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Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Updated: November 15, 3:21 AM ET
Clippers are best of the city

By Arash Markazi
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Less than five miles separate the practice facilities of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers near LAX.

Less than 100 feet separate both teams' locker rooms in the bowels of Staples Center.

They are about as close as two teams could possibly be geographically, and about as different as two teams could be in most every other way.

The only thing the Lakers and Clippers have ever really shared in their near 30-year rivalry in Los Angeles is the city itself, and it can certainly be argued if they have ever really "shared" that.

Los Angeles is a Lakers town, after all. But if Los Angeles can truly be taken seriously as a basketball town, it cannot lie when pressed to pick the best team in L.A. right now.

Regardless of whether you bleed purple and gold or red and blue, the answer to that question is as simple as a Chris Paul to Blake Griffin lob in the open court.

Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin scored 20 points and had 14 rebounds in the Clippers' victory over the Heat on Wednesday.

The Clippers are the best team in L.A.

Lakers fans will scoff at the above sentence and redirect your eyeballs to the team's championship banners and retired jerseys in the rafters of Staples Center, and sarcastically try to search for any from the Clippers.

But this isn't a history lesson. There's no disputing which team has the most championships, the most retired jerseys and the most overall success. There's also no disputing which team is better right now when they both take the court.

In fact, the disparity between the teams at the moment is like watching Steve Nash trying to keep up with Eric Bledsoe on a fast break. It's not even close.

The focus of this city will always be on the Lakers, good or bad, but never more so than over the past two weeks when the Lakers fired Mike Brown after a 1-4 start, looked as though they were close to bringing back Phil Jackson before eventually agreeing to terms with Mike D'Antoni.

While the coaching search of the 3-5 Lakers has captivated the city and most of the national audience, the 6-2 Clippers have quietly become one of the best teams in the NBA and easily the most exciting.

Not that many in Los Angeles outside of the sellout crowds at Staples Center have noticed. Four reporters and no camera crews showed up to Clippers practice on Monday and only eight showed up Tuesday, the day before the Clippers played the Miami Heat. A local sports-talk station took a momentary break from talking about the Lakers' struggles and coaching situation Wednesday morning to joke about how under the radar the Clippers are -- before, of course, returning to talk about the Lakers.

That should change soon after the Clippers' 107-100 win over the Heat on Wednesday night on the heels of their victories over the San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Atlanta Hawks and, oh yeah, the Lakers.

"We view these guys as legit contenders for the title," Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said Wednesday night.

There are a handful of moments in every Clippers game, whether you're watching at home or in the arena, when you turn to the person next to you and shake your head. Whether it's a Jamal Crawford crossover, a blinding drive to the basket from Eric Bledsoe or a lob from Paul to Griffin or DeAndre Jordan.

On Wednesday night, Bledsoe and Crawford, two reserves on the deepest team in the league, put on their own show. Bledsoe chased down Dwyane Wade and blocked a breakaway dunk in the second quarter that was reminiscent of a younger Wade, and Crawford crossed over Ray Allen and made a future Hall of Famer look silly moments later. The Clippers' second unit was so dominating, it played all but two minutes of the fourth quarter and extended the Clippers' lead to 19 points as the trio of Crawford, Bledsoe and Matt Barnes (40) nearly outscored Miami's trio of LeBron James, Wade and Chris Bosh (47).

Look no further than the athleticism and depth of the Clippers when looking for the biggest reason why the Clippers are 6-2 and the Lakers are 3-5. They are at opposite ends of the league at the moment in both areas, just as they are in the standings.

While the Lakers were dissecting the Princeton offense and now searching for answers to their struggles this season, Del Negro smiles when asked to describe his system.

"Chris Paul," he says. "All those names and all the stuff … you know … put the ball in your best player's hands."

Last season it was Del Negro who was on the hot seat after the Clippers underperformed during the season.

This season, he's coaching the best team in L.A. while the one that's accustomed to winning and stability is about to welcome their third head coach this season.

"I've never thought about that," Del Negro said. "Times are changing."