Denied a Hallway Series once again, in all likelihood, L.A.'s pro basketball fans will at least get the Hallway Showdown tonight.
The Lakers and Clippers, dwellers in the same city, tenants in the same building, occupants of the same division and both mired in disappointing seasons, will face each other tonight on common ground at Staples Center with their postseason fates perhaps on the line.
"To have this kind of matchup, I'm sure the city has been buzzing about it," said the Lakers' Kobe Bryant. "This city loves basketball."
"It's going to be competitive," fellow Laker Lamar Odom said. "You got two teams fighting for playoff position, really one team battling for its playoff life."
That would be the Clippers. If the postseason began today, they would be home watching on their big screens. The Clippers are half a game behind the Golden State Warriors, current holders of the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference. And moving up ominously behind the Clippers are the New Orleans Hornets, half a game back after beating the Clippers, 103-100, in overtime Tuesday.
With so many possible scenarios to consider, the Clippers prefer to simplify it to one goal: win their remaining five games. With a 37-40 record, they have played one fewer game than the Warriors. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head competition, but the two teams split their four regular-season games. By running the table, the Clippers would assure themselves of winning the second tiebreaker, best division record.
"It's tough with the situation that we're in," Clippers forward Corey Maggette said. "We've really got to win out because we've let some games get away."
"It's not impossible for us to make it," fellow Clipper Elton Brand said, "but it got a lot a tougher the last few days."
For the Lakers, it's a lot simpler. With four games remaining, their magic number is two, meaning any combination of wins, or losses by their closest pursuers, totaling two would put them in the postseason. Times have sure changed. This is a franchise that used to focus on the magic number for winning home-court advantage in the postseason.
Instead, the Lakers are trying to pull out of a nosedive that has resulted in six losses in their last eight games. In the Clippers, the Lakers will be facing a team that has lost three in a row.
But the Clippers can at least take solace from the fact their last victory was a week ago against the Lakers, 90-82.
The Hallway Showdown may not mean much in the NBA's grand scheme of things, but for L.A. fans this season, this may well be as good as it gets.
Coming off the practice court at the Lakers' El Segundo training facility Wednesday afternoon, Lakers forward Vladimir Radmanovic offered a rare sight: a smile.
He hasn't grinned much since separating his right shoulder snowboarding during the All-Star break. But after engaging in five-on-five drills Wednesday, he proclaimed himself fit to play.
"It feels all right," he said of his shoulder. "I'm ready to give it a shot. I just want to play."
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said with a smile of his own: "He may expect to play, but we'll see what I put on the [active] roster.
"He looked good [in practice].... He had some moments out there that were nice to see."
With the postseason looming, a bona fide big game against the Clippers at hand and serious questions about their viability as a playoff contender, what was the hottest topic for the Lakers at practice Wednesday?
Luke Walton and Britney Spears.
Linked by an Australian website to the pop singer, Walton stressed that he has never even spoken to Spears, who has attended several Lakers games this season.
"The rumors aren't true," Walton said. "I'm sure Britney is a great person, but I don't even know her. I have a girlfriend. I'm very happy with my relationship."
Has his famous father, Bill, called to ask about the rumors?
"No," Walton said, "my dad probably thinks it's true."
Times staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this report.
Site -- Staples Center.
Radio -- 570, 710, 1330, 610.
Records -- Lakers 40-38, Clippers 37-40
Season series -- Lakers, 2-1.
Update -- The key could be in the middle, where the Lakers will again be missing center Kwame Brown, out with an ankle injury. That will leave the tag-team of Andrew Bynum and Ronny Turiaf to counter Chris Kaman. Matched against that pair a week ago, Kaman had 17 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots.
A look at the teams fighting for the last three playoff positions in the Western Conference:
*--* W L GB 6. Denver 42 36 23 7. LAKERS 40 38 25 8. Golden State 38 40 27 9. CLIPPERS 37 40 1/2 10. New Orleans 37 41 1