The Clippers are the best basketball team in Los Angeles.
After the Clippers victory over the Knicks on Sunday, point guard Patrick Beverly emphatically stated that the "Clippers are the best team in L.A." He backed those words up on Monday night.
Beverly was tasked with the assignment of guarding LeBron James for most of the night, and scored 13 points of his own, as the Clippers defeated the Lakers, 113-105, on Monday night at Staples Center.
Danilo Gallinari led the Clippers with 23 points. Lou Williams had 21 off the bench, and six different players scored in double figures.
"This is a critical time to win games, and we're locked in," Williams said. "Tonight I felt particularly good about our focus."
The loss puts the Lakers six games behind the Clippers in the Western Conference standings, and the Lakers fell to 5.5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the eighth and final playoff spot with just 18 games remaining in the season.
"You keep playing to the end and see what happens," said LeBron James. "I've been talking about it for a while now. Everyone has been talking about the postseason, (but) we should be worried about each and every game and how we can continue to get better with our process and get better with our team."
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Meanwhile, the Clippers appear poised for another playoff appearance after missing out on the postseason last year. The Clippers are in the midst of a rebuild, but don't tell that to their organization.
"We’re going for it!" Clippers' owner Steve Ballmer emphatically stated. Prior to the season, Ballmer acknowledged the team was going through a rebuild, but promised they would still be "competitive." Needless to say they've exceeded expectations.
After stripping down their core players from the best five-year run in franchise history (Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan), the Clippers find themselves in seventh place in the West, and just a half-game out of sixth.
LeBron James led the Lakers with 27 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Rajon Rondo had one of his best games of the season, notching a triple-double with 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists.
"The ball bounced my way," said Rondo, who recorded the 32nd triple-double of his career. "I tried to come in with energy, made a couple shots, guys made shots for the assists, and as far as rebounding, I was just trying to get to the right spot at the right time and grab some boards for the bigs."
Rondo joined Mark Jackson as the only two players in NBA history to record a triple-double with five different teams in his career.
"Doing it for five different teams is a testament to my teammates," said Rondo. "I've taken care of my body, been a professional and tried to be productive when I'm on the court."
Kyle Kuzma had 13 points, but left late in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. Josh Hart chipped in 17 points off the bench. No other Laker scored in double figures.
"There are days I wake up and feel good, and some days I wake up and it doesn't feel good," said Hart. "It all depends on the day, today it felt good, but my job is to go out there and play as hard as I can with whatever I can."
The Lakers got out to a great start, scoring 34 points in the first quarter. They extended their lead to ten in the second quarter before the Clippers came charging back to take a 61-57 lead into the half.
The Clips scored 35 points in the second quarter as the Lakers defense surrendered nine free throws and 12 points to Gallinari.
It was the Clippers turn to go up double-digits as they led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter.
"It felt like in the second half when we missed a lot of those wide-open shots, that kind of deflated a lot of that energy," said Lakers' head coach Luke Walton. "In the third quarter when they put up 30 points on us. They are in the top eight for a reason. They made plays down the stretch and got to give them credit."
One sequence early in the fourth was particularly telling, as Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell drove the lane for an uncontested dunk to put the Clips up ten. James was upset at the defense on the play and yelled at Kuzma.
"I think that was due to a lack of communication," said Rondo of the play. "It wasn't there on a couple possessions. They rolled down the lane for a dunk. It's a good team. I don't want to take any credit away from those guys, but we came up short today."
Seconds later, James made an errant pass that was intercepted by Williams. Rather than rush back down the court for one of his signature chase down blocks, James stood and watched. Williams missed the layup, but no Laker was in sight and Williams grabbed his own miss and laid it in for a 12-point lead.
"That was a sequence. But it wasn't just that," said Hart of the lack of hustle by his teammates on that play. "It's from the first play of the game to the last play of the game. We can't take plays off. In games when you're not making shots, those things are amplified. We have to do the little things."
Those two sequences felt like a microcosm of the Lakers last 20 games, if not the entirety of the season as a whole. Fans definitely noticed, as the sold out Staples Center crowd booed loudly at the Lakers throughout the game.
The Clippers would cruise to victory from there as Harrell and Beverly waved their arms at the crowd as the final buzzer sounded.
"Like I said about us being the best team in LA," began Beverly during his postgame comments. "A lot of people didn’t believe me...That’s fine. Women lie. Men lie. Numbers don’t."
Chasing Air Jordan
James finished with 27 points and is now just 12 points behind Michael Jordan for fourth on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
It's Their Galaxy
LA Galaxy legends Robbie Keane and Zlatan Ibrahimovic sat courtside for the game.
Notes and Next
Lonzo Ball (left ankle sprain), Lance Stephenson (left toe sprain), Tyson Chandler (neck stiffness), and Brandon Ingram (shoulder) all missed the game due to injuries. Luc Mbah a Moute and Wilson Chandler missed the contest for the Clippers.
The Lakers will host the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center on Wednesday night at 7:30PM PT.