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Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Excited for Lakers-Clippers? Takes some convincing

By Dave McMenamin

HOUSTON -- Rather than spend time rehashing the Los Angeles Lakers' 113-99 defeat at the hands of the Houston Rockets on Wednesday -- their ninth loss in the past 10 games -- better we just skip our focus to Friday's Staples Center showdown with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Hope springs eternal, right? That next win is just around the river bend? You don't know until you try?

"I would expect them to play hard, as hard as they can possibly play, no matter what our record is," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Wednesday when asked to assess the state of the purple and gold these days.

Longtime Lakers special assistant coach Tex Winter liked to say, "Everything turns on a trifle," so maybe there is a bit of healthy belief going on here.

The Lakers' suddenly slumping season started with an opening-night victory over the favored Clippers after all, a 116-103 shellacking of their city cohabitants that was supposed to set the identity of this group as the overachieving underdogs with an all-for-one, one-for-all attitude as the Lakers won by playing five bench players for the entire fourth quarter.

But these days, they've just looked like dogs.

"Man," Nick Young said, asked to think back to that Oct. 29 victory. "What, this is our 35th game or 36th game today? Man. So, time flies. But we should be ready."

It could be lip service, but the Lakers are at least trying to present the appearance that this season isn't a wash already. They even scheduled a practice Thursday in L.A. after originally planning an off day coming off their back-to-back games on the road in Dallas and Houston.

There's some nobility in refusing to succumb to a bad hand. And failing to prepare is preparing to fail and all that.

But is it also failing to recognize the reality of where their season is at as a 14-22 team? And what about knowing when to fold 'em?

"It's still going to be exciting, of course," said Young. "Because that's the battle of L.A. still. That's still one of the games that if we win, the fans will look past us losing [recently]. We need to go out there and just have fun and enjoy the moment and try to get the victory."

The enthusiasm from Young is understandable. The L.A. native has come into his own this season -- scoring 20-plus points in nine of the Lakers' past 13 games, including 25 with a bum back against the Rockets -- blossoming in his seventh season while becoming a fan favorite.

But will Laker followers be able to live in the present Friday and appreciate the Clippers game for what it is (a fun matchup against a good, but not great opponent) instead of for what it isn't (a stepping stone along the way to a 17th championship)?

It's all about perspective. Both the Lakers and Clippers will be without their best players in Kobe Bryant (left knee) and Chris Paul (right shoulder), so there won't be the star power angle to lean on.

How about Kendall Marshall versus Reggie Bullock? Does that do anything for you?

"I’ve already guaranteed a win to him," said Marshall, who calls the Clippers rookie and fellow North Carolina Tarheel his best friend. "I also told him that if he ever guards me I might go for 30."

Bullock, sidelined with an ankle injury since early December, would have to play for that to actually happen.

Well, then what about Chris Kaman facing his former team in the Clippers?

"I’m kind of past that point now," said Kaman, who rarely plays for the Lakers anyway. "The first couple years when I left it was kind of fun, but they have a whole new team, new coaching staff, everybody in there. I don’t know anybody anymore."

Oh.

How about Darius Morris, recently signed to a 10-day contract by the Clippers, facing his former team in the Lakers? You're right. Never mind.

There's still 46 games left to the Lakers' season. If a game against the Clippers can't be a convincing sell, what can? Pondering the answer makes the thought of using Lakers games as an escape from life's monotony the rest of the season a pretty sobering experience.

"We got to win some games, we got to play better," said Mike D'Antoni. "Whether it's at home or away, we got to look at it just one game at a time, just do the best we can and try to keep our spirits up, fight them and see if we can get better. It's a challenge, a heck of a challenge, it's a big mountain these guys got to go up."

Suddenly the Clippers covering up the Lakers' championship banners for their home games doesn't seem to matter quite so much.

Those banners might as well be on top of the big mountain.