LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Clippers will always downplay their rivalry with the Los Angeles Lakers. They will say it isn’t a real rivalry until they win a few more games over a few more seasons after decades of being on the short end of the stick when the two teams played each other.
They’ve had a point, but if this season turns into a trend, the Lakers and Clippers might turn into a rivalry quicker than anyone on the Lakers thought it would.
After beating the Lakers 125-101 on Thursday night, the Clippers have won three games this season against the Lakers for the first time in 20 years and are 4-2 against the Lakers over the past two seasons.
Sure, Lakers fans will still point at the 16 championship banners that line the rafters of Staples Center and look for the nonexistent Clippers banners, but the way things are going, those aging artifacts might be the only things the Lakers have left to cling to at the end of this season.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
“Mr. Big Shot”
It might not be realistic to expect Chauncey Billups to continue playing the way he has the past two games, but if he does, the Clippers are going to be hard to beat come playoff time. Billups built on his best game in a year on Wednesday night with his performance on Thursday against the Lakers. He had 21 points and hit five of seven 3-pointers while once again reminding everyone why the Clippers continually called him their X factor when he returned to the court after missing most of the season. As good as the Clippers looked while Billups was sidelined -- at 32-9, they had the best record in the NBA without him at the midway point of the season -- the Clippers look like a certifiable championship contender when Billups is playing like this in the same backcourt as Chris Paul.
The biggest reason the Clippers have won four games in a row is the way they are starting games. They have taken double-digit leads in the first half of their past four games, and Thursday night, they were up 15-0 on the Lakers and led 31-17 at the end of the opening quarter. On Wednesday night, against the Houston Rockets, the Clippers went up 46-28 in the first quarter and never looked back. The Clippers were able to get off to such a good start against the Lakers largely because of the way Blake Griffin opened his night. He had 18 points and five rebounds in the first quarter, and finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds. In fact, Griffin outscored the Lakers’ team in the first quarter by himself.
Balance and options
It’s no secret the Clippers are probably the deepest team in the league, but when they are fully healthy, as they are right now, it’s hard to contain all the options the Clippers have at their disposal. Every quarter with the Clippers is a chance to shine the spotlight on another player. The first quarter was Griffin, the second quarter was Billups, the third quarter was Paul and the fourth was Jamal Crawford. On Thursday, the Clippers had six players score in double figures, with the backcourt of Paul and Billups combing for 45 points and 16 assists.