Chris Paul and Caron Butler of the celebrate during a 93-77 Clipper victory… (Harry How / Getty Images )
While the Lakers go through their daily dramas on the court and off, the Clippers are gaining confidence and beginning to explore their boundless potential.
While the Lakers struggle to adjust to their third coach this season and plod along on aging legs, the Clippers are playing unselfish, winning basketball at a breathtaking tempo and in a stable environment, a novelty after years of turmoil and turnover.
While the Lakers have had to play Kobe Bryant nearly 40 minutes a game, the Clippers' bench is so deep they've been able to rest their starters during the fourth quarter several times without losing a beat.
The contrast between the teams' styles and fortunes this season has been startling. The Lakers will improve when Steve Nash returns and Pau Gasol hits his stride, but the Clippers have so far been the more cohesive and complete team. That could last all season because of the foundation the Clippers have been establishing during their franchise-record-tying 11-game winning streak.
"We know we have to get a lot better," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said Thursday, "but we're also doing some things pretty well right now. We just have to continually build on it and continue to learn how to win games."
The Clippers have learned well enough to be in position to set a franchise record Friday night if they defeat the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center.
Oklahoma City's loss to Minnesota on Thursday means the Pacific Division-leading Clippers (19-6) have the NBA's longest active winning streak. The Clippers also have a 2 1/2-game lead over second-place Golden State and a 7 1/2-game lead over the Lakers, but players said Thursday they don't study the standings.
"I didn't even know that. Honestly," said guard Jamal Crawford, who's averaging 16.6 points as the leader of the superb second unit. "We're just trying to stay locked in on what we're doing and continue to try and have success."
Chris Paul, still entertaining visitors after practice Thursday with details of his rare dunk against New Orleans on Wednesday, said he had no idea of what the gap is between the Clippers and Lakers — or anyone else.
"I wouldn't have known that if you hadn't just said it," he said. "We don't pay attention to that. It's just all about the next game."
That focus has worked wonders for the Clippers, not just in the standings but in revising the franchise's West Coast history.
Their current win streak, which followed a six-game streak from Nov. 7 through Nov. 19, makes this the first time in their Los Angeles incarnation they've had two six-game winning streaks in one season. Their ancestors, the Buffalo Braves, won 11 consecutive games in 1974-75 and had a seven-game winning streak that season.
Taking ownership of the franchise record would be a significant step for the Clippers in an evolution that has accelerated this season and holds promise of better to come.
"It means a lot. It's all about the process and it's all about the season, but at the end of the day you always like to have some type of legacy," Paul said. "And I think what will be pretty special about breaking the record is that it's not an individual record — it's a team record that will connect all of us until somebody else comes along and does it again.
"It would be pretty special, no question, but we've just got to remember what got us this far."
They're in this position because they can run with the fastest and best and play solid defense. Their closeness as a team helps too. When they're not together they're often chatting on Twitter and exchanging compliments.
"If you weren't a close-knit team, I don't think it would have happened," Crawford said. "When you genuinely appreciate what each other brings to the table, you let the world know instead of hiding."
Winning together would make them even closer. The season is about one-third done and the Clippers are bound to hit some rough stretches, but Crawford said he's not afraid of those bumps.
"I think we'll do a good job with it. We're finding different ways to win, so if we lose now it's almost like we'd be beating ourselves somehow," he said. "In this stretch, we've won in every imaginable way: ugly games, games where we've gone up a lot of points. So we'll just continue to use the same formula."
And to rewrite their record books.
"That's been the plan since day one, since we got here," said Paul, who was acquired from New Orleans just over a year ago. "We won in Utah after not winning a certain amount of games in Utah, and stuff like that. So we just keep trying to knock down barriers and see what's next."