Heisler: It’s a merry holiday for Lakers and Clippers

first_imgL.A. vs. L.A. (cont): It’s a merry holiday for local fans, awakening Christmas to the next game in their long-awaited four-times-a-season rivalry.If followers of both teams longed for a rivalry, it was only because Laker fans thought it was fun to step on the Clippers … like the time the Clips didn’t give Shaquille O’Neal all the tickets he wanted and he dropped 61 points on them.Meanwhile, Clipper fans lived to upend the haughty Lakers … as their team has done for the last seven-plus seasons, going 24-5 against their highnesses.Nevertheless, the outcomes were soon forgotten with no one really interested in a matchup of unequals … which is over at long last. The Clippers have superior depth to the Lakers (and everyone else), with four of them averaging 19 points or more.The Lakers have only three players in double figures with Kyle Kuzma squeezing in with 11.3.The Clippers started out cohesive with all roles filled as Leonard and George joined the starters and Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell continued their reign as the highest-scoring bench tandem in NBA history.The Lakers looked like they might need weeks to sort out things with a roster full of supporting players, none of whom is averaging 26 minutes: Kuzma, JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook, Troy Daniels and Jared Dudley.Instead, all slipped easily into their roles, especially in Coach Frank Vogel’s defense where no one dreamed they would be a top team.The Lakers had a four-game lead last week when Davis went down late in the win in Atlanta, spraining an ankle but staying in.No MRI was taken with team officials dismissing it as “ankle soreness.” Noted our Kyle Goon: “The person who made the call to stay in the game seemed to be Davis.”“He said, he’s good so we leave him in there,” Vogel said. “Doesn’t go any further than that.”Actually, it did. Davis sat out the next game, the loss in Indiana that ended their 14-game road winning streak.Sitting A.D., at least, showed the grownups were capable of taking charge. Nevertheless, in the big picture, James has run things since he arrived, quickly unseating Coach Luke Walton when word spread of LeBron’s dissatisfaction … recruiting Davis in a distraction that blew up their season and chased off Magic Johnson … but was worth it when A.D. fell into their laps.With Davis, an upcoming free agent, yet to commit himself, the Lakers’ unspoken but primary goal is to accommodate him. Even that has worked spectacularly with A.D.’s desire to play power forward in a twin-tower lineup, rather than center in a small “death” lineup, fitting with Vogel’s rim-protecting defense.And it’s James, who has decided how many games he should miss to date – none, until Sunday’s loss to the Nuggets – at 34, turning 35 next week.“I mean, unless we’re getting to like late in the season and we’ve clinched and we can’t get any better or any worse … but why wouldn’t I play if I’m healthy?” James said in Atlanta. “It doesn’t make any sense to me, personally.”It made even less sense to LeBron after he struggled in the opener against the Clippers and “Washed King” jibes sprang forth on social media … but they are no more with the merely middle-aged James averaging 25.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 10.6 assists.Indeed, James has always tried to play, appearing in 82 games at 33 in his last season in Cleveland after playing into June with seven straight Finals appearances.Or, at least, he always tried to play before last season’s Lost Cause when he suffered a groin injury in the Lakers’ Christmas upset of the Warriors, didn’t return until Jan. 31 and wound up playing a career-low 55 games amid lowlights like his Dec. 28 Wine Party when he arrived with his own refreshments.Without him, the Lakers then lost to the gritty Clippers, who were already surprising people with their no-star lineup en route to a 48-34 finish … 11 games ahead of the 37-45 Lakers … leading to the acquisitions of Leonard, who turned the Lakers down, and George, who turned them down the year before.Related Articles Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and other NBA stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant Photos: Lakers defeat Trail Blazers in Game 4 of first-round playoff series For Lakers’ LeBron James, Jacob Blake’s shooting is bigger issue than a big Game 4 victory The Lakers are No. 1 and the Clippers No. 4 in the Western Conference with their meetings now league-wide events, like the season opener when the Clippers showed their hype wasn’t just talk, beating the Lakers by 10 points.Indeed, nothing is what it had long been with the Clippers starting out favored to (gulp) win the title.Instead, it’s the Lakers who became the surprise team of the West, with nothing else going as expected.The Lakers, who own this market, are the ones who are pouring it on with Anthony Davis No. 17 and LeBron James No. 18 in minutes per game through Monday’s games.The Clippers, who aspire to recognition, have no one in the top 30 in minutes … limiting Paul George to 31 per game, six fewer than last season … and keeping Kawhi Leonard out of back-to-backs even if they have to pay the price (18-5 with Kawhi, 4-5 without).center_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Twelve months later, both teams are elite, or two more than might have been expected a year ago.Not that the outcome of the game, however hyped, means anything more than showing how they’ve progressed, how they match up now and what surprises they might yet be capable of, such as Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokuonmpo dropping five 3-pointers on the Lakers in last week’s “Finals preview.”Whatever happens, we know the Clippers are good, balanced, eyeing the big prize and run as intelligently as any team in the league.The Lakers are no longer a worst-case scenario … just the opposite.If James and Davis will surely take a deep breath and opt for days off, they appear to be having too much fun beating all comers to do it now.Indeed, both local teams share the joy, so consider it one more gift that has been a long time coming. 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