The Los Angeles Clippers, whose 17-game winning streak was halted by the Denver Nuggets on New Year’s Night, are no longer the laughingstock of the NBA or the ugly sister to the formerly high-flying Los Angeles Lakers. These two teams meet on Friday at Staples Center, where they are co-tenants.
In a remarkable turn of events, the Lakers, the team that has the hottest, most passionate fan base in Los Angeles is not only badly trailing the Clippers in the standings (Lakers: 15-16, Clippers 25-8) but also are trailing at the box office. The Clippers are averaging 19,117 fans per home game, while the Lakers are averaging 18,997. Both teams play at the Staples Center, but even the high-profile signings of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard have not saved the Lakers from suffering the ignominy of being the “other” team in town.
Magic Johnson, the Godfather of "Showtime," the brand of basketball that electrified Los Angeles in the 1980s, may have given the Clippers the highest compliment when he referred to their style of play as "Showtime."
"I thought I would never, ever see Showtime again," Johnson said on ESPN on Christmas night. "And I was the architect of Showtime. The Clippers? That's Showtime."
Blake Griffin, the Clippers' star forward, exuded the kind of confidence the Clippers have lacked in the past when he was interviewed after the loss to Denver:
"We were all a step slower today. We've got to be better than that. We're not going to sit and cry on the plane and get beat down. We're not going to cause ourselves to lose our confidence, despite what people want us to do. That's the best thing about the NBA - you've got another game."
Star guard Chris Paul was also level-headed: "Maybe two or three of the 3's that we missed, they had a hand in our face. But we got all the shots that we wanted. There are going to be nights like that. It just hasn't happened for a while.”
Meanwhile, the Lakers slipped to sub-500 after their New Year’s Day loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The torch of Los Angeles basketball has not been passed but seized by the men in red.