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A rivalry awaits arrival of its second element: The Clippers

A November win is all well and good, but until Clippers can take down Lakers in the playoffs it won't mean much.

November 03, 2012|By Ben Bolch
  • Caron Butler hits a three-point shot as time expires in the second quarter.
Caron Butler hits a three-point shot as time expires in the second quarter. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

It won't be a rivalry until there's some Clippers revelry.

This doesn't count.

Lakers-Clippers won't be Lakers-Celtics or Lakers-Heat or, heck, maybe even Lakers-Trail Blazers until the Clippers raise a championship banner or sink the Lakers in the playoffs.

Blake Griffin throwing down ferocious one-handed dunks and Caron Butler pumping his arm after a halftime buzzer-beater Friday night at Staples Center was great and everything, but it hardly signaled that the Hallway Series had significantly veered in the Clippers' direction.

Anyone who thinks a 105-95 Clippers victory over the undermanned and overwhelmed Lakers in early November is a flash point in the series needs to check a few more meaningful tallies.

NBA titles? It's still 16-0 Lakers, with the Lakers having collected twice as many championships as the Clippers have made playoff appearances.

Head-to-head meetings? That also remains an uneven ledger, the Lakers still leading, 143-50, with the teams never having faced one another in the playoffs.

"It's only a rivalry when both teams win every now and then, and it's still pretty lopsided," said Clippers point guard Chris Paul, whose 15 assists were as many as the entire Lakers roster accumulated. "For us, we just wanted to come in and try to get a win in a tough environment, and we did."

To be sure, there were some encouraging developments Friday in a series that is trying to raise the volume above a whisper.

Matt Barnes could be a much-needed foil in the rivalry, the onetime Laker returning Friday to torment his former team. The Clippers forward was booed each time he entered the game and responded with layups and breakaway dunks and a banked-in jumper.

Jamal Crawford was more annoying than Clipper Darrell doing his shtick courtside at a designated Lakers game, the Clippers guard continually coming up with big baskets to help ensure the Lakers fell to 0-3 for the first time since the 1978-79 season.

Lamar Odom also got in a shot at his former pals, making a 34-footer as the shot clock expired early in the fourth quarter.

Perhaps the most heartening change for the Clippers was the reaction of the pro-Lakers crowd.

"The biggest difference between these games [against the Lakers] now and the games my rookie year [is] when we used to run out that tunnel or for the starting lineups, nobody used to boo," Griffin said. "They didn't really care. And now you feel the heat a little bit. So I think that says a lot about where we're headed."

The Clippers know they beat a Lakers team missing injured point guard Steve Nash and any semblance of what it hopes to eventually accomplish on offense or defense. Not that they're about to give back the victory.

There are some things that could help further raise the intensity in the rivalry. Dust-ups, close games and a boatload more Clippers victories could all help.

There was a chippy exchange in the third quarter when a scrum of three Clippers and three Lakers continually jostled for position on an inbounds play, twice stopping play as referees implored them to keep their hands to themselves.

All these moments are great fodder for message boards and sports talk radio, but they won't move the dial in the rivalry like a Clippers victory over the Lakers in the playoffs would.

"Rivalries are built over time and there's one team that has so many championships and another team that's trying to change the tradition," said Odom, who has been on both sides of the rivalry, "so it's important for us to be a part of the tradition-changing."

Any real movement won't come until springtime.

The Clippers, like the Lakers, are expected to advance deep into Western Conference playoffs.

So though the teams will meet again Jan. 4, Feb. 14 and April 7, it's the matchups in subsequent weeks that could determine whether the rivalry is truly worth marking on the calendar.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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