By Dennis Berry
The city of Los Angelas is having a great pro sports year right now. The LA Kings are up 3-0 over the top seed Vancouver Canucks in the NHL playoffs. The Los Angeles Dodgers have the best record in major league baseball.
To top it off both the Lakers and Clippers have clinched playoff spots in the NBA. It looks like the Staples Center is going to be pretty packed in the next few weeks. The last time both LA basketball teams were in the playoffs was 2006.
Both teams are playing their best basketball of the year right now. Until the Lakers lost to San Antonio Tuesday night both had won four straight games. The Clippers are 8-2 over their last 10 games, the Lakers 7-3.
The Clippers put their winning streak on the line Wednesday night at Denver.
It’s just not winning streaks in which the two teams look the same.
When you look at the stats the two teams look similar. Offensively the Clippers are averaging 97.4 points a game; The Lakers are averaging 97.1. Defensively the Clippers are giving up 94.6 points a game; the Lakers are giving up 94.9.
Yet both teams took different paths to get where they are now.
The Lakers started from scratch with new head coach Mike Brown. There were struggles along the way as the new coach and players got used to each other. The players were used to Phil Jackson with his style and running the triangle offense. Brown is more of a defensive coach and uses a more traditional style offense.
Besides a new coach, the Lakers have dealt with plenty on and off the court.
The Lakers also struggled while trade rumors surrounded Pau Gasol. The big man struggled early on while his future with the team remained up in the air.
While Gasol did not get traded, Derek Fisher did. Fisher has been a part of five championship teams in LA. The Lakers needed an upgrade at point guard and they got it with the addition of Ramon Sessions from Cleveland. Fisher was traded to Houston, which released him and he eventually signed with Oklahoma City.
There have been times that Brown and his players have clashed. In March, Brown benched Kobe Bryant with just less than 6 minutes to play and the Lakers were down 14 to the Memphis Grizzlies. Kobe did return to the game, but the Lakers lost.
Then Brown benched Andrew Bynum in a 104-101 over the Golden State Warriors. Brown was upset with Bynum after he shot a three pointer in the third quarter with the Lakers holding a slim lead. Bynum did see the court again until three minutes to go.
Even still with all that, The Lakers have emerged with the third best record in the West right now.
Kobe Bryant has been Kobe Bryant, averaging 28 points a game. The emergence of Andrew Bynum has been a key for the Lakers’ success. He is averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds a game. Pau Gasol is also averaging a double-double with 17 and 10. The addition of sessions has added another scorer and better defender at the point position.
The Clippers have also dealt with trades on and off the court distractions.
They made the biggest noise in the offense when they traded for Chris Paul. It was the final piece to the Clippers’ makeover. They signed free agent Caron Butler. They matched the offer made by the Warriors for DeAndre Jordan. They picked up Chauncey Billups off waivers from the Knicks.
The Clippers made all the right moves by bringing in players and keeping their best ones. They needed to show Paul and Blake Griffin that they were committed to building a winning team.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, they lost Billups in February when he tore his ACL in his left knee. That left a big hole in the team. Billups was the veteran leader of the group. He had been through it all in the NBA.
After Billups went down, the Clippers struggled over the next 25 games. They struggled as they tried to replace Billups on the court. At the same time they were fitting in Kenyon Martin and Nick Young into the rotation.
Then it was reported that coach Vinny Del Negro had “lost the team.” That report came the day after a 97-90 loss to the New Orleans Hornets. That was 25 games after Billups went down and the Clippers were 11-14.
Since then the Clippers have gone 12-2. They have beaten Memphis, defending champion Dallas, and Oklahoma City twice during that stretch. The Clippers appear to finally be use to each other.
They have six players averaging at least 10 points a game. Blake Griffin is leading the way at 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. Chris Paul is next 19 points and 9 assists a game. Young, Butler, Mo Williams, and Randy Foye are the others.
Right now it looks like the Lakers will be the three seed and Clippers the four seed in the West. San Antonio and Oklahoma City will be the top seeds in the West and may match up with a LA team in the Conference semi-finals.
The Clippers went 3-1 versus the Thunder and 1-2 against the Spurs. The Lakers are 1-1 against the Spurs and 0-2 against the Thunder with one match up remaining against each team.
Even as hard as it is to believe, we could be looking at a Los Angeles showdown for the Western Conference title.