LOS ANGELES -- There's been little doubt who the best basketball team in Los Angeles is for a while now. The Los Angeles Clippers took care of that with a 17-game winning streak earlier this season and the first 50-win season in franchise history.
But just to put an exclamation point on that statement, the Clippers dealt a devastating blow to the Lakers' desperate playoff push Sunday with a 109-95 win at Staples Center.
The win marked the first time the Clippers have swept the season series from the Lakers since moving to Los Angeles. You have to go back to the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves for the only other time in franchise history it's happened.
The Lakers put up a fight early, but this one was never really close. The Clippers were too good. The Lakers looked too tired after what's been a frantic last month of the season as they try to salvage what's left of this awful season.
Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 25 points but took 19 shots to get there. Twelve of his points came at the free-throw line.
It didn't help that the Lakers got virtually nothing from their starting backcourt of Steve Blake (eight points, two assists in 39 minutes) and Jodie Meeks (six points in 31 minutes.) while point guard Chris Paul led the Clippers with 24 points and 12 assists.
How it happened: The Lakers jumped out to an early lead, but the Clippers went on a run as soon as Dwight Howard came out of the game and wasn't around to protect the rim. The Lakers rallied to make it close at the end but just didn't have enough firepower to match the Clippers, who got another nice game from Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford (20 points) and ex-Laker Matt Barnes (12 points on 5-for-6 shooting).
What it means: Every game is critical for the Lakers the rest of the way as they try to nose out the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth. Because Utah holds the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Lakers must finish a game ahead of the Jazz to get in. All the storylines about the rivalry between the Lakers and Clippers were far less important Sunday than what's become a rather desperate playoff push for the NBA's highest payroll and most disappointing team.
Hits: Dwight Howard has the size and speed to dominate inside against the undersized Clippers. Pau Gasol has the skill and savvy to be effective against them as well. The Lakers' big men combined to score 37 points and grab 17 rebounds Sunday. You'd like to see more than four rebounds from Howard, but on this disappointing day, his 25-point performance passes for a positive.
Misses: Kobe Bryant came into the game having missed his past 16 3-point attempts, which makes sense considering the heavy minutes he's been logging and the effect that has had on his legs. Though he finally made a 3-pointer, he had an off shooting night overall (6 for 19). To his credit, though, he switched into facilitator mode when his shot wasn't falling and finished with 10 assists.
Stat of the game: The Lakers made just seven of their 24 3-pointers Sunday. Seven. It was ugly.
Up next: The Lakers have a day to recover from this one before their final back-to-back of the season -- at home against New Orleans on Tuesday and on the road in Portland on Wednesday. The Lakers have yet to sweep a back-to-back this season.