Remember when the Lakers were soaring and the Clippers appeared to be, well, the Clippers again?
It seems the roles have reversed at a bad time for Staples Center's highest-profile tenant, who witnessed the Clippers' recent transformation up close Wednesday night in a 90-82 loss in front of a sellout crowd of 20,161.
The Clippers absorbed Kobe Bryant's 34 field-goal attempts, withstood a strong fourth-quarter push from the struggling Lakers and again did it with defense, limiting their rivals to four points and one field goal in the final three minutes.
The combination led to the third consecutive victory in a 7-1 stretch that put the Clippers (37-37) at .500 for the first time since Feb. 9.
The Lakers (39-36) are moving in the wrong direction, having lost four of five with Western Conference playoff berths still to be determined.
Although they still occupy the sixth spot, the Lakers hold only a half-game lead over the seventh-place Denver Nuggets and a 1 1/2 -game advantage over the Clippers.
Considered the NBA's biggest disappointment for much of the season, the Clippers are feeling good about themselves these days, and getting their first victory over the Lakers in three games is only part of the reason.
"Obviously, it's a big win for us," Coach Mike Dunleavy said. "To continue the good play that we've had, probably in the last 12 games or so, I was real pleased.
"We got off to a great start, a lot of intensity, and we executed well. We built up a 19-point lead, but you knew they would make some runs. They came back strong ... but our guys in the fourth quarter did a great job defensively and locked down."
The Clippers' recent emphasis on ball movement and sharing helped them overcome six-for-17 shooting from Elton Brand, in large part because Corey Maggette and Cuttino Mobley have taken charge of the offense.
Maggette (22 points, six assists) and Mobley (18 points, seven assists) continued to lead the way with their playmaking and shooting, helping the Clippers build the 19-point second-half lead.
"We've been playing well as a team," Maggette said. "We're all moving the basketball and doing everything we can to share the ball and set up each other. It's just so positive the way we've been playing, and everybody sees it."
Mobley and Quinton Ross also combined to limit Bryant to 29 points. The league's leading scorer made only 13 of his 34 shots. Lamar Odom scored 21 points for the Lakers and Luke Walton contributed 13, but most of the Lakers spent the game watching Bryant take an assortment of difficult shots.
"They did a good job of trying to crowd the lane," Bryant said. "But it's no different than what I've seen in the past."
Said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson: "Kobe's taking a lot of shots, probably too many tonight. It's a situation where we've got to move the ball."
There were many highlights in the first half for the Clippers, who had a 57-42 lead despite getting only four points from Brand. The Clippers closed the half on an 8-0 run capped by Maggette's putback at the buzzer on Brand's missed layup.
Chris Kaman set the tone with aggressive moves inside against Andrew Bynum, and Mobley and Maggette continue to thrive as playmakers.
"We're doing well," Kaman said. "We're on a high note each game as the playoffs are getting closer and closer. That's a good place to be for us."
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*--* W L GB 6. LAKERS 39 36 23 1/2 7. Denver 38 36 24 8. CLIPPERS 37 37 25 9. Golden State 36 39 1 1/2 10. New Orleans 35 40 2 1/2