The NBA season is still young, but for the first time ever, there's been a major shift in the balance of power in the Pacific Division -- more specifically, within the city limits of Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers are now firmly entrenched in a battle for the city championship, and as the Lakers struggle to put together the pieces of their new high-profile additions and deal with a major coaching shake-up in the wake of Mike Brown's firing and the hiring of Mike D'Antoni, the Clippers look like a team that's among the best in the NBA.
Los Angeles will forever be a Lakers town, but times change, and the Clippers are becoming the instruments of that shift in the dynamic of Hollywood basketball, making a case for legitimate polarization. If you're scoring at home, it's Lob City 5, the offense formerly known as Princeton 3, and guess which one of those two really looks like Showtime?
Whatever you used to do, we can do better
The Lakers were once upon a time a team that would start slow and finish strong. At 3-4 in the 2012-13 season, their ability to get hot late once again is in doubt, especially given the questions that surround the team under an entirely new coaching staff. But another thing the Lakers did in their heyday was win big games.
During their last championship season of 2009-10, the Lakers defeated an upstart Oklahoma City Thunder team that was trying to establish itself as a force in the Western Conference. They prevailed, 101-98, in an overtime thriller in the fourth game of the season on November 3, 2009. In that game, Kobe Bryant was his vintage self and put the game away with a clutch 16-footer and a pair of free throws that would ice it.
Later that season, they had winning streaks of 11, seven and six. At this point it's difficult to imagine the current squad putting together two or three consistent performances, let alone rattling off several wins in a row.
A quick look at the Clippers' small sample size through seven games tells the story that the former little bros of L.A. are capable of putting together wins in bunches and beating the best teams in the West. Four of their five wins have come against playoff teams from last season, and their fourth win was against the Portland Trail Blazers in a tough Rose Garden venue on the road.
The way they defeated the San Antonio Spurs and the Lakers signified a change in the dynamic of the city title. It used to be the Lakers that would put teams to shame at Staples Center. Now, the Clippers have asserted themselves as the team no one wants to go into L.A. and face.
The court of public opinion
A simple trip through the Twitter-verse shows the Clippers on the radars of everyone in the basketball world:
Most amazing part of last night is most Lakers fans I talked to expected a loss to the Clippers. Never seen that before.- Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) November 3, 2012
Portland getting smashed by the Clippers in the first half isn't helping the Lakers' power ranking.- Jim Rome (@jimrome) November 9, 2012
November 9, 2012
In 2012 Clippers have the best team in the West; Lakers have the worst. The Mayan prophecy is indeed moving according to plan. RIP Earth.- Not Bill Walton (@NotBillWalton) November 8, 2012
The Lakers and Clippers have never been on equal footing in terms of fanfare, accolades or superstars, but that's all beginning to change. With the Lakers in disarray, the Clippers are quietly pulling away from the pack in the early going.
Plenty of A-listers to go around
The Lakers have an aging Jack Nicholson screaming at officials on the sidelines, but the Clippers have Jessica Alba gracing the courtside seats with her aura. Who wins that battle?
How did we get here, and where to now?
The Chris Paul trade fiasco will forever be a part of the rivalry that exists between these teams. Paul has gone on record saying that he's happy he ended up with the Clippers and not the Lakers. That kind of talk further accentuates the bad blood between the teams that is simmering nicely. Who knows how this whole thing would have played out had the NBA not stepped in to prevent him from donning the purple and gold?
Where do we go from here? The 2012-13 season will be a great forum for finding out the answers to those now very relevant questions. This is not just a friendly 'big brother vs. little brother' game between two teams that share the same glorious building, yet vastly different franchise traditions. It's a classic sports battle that will have fans engaged every time they square off.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Lakers-Clippers rivalry.
Michael C. Jones is a Yahoo! Featured Contributor in Sports and covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA. He is also the Editor of Sports Out West.
You can follow Michael on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets