The Los Angeles Clippers are the best team in the NBA, and seemingly, no one in LA cares.
Of course, the NBA as a whole is taking note because the Clippers continue to smash top teams and bottom feeders alike. The Clippers have the best point differential in the NBA with an average margin of victory of 13.3 points per game. With a 13-2 record, the Clippers have the best winning percentage in the NBA.
Still, after Monday's practice, Lakers coach Luke Walton looked around and asked why so many cameras and media members were at a regular practice in El Segundo. Quizzically, the coach looked around and wondered if he'd missed some big news. He hadn't. The Lakers had lost on Friday and on Sunday and were officially a .500 team. Still, local and national media outlets clamored to get a piece of the biggest brand in basketball.
For the first time in three years, the Lakers aren't the worst team in the Western Conference, and apparently, that trumps the Clippers being the best team in the entire league. The Lakers also have a certain likability factor to them, as the young pups and their young, charismatic coach push to shock the world by possibly making the playoffs.
To say the Lakers have exceeded expectations is a gross understatement. The team has already won seven games, which is a win total the 2015-16 Lakers didn't hit until Jan. 1 the previous season. Prior to the season, Las Vegas listed the Lakers' over/under line at 24.5 wins. LA should comfortably topple that mark.
Even if the Lakers lose their next four games—vs. Oklahoma City, at Golden State, vs. Golden State and vs. Atlanta—the Lakers remain well ahead of schedule and on pace to be twice as good as the team Walton inherited. Heck, if the Lakers lose literally every game for a month straight, they'll still be ahead of the 2015-16 Lakers' pace.
More than anything else, Walton's Lakers simply compete every night out and seemingly refuse to quit until the final buzzer sounds regardless of the score. Sunday's loss to the Chicago Bulls showed that fight, as LA went from down 15 to down five in the final moments of the game. Every made basket in the fourth quarter ignited the crowd, as the Lakers packed stars on the sidelines and a playoff atmosphere in the stands.
After three seasons of getting blown out by good and bad teams alike, fans seem to appreciate the effort even more than they appreciate the wins and losses.
Simply, the Lakers are fun to watch again. Larry Nance Jr. jumping is fun. Tarik Black blocking shots is fun. D'Angelo Russell hitting three-pointers is fun. Lou Williams catching fire off the bench is fun. Julius Randle running the break is fun. Watching Brandon Ingram develop is fun. And perhaps most surprisingly, Nick Young playing defense is fun. Even when the Lakers lose, the games are still fun.
Yes, this is a video of Paul stealing a ball Monday night when the Raptors were about to run out the clock, trailing by eight points with 5.5 seconds remaining
The Clippers have a sell out streak that spans several seasons, but they're far from the most likable team in the city or in the NBA. Between DeAndre Jordan's dramatic change of heart in free agency a couple years ago, Blake Griffin breaking his hand because he punched the former team equipment manager in the face and Chris Paul flopping and being an annoyingly competitive, the Clippers may be the villains of the NBA even more than Kevin Durant and the Warriors.
In contrast, the Lakers failed to sell out on Tuesday when the Brooklyn Nets came to town, but that did little to lessen media coverage of the team. National writers stream into practices speaking glowingly about how the Lakers are one the best stories in basketball and leave games talking about how entertaining the Lakers are, even when the home team loses.
The Clippers don't lose often. They've won nine of their last 10 games and are legitimate championship contenders, while the Lakers hope to sneak into the playoffs and get their young team much needed postseason experience. The Lakers and Clippers may be in the same league, share the same city and call the same building home, but these two franchises cannot honestly claim to see each other as competition.
Griffin is 27, Paul is 31 and Jordan is 28. The Clippers need to win a title this season, or at least reach the Western Conference Finals, to not call the current season a catastrophe. In contrast, Randle is 21, Russell is 20 and Ingram is 19. The Lakers are roughly a decade behind the Clippers in terms of experience on the court and every win is a Christmas present for the fan base. For the Lakers, finishing .500 would draw high praise, and probably a couple of awards, from the Association.
On the subject of Christmas, the Lakers and Clippers have their first meeting of the season on the winter holiday. The current expectations for that game highlight the difference between the Lakers and Clippers in the present moment. For the purple and gold contingent, the Lakers need only be competitive and entertaining against the Clippers. In contrast, anything short of a win would be an embarrassing disaster for the Clippers.
It's championship or bust for the Clippers, while making the playoffs would be a welcome surprise for the Lakers. That's a role reversal to say the least, and yet, the Lakers rule LA in terms of coverage, interest and fanfare. In fact, even the 17-win Lakers beat out the 53-win Clippers in terms of local television ratings a season ago.
Judging by the joy in the city over the Lakers simply not getting beaten to a pulp on a nightly basis and the whispers from Spectrum SportsNet employees, the Lakers should easily beat out the Clippers in viewership once again. In reality, even a Clippers' championship probably can't help them surpass the Lakers in LA.
The Clippers are the best team in the NBA, and Los Angeles loves a winner, but seemingly, the city loves the Lakers more.