LOS ANGELES – As Doc Rivers leaned against the wall outside of the Los Angeles Clippers locker room, he smiled as he addressed the throng of media surrounding him in the bowels of Staples Center.
Rivers normally addresses reporters in an adjacent room at home, but since Thursday night was a Lakers home game, he spoke in the crowded hallway. It wasn’t the only thing different about his pregame session.
For the first time since Chris Paul was traded to the Clippers in 2011, a Clippers coach was not hounded with questions about the Lakers-Clippers rivalry before a meeting of the hallway rivals. In fact, Rivers wasn’t asked a single question about the proverbial “changing of the guard” in Los Angeles before or after the game.
That’s probably because for the first time it didn’t really matter.
The Clippers beat the Lakers 142-94 on Thursday, winning their sixth game against the Lakers in their past seven meetings. It was a historically lopsided victory, one that marked the largest win in Clippers franchise history and the largest loss in Lakers history.
While the Clippers are angling for a top seed in the Western Conference, the Lakers currently have the worst record in the West.
The seeds for the Clippers’ 48-point win Thursday and their 36-point win over the Lakers two months ago were planted on opening night, when the Lakers beat the Clippers by 13. It was the only loss the Clippers have suffered against the Lakers over the past two seasons, but one they refuse to forget.
“We can say that we never looked at that and that it never crossed our mind, but it did,” Darren Collison said. “At the same time, we knew this game was about us all along. Even in the second half when we were up by 30-plus points, we were just telling each other that this was about us. We got bigger goals right now.”
Beating the Lakers in historic fashion was certainly not one of the Clippers’ goals, but it wasn’t something they glossed over after the game as they spoke to each other in the locker room and looked at the final box score, pointing out any number of eye-popping numbers.
“I was surprised,” Matt Barnes said. “Chris told me [it was the worst Lakers loss] in the shower. They’re just having a tough season, but that team will always find a way to get back on top. People have to take advantage when they can.”
Paul and his blocked trade to the Lakers, and his eventual arrival with the Clippers, will always represent the moment the current tide in Los Angeles basketball shifted. It used to be the focal point of every conversation before and after games against the Lakers. Now, the only time Paul hears about it is when he and Blake Griffin are sitting on the bench during the fourth quarter of a Clippers' blowout victory over the Lakers.
“Since day one it’s going to be something to talk about since we both play here in this building,” Paul said. “During the game all the fans were yelling, ‘It’s still a Lakers' town!’, and it is. It’s not a secret. For us, we just have to worry about us and keep playing."
It used to be blasphemy to say that the Clippers were the best team in Los Angeles. The fact of the matter is that it's simply old news now. They’ve been the best team in L.A. for more than two years, but that hasn’t gotten them anywhere when the season is over.
The Clippers understand that there is no city title for beating the Lakers six out of seven times, or for beating them by nearly 50 points.
As good as the Clippers have been, this will be the first postseason since 2006, and only the second time ever, that the Clippers will go further than the Lakers. In fact, it will be the first time the Clippers are in the playoffs and the Lakers are not.
They both were eliminated in the first round last year and made second-round exits the year before. The Clippers have never had that stage entirely to themselves until this season.
“It’s a little different with them being in the same town, but our goals are much bigger than just beating them,” Griffin said. “We’ve had some success, but we still, even after the past two games, have a pretty bad taste in our mouth after that first game. That’s not going to go away for a while.”
When the Clippers gathered in their locker room at halftime, up 33 on the Lakers, no one was celebrating. The message was simple. Push the lead to 40, then push it to 50, then push it past that if there was time left. This wasn’t so much about beating the Lakers, but about getting better, so that another victory over the Lakers wasn’t once again the highlight of their season once it comes to a close.
“It’s funny, in games like this no team is ever going to show us mercy or ever take their foot off the pedal,” Griffin said. “It’s not about embarrassing a team or anything like that, it’s about us accomplishing what we want to accomplish and really finishing out a game. Our whole thing at halftime was, ‘Why not go up 40? Why not go up 50? Why not keep getting better and executing?’ That’s what’s going to get us better in the long run.”