If there was any question in 2012-13 that the balance of NBA power in Southern California had shifted, the Los Angeles Clippers removed all doubt this season.
They’ll look to win their second straight season series from the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
Prior to last season – when the Clippers swept four meetings by an average of 13.2 points – they had won the series twice in their 42-year history. Now, they’re on the verge of accomplishing that in consecutive years after taking two of this season’s first three meetings.
The Clippers lost 116-103 to the Lakers on Oct. 29 but have since won two matchups by a combined 84 points, holding them to 37.1 percent shooting and forcing 43 turnovers.
The Clippers (54-23), who will be the home team Sunday, had an eight-game home winning streak snapped in a 113-107 loss to Dallas on Thursday, but they’ve won 17 of 20 overall.
After rallying from a 17-point deficit in a Pacific Division-clinching 112-108 victory at Phoenix a night earlier, the Clippers cut a 12-point Mavericks lead to two with 1:26 left. However, they couldn’t complete another comeback despite 25 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds from Blake Griffin in his fourth career triple-double and first this season.
"We just ran out of time," said guard Chris Paul, who scored 17 and was 1 for 7 from 3-point range after going 15 for 29 from beyond the arc in his previous four contests. "We waited too long. It’s a tough loss because we could have found a way to win."
While the Clippers are two games back of Oklahoma City for second place in the West, the Lakers (25-51) are a game in front of Utah as they try to avoid finishing with the worst record in the conference. If the Lakers lose Saturday, the best they could do is match their 30-52 mark from 1974-75, the worst since the franchise moved west.
Avoiding that fate could prove difficult with four of their remaining games coming against teams that are occupying playoff positions. The Lakers’ win total is tied with that of the 1959-60 Minneapolis team that went 25-50, the second-worst mark in franchise history.
The Lakers have lost three straight and 12 of 16 following a 107-95 home defeat to Dallas on Friday. Opponents have averaged 118.0 points and 50.4 percent shooting in the past 16 games, and the Lakers surrendered 27 points to Dirk Nowitzki and 23 to Brandan Wright on 10-of-10 shooting in the defeat to the Mavericks.
Jodie Meeks led the Lakers with 25 points as Pau Gasol sat out for the sixth time in seven games due to a severe case of vertigo.
The Clippers outscored the Lakers 78-47 on the fast break in the first three meetings.
"We gotta match their energy," Lakers guard Kent Bazemore said. "That’s a team that gets up and down … We have to try to make them play our style of basketball and try to take the air out of the ball a little bit."
Steve Nash increased his career assist total to 10,330 and needs five to pass Mark Jackson for third place all-time.
J.J. Redick returned for the Clippers on Thursday, scoring 12 after missing 25 games with a bulging disk in his back. Jamal Crawford (Achilles) and Danny Granger (hamstring) were sidelined, and coach Doc Rivers said he doesn’t expect either to return before the postseason begins.
The Clippers are 32-7 at Staples Center this season while the Lakers are 14-25.