Rivalry? Lakers-Clippers has long way to go

LOS ANGELES -- They say a rivalry is never really a rivalry until the other team starts winning.

Unless, of course, you're in Los Angeles and winning doesn't so much mean beating the other team as it does winning championships.

The rivalry between the Lakers and Clippers exists so far as they both share the same city, the same arena and practice mere miles from each other. There is always an inherent rivalry between teams that live and play that close to each other.

In Los Angeles, however, that's not enough to make a rivalry, and that's actually something that both the Lakers and Clippers can agree on even after the Clippers beat the Lakers for the fourth straight time and eighth time in the past nine meetings with a 118-111 win Friday night.

"It's not for me to say," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said when asked about the rivalry. "I've lived here a year and half. Our focus is on tonight, not history. We haven't made any history."

That lack of history is exactly why Lakers coach Byron Scott laughed at the notion that the Clippers and Lakers are now rivals.

"I don't consider the Lakers and Clippers a true rivalry yet," Scott said. "Obviously, our biggest rival has always been the Celtics. They have 17 banners and we have 16. That's a rivalry."

When Scott was reminded that the Clippers had two Pacific Division championship banners hanging in their practice facility after winning the division the past two seasons, he said, "Excuse me? NBA championship banners."

Rivers actually agrees with Scott. After coaching the Boston Celtics and beating the Lakers in 2008 to win the franchise's 17th title and being on the other end during the 2010 NBA Finals when the Lakers won their 16th title, he realizes real rivalries aren't measured by season series. He said he will tear down the Clippers division banners as soon as the Clippers earn a "real banner."

That said, having local bragging rights never hurts.

"When you play someone near you, [it means something]," Rivers said. "When the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco [49ers] play, whether they're rivals or not, they live next to each other. I grew up in Maywood, [Illinois,] and we were Proviso East and when we played Proviso West, they were crap most of the time, but it was still a big game. We wanted to beat their brains in and they wanted to beat ours in, and for whatever reason the games were good. It was just a natural thing."

After the Lakers upset the Clippers to start last season, the Clippers have seemingly tried to figuratively beat the Lakers' brains in every time they have taken the court. Before Friday night's surprisingly close win, they beat the Lakers by an average of 35.5 points in their previous three wins.

The problem with the Lakers-Clippers rivalry is that it's really not relevant from a historical or current standpoint. Historically, the Lakers have won 16 championships, while the Clippers have never made it out of the second round. And the Lakers are eyeing their second straight season out of the playoffs and in the draft lottery, while the Clippers for the second straight season are one of the top five favorites to win the championship.

"It's just another game," Scott said. "It hasn't gotten to that point [of a rivalry], as far as I'm concerned, but I haven't been here. I'm just going off of what I know and what I've been through with this organization and that organization. It wasn't a rivalry when we played. Now they're the better basketball team, clearly, but I don't think if you asked Kobe, he would consider it a rivalry."

The turning point in the rivalry and really the current state of both franchises was, of course, "basketball reasons." The two unforgettable words uttered by then-NBA commissioner David Stern as his reason for nixing a trade to send Paul to the Lakers that would later lead to a trade to the Clippers.

Scott, who coached Paul in New Orleans and now coaches Bryant with the Lakers, just smiled when asked if he could picture them playing together in the same backcourt.

"Mm-hmm, I can really imagine that," Scott said. "I would sleep with a smile on my face if that was the case. Sometimes you want to say, 'Damn it, David Stern.' You think about it, when they made that trade before David nixed it, I was like, 'Wow, that's going to be fantastic.'"

As long as the Lakers are struggling and the Clippers are winning, that trade will continue to cast a shadow over the Lakers franchise. Even during Friday night's game, a group of fans near the Lakers bench continued to chant, "Chris Paul was a Laker," every time Paul had the ball.

Paul didn't hear the chants and has long since moved past "basketball reasons." But he couldn't help but smile when thinking about guarding Bryant in the fourth quarter of Friday's game and going back and forth with him after failing to see him on the court last season while Bryant was sidelined for all but six games.

"I love it, I love it," Paul said. "I looked around the court and saw that it was me, Jamal [Crawford] and J.J. [Redick] and I said, 'I got Kobe.' He's one of the best to ever play the game. I was telling Jamal just a second ago that that's exciting for me just to compete against him. To guard him -- that's tough."

As much fun as it was to watch Paul and Bryant go back and forth at the end of the game, Scott still can't help but think what the tandem of Bryant and Paul could have accomplished together had it not been for, well, you know.

"From a competitive standpoint, they're two of the most competitive guys I've been around in a long time," Scott said. "The only guy I knew that was that competitive was Earvin [Magic Johnson]. He didn't want to lose in tonk, blackjack, anything, and Chris Paul, having coached him and watched him on the bus and the plane, he has that same competitive nature. He just didn't want to lose in anything. ... He might be the best leader in the NBA."