Mike Brown says Clippers are focused
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in a unique situation heading into Wednesday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers. They're actually looking up at their Staples Center cohabitants in the standings.
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With that reversal of fortune as the backdrop, there was a growing sense Tuesday that the rivalry between the teams is getting testier. The Lakers' Matt Barnes renewed his complaints about the Clippers' Blake Griffin flopping -- and Griffin replied that he's not at all concerned with what Barnes thinks.
The Lakers have won the Pacific Division the last four years, but the "Lob City" Clippers lead the division with a 9-5 record through the first month of the season, outpacing the 10-8 Lakers.
"I look at it as it's not a rivalry. Right now they're ahead of us in terms of what they want to be doing with their team on both ends of the floor and so for us, we're still searching," said Lakers coach Mike Brown before practice Tuesday, as the Lakers held their first full-contact session since training camp.
"That's the state of where we are right now," he added. "We're a ways a way from being, or reaching our potential of, where we're going to be at the end of the season."
The Lakers come into the game having lost three straight games, while the Clippers come in winners of three of five despite playing without starting point guard Chris Paul, who has been out with a sprained left hamstring but is expected to start Wednesday.
The Clippers beat the Lakers 102-94 on Jan. 14 and also swept two preseason meetings against their fellow Angelinos.
"They're more settled in," Brown said when asked if he thought the Clippers should feel like they have the edge heading into the matchup. "They're more focused in on where they're headed and if I were them, I would think that I would have the edge too."
Barnes, who started his career with the Clippers as an undrafted free agent as a rookie, senses that the rivalry has changed.
"It was a big-brother kind of situation," Barnes said. "Now that they have Chris Paul and Blake's coming into his own and DeAndre [Jordan] and [Chauncey] Billups and Caron [Butler], they're a loaded team. On paper they got a great team and they've been playing well."
One aspect of the Clippers' game that Barnes would not compliment, however, was Griffin's reputation for flopping -- an issue that Barnes had talked to reporters about during the preseason.
"Just like the dunks, that's a part of his game so you got to adjust to it," Barnes said.
When Griffin was relayed the message at the Clippers' practice in Playa Vista on Tuesday, he smiled.
"Still? From that preseason game?" Griffin said. "I don't really have much to say to him or to that. If he's mad that I tried to take a charge, so be it. I'm not even going to try to get into trash talking and going back and forth. If that's what he feels, that's what he feels. I know I didn't flop the last game. So we'll see. We'll see what happens."
Griffin chalked up Barnes' attitude to the Clippers' Jan. 14 win, in which Griffin had 22 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists.
"I've heard a lot of talk like that from them through other people," Griffin said. "That's what happens. We won the first game and that's what happens. We'll let them do all that. I'm not worried about Matt Barnes and what he thinks about me flopping or not."
All of the flopping, perceived or real, helped make the last Lakers-Clippers meeting a chippy affair marred by five technical fouls -- with four of them coming against the Lakers.
Brown submitted a tape of the game to the league to point out what he described as a "dangerous" play involving Griffin and Lakers rookie Darius Morris. The Lakers guard was knocked to the floor by Griffin when he was airborne after the whistle was blown for a foul on the floor against Paul. No call was made on Griffin at the time.
The league determined Griffin should have received "at least a technical," according to Brown, and also rescinded a technical that Morris picked up later in the game for trying to help teammate Josh McRoberts off the floor after he was fighting for a loose ball with several Clippers.
"The officials, they're human, but they overreacted and gave the Clippers a point there," Brown said.
For his part, Griffin admitted that there was a message being sent to Morris on the play -- there's no dunking after the whistle has blown, a lesson Griffin said he learned early in his pro career.
"I think it was Juwan Howard who came up and grabbed me and said, 'Hey, don't do that young fella. You're going to get hurt. Somebody will mess you up,' " Griffin recalled. "I came to the bench and Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman both said to me whenever you hear the whistle, stop, don't go up and try to dunk, you're going to get hurt. From then on I knew that's what happens.
"I wasn't trying to hurt (Morris). I know Darius. We're cool. I mean, looking at the tape I don't even see an area where you could say I was trying to hurt him. Maybe it was the way he fell because it was awkward. It's something that's lingering and I have no idea why."
Brown didn't hide the Lakers' frustrations with their recent losing streak.
"I'm frustrated," Brown said. "The rest of the coaches are frustrated. I think the rest of the players should be frustrated and they deserve to be frustrated because we all expect to and want to win."
Pau Gasol said that the Clippers have had a "pretty much easier schedule" than the Lakers thus far, playing 14 games to the Lakers' 18. But the Lakers view it as a game they need to have.
"I think that they want to come out and they want to beat us for all the times that we beat them in the past, and they feel like they have an opportunity to do that," said Andrew Bynum. "We don't want that to happen. We're going to go out and play hard."Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. ESPNLosAngeles.com Clippers writer Arash Markazi contributed to this report from Playa Vista.