- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Call it a sign of the times Sunday when Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, with 16 championship banners hanging behind him at the team's practice facility, admitted his team is looking up to the Los Angeles Clippers and their 16-game winning streak.
"They're real good and they're having a great streak, so we'll have to reckon with them and they're kind of setting the bar of where we need to get to," D'Antoni said.
The Clippers, who share the Staples Center with the Lakers, came into Sunday with a league best 24-6 record and a win streak that accounted for more victories than the 15-15 Lakers have had all season, but D'Antoni said he doesn't pay them more attention than he would any other elite NBA team.
"As much as you notice Oklahoma City," D'Antoni said. "As much as you notice Miami. You watch. They're a very good basketball team but I don't get caught up that they're across town. You can't help where they are. But yeah, they're good."
When asked if the current Clippers team was the best he's seen in his 17 seasons as a professional basketball player in L.A., Kobe Bryant replied: "I don't think it's a question about it."
"To put together win streaks that are that long, it shows a lot of focus, it shows a lot of unity and a lot of depth because they can beat you multiple ways," Bryant continued. "If you're going to have a winning streak that's that extensive, you have to have guys coming in from all aspects of the game."
Despite seven of the Clippers' 14-man roster being new to the team this season (Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford, Willie Green, Grant Hill, Ryan Hollins, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf), Bryant noted that several of their players had been teammates before wearing the Lakers' purple and gold.
"They have a lot of guys who have played together before," Bryant said, referring to Barnes, Odom, Turiaf and Caron Butler. "They're very familiar with each other, so even if it seems like they slapped a lot of talent together, which they did, but a lot of those guys have been together before and they understand how to play together."
The Clippers and Lakers play this Friday in a "road" game for the Lakers at Staples Center. If the Clippers stay undefeated between now and then, their win streak would be at 19 games coming into the Lakers showdown.
Does Bryant want the Clippers to stay hot to have a shot of ending that streak as a little payback for the Clippers' 105-95 win over the Lakers back on Nov. 2?
"I really don't give a s---," Bryant said.
Regardless of whether the Clippers are still on their win streak when they play the Lakers, Chris Paul & Co. will still be ahead of the Lakers in the standings. The Lakers are currently 10th in the Western Conference, on the outside looking in at the eight-team playoff picture.
"I'm not worried about where we'd play (in the playoff seeding)," D'Antoni said when asked if the Lakers have a shot at securing one of the top four seeds in the West and thus homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. "Obviously, we'd like to and that's our goal. We'll see. We'll have to have cooperation from some other teams, so, when it's not in your hands it's not always a thing to worry about.
"What we got to worry about is to play well. And, we're taking some steps. I think the standings will take care of themselves. Obviously, I will look and do look and act like I'm not worried about it. Yeah, I am worried about it, but we just got to keep progressing as a team."
"Every season is different and every team is different, so you can't say, 'Well, that's never been done,'" D'Antoni said. "Well, we've never had this team before so nothing is out of the realm of possibilities if you're playing well at the right moment. That's what we can control and that's what we have to do. I think it's fun to sit around and look at standings and fantasize and watch games and yell at the other team (playing on television), but we can't control that so that's not something we have to worry about too much."
D'Antoni said he'll have a better feel for the Lakers' chances after they host the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, play that "road" game against the Clippers on Friday and finish up the week with a home game against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
"This week is a good week for us," D'Antoni said. "We'll see where we are."
11hMichael C. Wright