The Los Angeles Clippers have another chance to prove themselves as the best team in town Friday night as they take on the sub-.500 Los Angeles Lakers, although both teams are slumping after stringing together some nice play.
It's been a role reversal in Los Angeles: nobody is contesting the Clippers are one of the best teams in the league, while Lakers fans worry whether the team can make the playoffs after a horrid start.The Clips recently ran off the most dominant stretch of play by an NBA team in at least a few seasons: 17 straight wins, including all 16 in the month of December, with 10 of those wins coming by double digits. The Lakers are also coming off their best play of the season, having won five straight games to peak just a bit over .500 by beating the then-Eastern Conference-best New York Knicks on Christmas Day.
Since then, things have cooled off: for the Clippers, poor play on both ends of the floor has cost them both of their games in 2013, shooting just 17 percent from beyond the arc in a 14-point loss to the Denver Nuggets before Stephen Curry and David Lee had spectacular nights as the Golden State Warriors dropped them by 21.
The Lakers, on the other hand, are seeing some prime edition Kobeball: Kobe Bryant had 40 and 36 points respectively against the Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers, but the rest of his teammates couldn't get the job done, as the Lakers allowed 126 points to Denver and their non-Kobe starters were 9-for-34 from the field and missed all eight of their three-point attempts in a four-point loss.
Caron Butler returns for the Clippers after missing a game for personal reasons, but Matt Barnes will probably draw the majority of minutes sticking Bryant, his teammate for two years before switching Staples Center locker rooms this offseason. That said, Bryant will get his. He's the reason they have the No. 6 offensive efficiency in the league, just a spot below the Clippers. The question is whether his teammates can fill in, and whether anybody can get a stop: the Clippers are also a top-three team on defense, while the Lakers aren't in the top half of the league. The biggest matchup Friday night might not be one-on-one, but whether Dwight Howard can defend the paint sufficiently against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan crashing to the hoop. For Howard's woes this year, he's still an elite shot-blocker, and Griffin and Jordan can each finish with the best of them.
The Lakers are 3-2 with Mike D'Antoni's new preferred starting lineup featuring Steve Nash at point guard and Darius Morris at the two, but playing a shade over .500 the rest of the way might cut it for the 15-16 Lakers. Nash has been great since his return from injury, with three double-digit assist games, while Morris has generally played sparing minutes before giving way to Metta World Peace off the bench.
The first matchup between these teams was a coming-out party for the Clippers in the first week of the season, which the Clippers eventually won 105-95 but had led by more in a flashy win.
Here's the info on the Battle for Los Angeles:
Friday, Jan. 4
Los Angeles Lakers (15-16) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (25-8)
10:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPN, PRIME, C+D