LOS ANGELES -- Home-court advantages aren’t created overnight. Like changing the culture of a team, it takes time and prolonged success to develop a rabid fan base that will cause nightmares for opposing teams.
As the Los Angeles Clippers slowly begin to change the culture of their team (having the best record in the NBA certainly doesn’t hurt), they are also slowly beginning to change the culture of their fan base and home court.
That hasn’t been easy considering the Clippers share the Staples Center with the Los Angeles Lakers. Staples Center has Lakers championship banners and retired jerseys adorning the walls and Lakers statues lining the exterior.
But when the Clippers have taken the court at Staples Center this season, none of that seems to matter. They have slowly turned “Lob City” into one of the toughest places to play in the NBA.
“You always want to have a strong home court,” Chris Paul said Tuesday. “It starts with our fans. We feed off their energy. I think it’s something you build during the regular season and that way when it comes to playoffs it’s a force to be reckoned with.”
The Clippers have won a franchise record 12 consecutive home games, which is the longest active home streak in the NBA. It also is tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the longest home win streak in the NBA this season. The Clippers franchise hasn’t won more than nine straight games at home since the 1970s.
Even Kobe Bryant had high praise for Staples Center when it turns into the Clippers’ home court.
“When this building turns into the Clipper building, it’s probably my second favorite place to play after New York,” Bryant said. “They do a really good job and have a lot of energy in the building. … At least when they play us, the years I’ve been in the league, even when they were awful, it was always a fun place to play because the fans really got into it and it was one of those city rivalry type of games. It’s always been a fun place for me to play.”
Paul, however, doesn’t want the Staples Center to necessarily be a “fun place” for opposing teams to play. He got a sense of why it has been so much fun for Bryant and the Lakers in past years last week, when the Lakers played the Clippers in what was supposed to be a Clippers home game. As in past years, Lakers fans made up the majority of the crowd and it essentially turned into a Clippers' road game.
“My first year, it was like 95 to 5 [Lakers fans to Clippers fans],” Blake Griffin said. “Last year it was better, and this year it's a little better. But that's going to take a while. It's not something that's going to happen overnight. We've won two now, so it's not like we're going to sell the place out.”
The Clippers actually have had no problem selling out Staples Center for home games; they're in the midst of a franchise-high 70-game home sellout streak. That’s at least partly why the Clippers are 29-4 in their last 33 regular-season games at Staples Center, giving them the best record for any team at any arena since March 17, 2012.
It’s a big difference from when Paul used to come to Los Angeles as a member of the New Orleans Hornets.
"It was just a different mindset when you came here [to play the Clippers],” Paul said. “You felt like you were going to get a win. You felt like you could do whatever the night before and be ready for the game. When you’re a player in this league you know what it’s like to go into certain cities and feel like you know you’re going to win. I feel like everybody knows that this is going to be a tough team now.”
The Clippers have the best point differential in the league at +8.8 but that number has jumped to +13.3 when they're home this season. Since 1996-97 only four teams have had a more lopsided differential at home over a full season. The Clippers also have jumped on teams early and continued to pile on with the deepest bench in the league. The Clippers are 13-0 at home (and 21-1 overall) when leading after the first quarter. As was the case on Saturday, when the Clippers were up by 23 points in the first quarter against the Golden State Warriors, some of these games are over before halftime.
“We still got to keep getting it more rowdy and crazy,” Paul said. “We want other teams to know they have our crowd to deal with when they come to town.”