well beyond a local rivalry for a team with championship aspirations such as the Clippers.

"Honestly, I could care less about beating the Lakers," Jordan said. "If we're worried about beating the Lakers, then we're in trouble. We're not just trying to beat them. We've got 28 other teams besides the Lakers that we have to beat."

Scott said the Lakers and Clippers needed to meet in the playoffs — something that has never happened — to form a genuine rivalry such as the Lakers and Celtics, who have repeatedly faced one another in the NBA Finals.

"This is, to me, nowhere near that," Scott said of Lakers versus Clippers. "It doesn't have that type of magnitude to it. But I know they want to look at it as a rivalry because they want L.A. to be their town. Like I've said, it's still always going to be purple and gold."

Except, perhaps, if the Lakers' struggles against the Clippers continue to leave them black and blue.


When: 7:30.

Where: Staples Center.

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket, TWC SportsNet, TWC Deportes; Radio: 710, 980, 1330.

Records: Lakers 11-24; Clippers 23-12.

Record head to head: Clippers lead, 1-0.

Update: Kobe Bryant will play for the Lakers after resting during their 98-94 loss to Portland on Monday, but the team is expected to be without forward Wesley Johnson for a second consecutive game because of a strained right hip flexor. This will mark the Lakers' third game in four days and continue a season-long nine-game homestand for the Clippers, who are 4-2 during the stint. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said his team had shown spurts of greatness but was missing the "unshakable confidence" that comes from winning a championship.

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch

Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.