The Los Angeles Lakers have long dominated over their city nemesis the Los Angeles Clippers. They have 144 all-time wins against their city rivals, including 98 wins since the Clippers move to Los Angeles. However, the Clippers have recently been pushing back, including a season sweep last year against the Lakers. Even though the Lakers may have won the series the previous year, the Clippers still gave them plenty of trouble, as they have slowly built themselves into a contender.
Looking at the Clippers’ roster, they have three main keys that have been the Lakers’ weaknesses the past couple of seasons — an elite point guard, athletic big men, and a strong second unit.
Chris Paul was all set to arrive in Los Angeles as a Laker until David Stern stepped in and voided the trade. Instead, the Clippers put together a deal shortly after that brought the star point guard to their side of town. And simply, the Lakers have not had an answer for him. From Derek Fisher, to Ramon Sessions, to Steve Nash, nobody could keep up with Paul. He has been able to dictate the game on his terms, weaving through the defense to set up his teammates. If no one was open, he settles for his own shot, forcing the Lakers to pick their poison.
Yet the biggest problem might not be Paul. The Lakers have struggled with the athletic big men on the Clippers, especially Blake Griffin. Watching Griffin against Pau Gasol makes one think just how much Gasol’s game has regressed. On offense, Griffin has little trouble getting around Gasol or beating him down the court. More importantly, once he or DeAndre Jordan goes up for an alley-oop or slam dunk, Gasol just cannot compete, and he has struggled being able to keep a body on both of them to prevent them from going up uncontested. On the opposite end, Gasol is unable to take advantage of his height or his variety of moves as we are used to seeing. Sometimes it is a lack of touches, but other times it is a lack of confidence.
To be fair, Gasol is not the only one who has trouble with the two big men. In the past two years, both Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum have had trouble again Jordan’s athleticism (although Bynum did have one monster game against them in 2012). His length and ability to contest their shots is something that most big men in the league do not possess.
Lastly, the role players on the Clippers seem to outplay their counterparts whenever the two teams meet. The depth of the Clippers has been more evident the past two seasons, with players such as Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes playing well against the Lakers’ second unit. The Lakers just cannot compete with the depth of the Clippers anymore, which the Clippers hope will greatly help them come playoff time.
The roles of the teams have been reversed, as the Clippers prepare for the playoffs while the Lakers are looking forward to the lottery. Five years ago, this may not have been predicted, but now, the Clippers are trying to prove that there is more than one NBA franchise in Los Angeles.