Kobe Bryant had a foam-type material inside his nose while talking to reporters Thursday, claiming dryness from a cold was the cause of a nasal issue, not an errant elbow at practice. But a bloodied Lakers image was still an accurate metaphor.
Especially with the Clippers nine games ahead of them in the standings.
Too early to say a changing of the guard has taken place? That the franchise with 16 NBA championships and a penchant for flair wrapped into drama enveloped by victories had fallen below a franchise with no championships and a wicked habit of winning 37% of its games?
Bryant wouldn't concur. Not in his nature. But he delivered the highest compliment, saying the Clippers reminded him of the "Showtime" Lakers as the teams headed into a designated Clippers home game Friday.
"They're very spectacular. They're fun to watch. There's no question about it," Bryant said Thursday before going a step further. "They have higher jumpers than Showtime, though."
These are the Lakers right now, trying to catch up to their young and animated local rivals who only recently ended a team-record 17-game winning streak.
"I think they're expected to blow us out," Bryant said. "[Fans] expect the Clippers to come out there and just run all over us."
The Clippers (25-8) are fighting for the top record in the NBA. The Lakers (15-16) might be fighting just to get into the playoffs, their loss Tuesday against Philadelphia merely the latest in a sad string at Staples Center this season.
Bryant's the one who called the Lakers old and slow after that game, and he continued the imagery while talking about the Clippers.
He said the Lakers needed to play cautiously against them, with more cushion on defense, the same way a slow cornerback would stand farther off the line against a quick receiver.
"They're more explosive," Bryant said. "They have a lot of explosiveness with scorers coming off the bench. We have guys that are very solid and do what we ask them to do."
Sedale Threatt led the Lakers in scoring the last time they lost a season series to the Clippers (1992-93). But a Lakers loss Friday makes them 0-2 against the Clippers with two more left this season.
Funny thing, the Lakers might be what the Clippers need after losses to Denver and Golden State on consecutive nights.
The Lakers are struggling, losing two of their last three games.
"But we know that they are going to be up. They are going to play their best game," said Clippers reserve Matt Barnes, who spent the previous two seasons with the Lakers. "We've got to prepare for Dwight [Howard] to be an All-Star, Kobe to be an All-Star, Steve Nash. All those guys will play like All-Stars. That's how we've got to play, like they are All-Stars, because they are. We've got to be ready for that."
Mostly, the Clippers need to play better basketball.
They lost their last two games by an average of 17.5 points and had health issues too.
Jamal Crawford has a strained left foot that he injured against Denver and affected his play against Golden State. Lamar Odom is still dealing with a sore left ankle and strained ligaments in his right foot. Caron Butler missed the Golden State game because of personal reasons but was expected back Friday.
"We've just got to right the ship, keep playing," guard Chris Paul said.
Despite the Clippers' recent skid, the Lakers need this one more than their counterparts.
"Obviously, yeah," Bryant said. "Just from the record standpoint, absolutely."
Again, no less an authority than Bryant deemed the Clippers championship-worthy.
"Oh, for sure. They're definitely one of the top contenders," he said, crediting Paul and Blake Griffin.
"[Paul] is extremely competitive. I think that became infectious. Blake is too, though," Bryant said. "It starts with those two guys and then they added a bunch of guys that are extremely chippy and feisty."
Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson proposed to longtime companion Jeanie Buss and gave her an engagement ring on Christmas Day.
Buss, a Lakers executive, posted a photo of the ring on her Twitter feed Thursday, accompanied with a quick note that "Phil finally gave me that ring I wanted!"
They have not yet set a wedding date.
Jackson coached the Lakers for 11 seasons over two tours and was contacted by them about returning again after Mike Brown was fired two months ago. The Lakers ended up hiring Mike D'Antoni.
Bryant was the surprise leader in the latest update for All-Star voting, outgaining LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
"I guess people want to see an old dog," said Bryant, who has 1.18 million votes. James has 1.15 million and Durant has 1.09 million.
Voting ends Jan. 14. The All-Star game is Feb. 17 in Houston.