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Clippers best in L.A., for moment

By Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times –

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 flashpoint 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 a lopsided ledger, the Lakers still leading, 143-50, with the teams never having faced one another in the playoffs.

Of course, 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 a layup, a breakaway dunk 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.

But the Clippers did it against a Lakers team missing injured point guard Steve Nash and any semblance of what it hopes to eventually accomplish on offense or defense.

Even though they may momentarily be the best team in Los Angeles, the Clippers aren’t exactly the talk of the Lakers’ locker room. At least not before the game.

“When we game plan for them, nobody talks about the Clippers any different than they would Memphis or Golden State or Dallas or whatever,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said about 90 minutes before tipoff. “We just game plan and we go play the game.

“But I think it’s good that they’re better. They’ve got some very good talent there and there’s a buzz, so it makes the game fun and more interesting from that standpoint.”

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.

Things certainly took a turn for the testier last season.

There were flagrant fouls aplenty, between Barnes’ shoving Griffin to the floor and Griffin’s pushing Pau Gasol from behind. Metta World Peace even entered the fray when he put Griffin in a headlock . . . with his legs.

The chippy exchanges continued in the third quarter Friday 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.

“Let’s face it, the Lakers have had tremendous, consistent success for a long time,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said before the game. “We’re trying to start something here that hasn’t been done.”

Any real movement won’t come until springtime.

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

So while 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.

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