While Kobe Bryant and the Lakers (15-16) have historically held the advantage… (Chris Carlson / Assocaited…)
There may be hope for the Clippers yet. A franchise once more adrift than the S.S. Minnow has charted a course near the top of the Western Conference, leaving its longtime rival in a choppy wake. The Clippers have a nine-game lead on the Lakers in the Pacific Division and already hold a 1-0 edge in the season series heading into their latest matchup Friday at Staples Center. Times staff writer Ben Bolch looks at some of the mileposts in the series and the ties that bind the current teams:
Hall of Fame versus no name
The Lakers' dominance in the early years of the series should have had all the surprise of a "Scooby-Doo" ending.
The Clippers were originally known as the Buffalo Braves, an expansion franchise that plucked mostly second-tier players from its NBA brethren when it joined the league for the 1970-71 season.
The Lakers were coming off three consecutive Finals appearances and had a roster that included Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Gail Goodrich.
The first meeting between the franchises was held at the Forum on Oct. 30, 1970, and may have been more notable for the 5,000 basketballs given away than anything that happened during the Lakers' sloppy 104-90 victory. The Lakers would go on to win 14 of the first 16 meetings between the teams.
"Winners can't complain," Chamberlain said after the first matchup, "no matter how bad they are."
Series shifts, results don't
The Braves remained in Buffalo from 1970-78 before making a six-year stopover in San Diego, when they became the Clippers. It was a nickname that for decades was synonymous with losing. Moving to Los Angeles in 1984 did little to improve their standing in the rivalry with the Lakers.
The Lakers have had winning streaks of 16, 12 and nine in a series they lead, 143-50 overall and 97-30 since the Clippers relocated here.
The Clippers have had two shining moments in the series.
They swept the four head-to-head meetings during the 1974-75 season, when they were the Braves.
And the Clippers had something significant to celebrate on March 30, 1993, when they last won a season series over the Lakers. That night Clippers center Stanley Roberts had 25 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks during a 101-93 victory that gave his team a 3-2 triumph in the season series.
"I wanted to go out and prove we're on our way up," Roberts said.
Funny seeing you here
Four current Clippers once changed their uniforms down the hallway inside Staples Center.
Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes, Caron Butler and Ronny Turiaf know every nuance of life as a Laker, including what Kobe Bryant likes to eat before games and which courtside seats Flea and Jack Nicholson prefer.
The four Clippers have been more than retreads, with Butler a productive starter. Barnes, Odom and Turiaf are part of a bench that is among the NBA's best, averaging 41.7 points per game.
The Lakers have one former Clipper in guard Steve Blake, whose triple-double against the Lakers in the 2009-10 regular-season finale undoubtedly helped persuade them to give him a four-year contract the next summer. Blake has been sidelined since November by a torn abdominal muscle.
Hey now, you're an All-Star
Each team will probably have two starters in the All-Star game next month in Houston. Only the Clippers have a shot at having their coach join them.
Vinny Del Negro could do something esteemed predecessors Jack Ramsay, Larry Brown and Mike Dunleavy could not by coaching his own players in the NBA's midseason showcase.
All it would take is for the Clippers (25-8) to have the best record in the Western Conference at the end of Feb. 3, the cutoff date for the selection of All-Star coaches. Del Negro would also coach the team if the Clippers trailed only Oklahoma City because of a no-repeat rule that could keep the Thunder's Scott Brooks from coaching in consecutive years.
Del Negro would be thrilled to coach probable West starters Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, Clippers who are among the leaders in All-Star voting. He would also probably be OK with coaching the Lakers' Bryant and Dwight Howard, who also figure to be starters.
Times researcher Scott Wilson contributed to this report.