With the Los Angeles Clippers set to face off against their Staples Center roommate Los Angeles Lakers for the third time in the 2012-2013 NBA season on Thursday, the in-city rivalry will be in full effect–only it feels different now.
The Lakers are only 25-28 so far this season and are 3.5 games out of the eight playoff seed in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Clippers are currently 37-17 and comfortably in the three-seed of the West. Over the history of these two teams, that’s not exactly been how things have worked.
In the 65 years that the Lakers have been in L.A., they have a .618 overall winning percentage, 59 playoff appearances and 16 NBA Championships. In the 43 years of the Clippers’ existence, they have a .372 overall winning percentage, only eight playoff appearances and have never won an NBA Title. It’s been apparent over the years who dominates the basketball power-struggle in Los Angeles.
But with the highly publicized struggles of the Lakers and the smooth-sailing success of the Clippers this season, it seems like things might be changing.
The Clippers are substantially better than the Lakers this season in more than just their win-loss record. The Clippers have a better offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage, turnover rate and opposing turnover rate than the Lakers. And that’s not even every statistic that they lead them in. They Clippers are better than their in-town rivals in almost every single statistical category.
More than that though, the personnel of the Clippers has a brighter future ahead of them than the Lakers’ roster. The Lakers’ current core consists of a 34-year-old Kobe Bryant, an unhappy, injured and 32-year-old Pau Gasol, a visibly slipping Steve Nash at 39 years old and a 27-year-old Dwight Howard whose injuries are starting to pile up and who can leave L.A. in free agency this summer.
Conversely, the nucleus of the Clippers consists of a 27-year-old Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan at only 24 years old and a 23-year-old Blake Griffin. If you’re talking about which core group you would rather have for the future, it seems pretty obvious that the group of Clippers is the correct choice.
Continuing this narrative, the Clippers have also won the two previous matchups this season between them and the Lakers. It doesn’t matter how you look at—statistically, the future of the team, head-to-head matchups, record—the Clippers are absolutely dominating their historical big brother this season.
But given all of that, does that mean that Clippers have dethroned the Lakers as the kings of Los Angeles? That answer is rather complicated.
In terms of play, it seems obvious that the Clippers are a better basketball team than the Lakers right now. Given the age difference between the two teams’ cores, it doesn’t feel like that’s going to change anytime soon.
However, just being the better basketball team isn’t enough to take the Lakers’ crown. The Lakers are one of the most recognizable brands in sports history. Because of the success that franchise has had, people and fans associate the Lakers with winning. That makes them a more popular team than the Clippers, particularly in the city of Los Angeles.
Really, that’s what it all comes down to. The majority of basketball fans in L.A. are Lakers fans, not Clippers fans. However, there’s no doubt that there are a pretty sizable number of fans who have jumped ship from the Lakers to the Clippers. It’s just not enough to where the Clippers can rule the city.
So for now, the Lakers are still at the head of the basketball monarchy in Los Angeles. But if the Clippers continue their success and with Kobe’s retirement possibly looming in the near future, the Lakers’ reign might not last much longer.