The Christmas Day clash between the LA Clippers and their more-storied Los Angelino cohabitants, the LA Lakers, ended in a 2nd win for the new-faves Clippers 111-106. In a match-up watched by millions of fans worldwide, the deadly duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George – aided by perhaps the deepest bench in the NBA this year – made the darling duo of Lebron James and Anthony Davis look very vulnerable.
The Lakers led most of the way, even upped the lead to 15 in the middle of the 3rd canto; before the Clippers started clipping the lead. The Clippers showed great tenacity and maturity in bending the Lakers’ will. The game was made doubly significant by the fact that the 2 teams were playing with complete line-ups for the first time. The Clippers’ Paul George and the Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma were both absent in their first encounter, although both King Lebron and AD were listed as less than 100% fit as this second game opened.
The Lakers still have the best record in the Western conference this year at 24-7, but they have not won against the Clippers so far. The Clippers, on the other hand, appear to have the Lakers figured out despite their less-impressive 23-10 win-loss slate, but they have shown a lack of focus against the other squads.
It seems that the Lakers are playing to impress in this regular season. With King James leading the way, the Lakers are displaying an early chemistry that’s already well-oiled and ready for the playoffs. As always, James is leading by example, playing hard basketball every single game night, endearing himself to the fans, and rubbing off this work ethic among his teammates.
The Clippers, on the other hand, appear content on trying out new combinations, giving Kawhi the rest his load management program has pre-planned. Kawhi’s frequent absence in the regular season games is a 2-bladed sword. On one hand, it allows Kawhi some time to rest and gives the other team members more chances to show their wares, in preparation for the playoffs. On the other hand, it pisses off the fans who supposedly pay hard-earned money to watch the stars play.
But the twin losses dealt by the Clippers on the Lakers are by no means a statement that the Clippers are better than the Lakers. Things could go differently depending on how the deep pool of talent is utilized as the homestretch looms near. Injuries, team chemistry, stamina, depth, etc can factor in to play significant roles as well. As the stakes for the battle for Los Angeles gets bigger, the race to improve the line-ups also weighs in.
Where will all these lead to? There remain a million and one scenarios to choose from. For the Lakers, adjustments need to be made in order to stop the Clippers from owning the city. Will Lebron stay healthy come the playoffs? Will a line-up of ‘bigs’ with Lebron at point be able to address the Clippers depth advantage? Will Kyle Kuzma emerge as the 3rd star to trump the Clipper charge? Or will that veteran Andre Igoudala beef up their forces further?
For the upstart Clippers, will Kawhi’s load management program produce the same winning formula as it did in Toronto? Will this chemistry among stars and borderline stars continue to hold?
For the longest time, LA had always been viewed as the seat of Laker nation. But things have turned slowly when Steve Ballmer purchased the Clippers with a view to winning LA. Steve made his biggest move so far this year with the hiring of both Kawhi and George. Thus, the inevitable clash of stars, with Lebron and AD defending the Laker throne from an upstart group led by Kawhi and George.
The battle for the city of Los Angeles is slowly building up. Its significance may not be obvious to many at this point. But come the playoffs, this LA-rivalry is a cinch to rock the basketball world in the same way it dominated TV ratings for Christmas. In this year’s battle to reach hoop heaven, it seems that all roads will eventually lead to the city of angels. So, the seer sayeth: whosoever wins the war for the angels, shall be crowned king of the cage kingdom!
(Cover pic courtesy of: Bleacher Report. Other pics courtesy of: BusinessWorld, YouTube, NBA.com, PhilStar, NY Times, Silver Screen and Roll, Deadline, Expedition 99, OrangeCountyRegister.)