Clippers looking for more than a rivalry

November, 3, 2012
11/03/12
12:16
AM PT
Los Angeles Clippers celebrateAndrew D. Bernstein/Getty ImagesThough the Clippers were extremely pleased with their win Friday, they know there's still a long way to go.

LOS ANGELES -- As Blake Griffin leaned against the wall outside the Clippers' locker room Friday night, he smiled thinking back to when the Clippers would play the Lakers just a couple of years ago.

"The biggest difference between these games now and the games my rookie year is when we used to run out of that tunnel and the starting lineups were announced, nobody used to boo," Griffin said. "Now it's heated a little bit. I think that says a lot about where we're at."

The Lakers' fans who booed the Clippers to begin the game Friday were few and far between by the end of the Clippers' 105-95 win. Many of them had long since headed for the exits as the Clippers opened a 16-point lead against the Lakers and never trailed after the first quarter.

Despite the significance of the Clippers starting the season 2-0 and sending the Lakers to their first 0-3 start since 1978, Griffin said beating the Lakers, or any team for that matter, in November doesn't mean as much as it used to. The goal for the Clippers is no longer simply beating the Lakers or another marquee team on national television.

The Clippers are now a marquee team with marquee players who are routinely shown on national television, and their goal, like the Lakers, is to win a championship come June.

Of course, it wasn't always like that for the Clippers.

"When you're not making the playoffs, it's like these games are your big games," Griffin said. "These are the games you really get hyped for, but now we know the importance of winning games like this and also the importance of winning games down the stretch and in the playoffs."

As much as everyone would like to call the Lakers and Clippers a rivalry, you'd be hard-pressed to get anyone in the Lakers' or Clippers' locker room to agree.

"No, it's only a rivalry if both teams win," said Chris Paul, who had as many assists (15) as the entire Lakers team Friday. "It's still pretty lopsided."

It raises the question, is a rivalry really a rivalry if no one involved deems it such?

Every time the Lakers play the Clippers, players and coaches from both teams are bombarded with questions about a burgeoning rivalry that doesn't seem to exist to them.

Normally, players and coaches involved in a real rivalry have no problem talking about their rivals, but getting the Lakers and Clippers to talk about each other in that way has so far been as elusive as getting the teams to meet up in the playoffs, which has yet to happen.

Perhaps that's the biggest void in this so-called rivalry. They have never faced each other in the postseason, which is the birthplace of truly great rivalries.

Sharing the same city and the same building can cause disputes and quarrels, but it's hardly the breeding ground for heated rivalries in the NBA.

When Lakers coach Mike Brown was asked about the rivalry, he compared it to the fleeting rivalry his Cleveland Cavaliers teams had with the Boston Celtics after the two teams faced each other in the playoffs twice in three years.

"The tough part about it is when you walk into Boston's building, they have [17] NBA championships on the wall," Brown said. "So not only did we think we were their rivals, but I'm sure everybody else that walked in their building did too and was up for that game. You go to our building [in Cleveland], and even though we had a good run, we only had three division titles and a conference title on the wall. It's a big difference when you start talking about that. That's how you develop rivalries. By winning and winning big and both clubs doing it and playing for something."

For the first time in the Clippers' franchise history, and certainly since they moved to Los Angeles in 1984 during the Lakers' "Showtime" era, both teams are playing for the same thing. That's why many Clippers players were already focused on Saturday's game against the Golden State Warriors after beating the Lakers.

"It's the second game of a long season," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "It means more to you guys than it does to us. It's another game for us. We share the building and there's history, but let's face it; the Lakers have had tremendous consistent success for a long time. We're trying to start something here that has never been done."

The Clippers beat the Lakers on Friday night in a manner that had rarely been seen before during the fairly lopsided series between the two teams. The Clippers went at the Lakers in waves, and showcased the depth of what Lamar Odom and Chauncey Billups have called the deepest team they've ever been on.

On a night when Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan combined for 37 points, the Clippers beat the Lakers by 10 points despite Kobe Bryant going off for 40 points. The Clippers' balance was showcased in every quarter as Caron Butler went for nine points in the first quarter, Jamal Crawford went for nine points in the second quarter, Griffin went for nine points in the third quarter and Paul scored six points to close out the game in the fourth quarter.

"I've never been on a team like this," Paul said. "I've never had this much fun before."

Fun wins in November certainly don't give birth to rivalries with teams such as the Lakers, but if the Clippers continue to play this way and have the season they think they will, they might be on their way to one soon.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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