Ever since they arrived in LA in 1984, the Clippers have been regarded as the underdog in the city. While the LA Lakers have become the NBA’s most successful franchise, with 17 NBA titles, the Clippers have struggled even to get to the Conference Finals. They have had their moments over the seasons, but they have never threatened to unseat the dominant Lakers.
That was supposed to change when two-time NBA champion Kawhi Leonard arrived in LA in 2019. United with veteran star Paul George, Leonard was to be the driving force for the Clippers as they aimed to overthrow their illustrious city rivals. The Clippers and Leonard were happy to play up the prospect of the Clippers with their new star usurping the Lakers and LeBron James, but the two seasons since then have produced mixed results.
Leonard did lead the Clippers to their fifth Conference semi-finals in the 2019-20 season, but the prospect of a Lakers versus Clippers Western Conference final was ended when the Clippers flopped against the Denver Nuggets, and the Lakers went on to win their 17th title.
That clash between Clippers and Lakers, and Leonard and LeBron seemed possible last season, but injuries, most notably to Anthony Davis, dashed those possibilities. Now coached by Tye Lue, the Clippers made their first ever Conference Finals, only to fall short once again, this time losing to the Phoenix Suns. They will be battling to go one better in 2021-22, but the feeling in the game is that they may have missed their window.
Anthony Davis will be back for the Lakers, but they have not been taking any chances this summer, undertaking a major rebuild, and not simply to make up ground with the Clippers. The super-team that is the Brooklyn Nets still looms large on the NBA radar, while Milwaukee will be tough defending champions and the Golden State Warriors, with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson back in business, are going to have a say in the West.
The biggest upgrade at the Lakers is the arrival of Russell Westbrook. The NBA veteran has maintained an incredible standard of fitness and energy in recent seasons, defying both age and his critics. He remains one of the most compelling players in the sport’s history. His dynamism in the backcourt, added to the deadly duo of LeBron and Davis, alone lifts the Lakers up to the level of the Nets.
However, the Lakers organization has not stopped there. Rajon Rondo, Mr Play-Offs, arguably the star of their 2019-20 season, is back, bringing his experience and coolness to the back court. A rejuvenated Carmelo Anthony is another strong signing, who has the potential to be one of the league’s most effective Sixth Men. Trevor Ariza, DeAndre Jordan and Kent Bazemore will bring their vast experience and their defensive skills to the Lakers, making them one of the toughest teams defensively in the league.
The Clippers have done some good business of their own, most notably in tying down Leonard to a new deal, re-signing Reggie Jackson and Nic Batum, and persuading Serge Ibaka to pick up his player option. They’ve also added the experienced Eric Bledsoe, while rookies Keon Johnson and Jason Preston are exciting prospects. While the Clippers have been consolidating, the Lakers, and the Nets before them, have taken it to another level.
The reaction from sportsbooks offering sports betting in Canada and the US has been significant. The Lakers are the favorites in the West, and second only to the James Harden – Kyrie Irving – Kevin Durant Nets in the overall Championship betting. Worse still for Clippers fans, their team has slipped way down the rankings. The Warriors, Suns, Nuggets and Utah Jazz are all rated ahead of Leonard’s Clippers, making them only the sixth-rated team in the Western Conference.
That may underestimate the Clippers a little. They have a high-class coach, an all-time great leading the team and a solid supporting cast. If they have good fortune with injuries, and if the Lakers veteran squad doesn’t quite gel, and if everyone plays to their best ability, it is possible that the Clippers could match their city rivals. They may also thrive on being written off, but that is a lot of ifs and maybes. As it stands right now, it looks as though the Lakers have overtaken the Clippers and are set to be the kings of the Staples Center for the foreseeable future.