LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Clippers have no banners on the walls or in the rafters at Staples Center. They would need decades to measure up to the Lakers’ history.
And they don’t care. The past is easy to overlook in Hollywood. The present belongs to Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers, who are running Staples Center with style this season.
Paul had 24 points and 13 assists, Griffin scored 18 of his 22 points in a spectacular first quarter and the Clippers cemented their supremacy in Los Angeles with a 125-101 victory over the Lakers on Thursday night.
Chauncey Billups hit five 3-pointers while scoring 21 points for the Clippers, who never trailed as they roared into the All-Star break by clinching the season series in their city rivalry for the first time in 20 years. The Clippers have won the Staples Center co-tenants’ first three games of the season, with Los Angeles’ longtime underdogs burying the 16-time champions in this latest meeting under a wave of 16 3-pointers.
“It’s great. It’s important to get these wins, but we’re not really just concerned about just them,” said Griffin, who outscored the Lakers by himself in the opening quarter. “I mean, it’s good to be 3-0 against them, but we still have to play them another time, and we still have to play a lot of other teams. This isn’t one of those seasons where it’s going to come down to either us or them. There’s a lot of other teams that are good in the West.”
Caron Butler had 13 points and eight rebounds for the Clippers, who lead Golden State by seven games atop the Pacific Division standings. The win was their fourth straight in an impressive five-night stretch heading into what could be a memorable All-Star game for Los Angeles’ teams, which are contributing four of the West’s five starters this weekend in Houston.
The Clippers hadn’t won this series in a season since taking three of five from the Lakers in 1992-93 — but on April 7, they’ll go for the franchise’s first season sweep of the Lakers since 1975. In a possible sign of how far the Lakers have fallen this season, Paul wouldn’t even recognize the Clippers’ city dominance without qualifying it.
“That’s all good and well, but it’s all about the postseason,” Paul said. “This means nothing if we don’t do things in the playoffs.”
Kobe Bryant had 20 points and 11 assists for the Lakers, who head to the break in 10th place in the Western Conference, four games below .500 with little reason to suspect things will get a whole lot better — particularly without Pau Gasol, who’s likely out until April with the latest in their series of serious injuries.
“We’ve played well, won eight of 12, so it’s not to be forgotten,” said Steve Nash, who scored his 17,000th career point. “I wouldn’t say we have an identity yet. I wouldn’t say we’ve formed any kind of consistent understanding, so we’ve got work to do.”
The Clippers scored the first 15 points despite their weariness. Dwight Howard had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Lakers, who missed their first nine shots and never got closer than 13 points in the second half.
Bryant rebounded from his four-point performance Tuesday against Phoenix with a solid game, but the Lakers’ defense couldn’t keep up with the Clippers’ perimeter shooters. Paul, Butler and Matt Barnes hit three 3-pointers apiece.
The Lakers’ defense “was nonexistent,” Bryant said.
“They made a lot of shots, and they really broke the game open by getting out in transition,” he added. “It’s a step back. We just have to regroup.”
The Clippers appear to be cruising toward the first division title in the woebegone club’s 43-year history, dominating the lackluster Pacific and establishing themselves as a legitimate threat to Oklahoma City and San Antonio in the West. They’ll need only nine wins after the break to secure the best season in the club’s Los Angeles history, and 11 victories for the best year in franchise history, surpassing the 49-win Buffalo Braves in 1974-75.
Just down the hall, the Lakers are mired in one of the most disappointing seasons in their history despite adding veteran stars Howard and Nash to their roster last summer.
“Enjoy the break, and let’s get ready for a big push in the second half of the season,” Bryant said to the Lakers’ crowd before the game.
Instead, Griffin roared out of the gate for the Clippers, scoring their first 10 points and making nine of his 10 shots. The Lakers erased much of the Clippers’ early 16-point lead with a second-quarter rally led by Antawn Jamison, who scored 13 of his 17 points in the period while the Lakers pulled within three points.
But Billups led an 11-0 spurt late in the period and hit three more 3-pointers early in the second half.
“Blake was amazing in that first quarter, and I was just excited to see (Billups) on this stage in this big game,” Paul said.
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