New boss in town: Clippers stomp Lakers again

Jon Gold, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- The sullen looks seemingly glued to the faces on the Los Angeles Lakers bench early in the fourth quarter Thursday night pretty much summed up the evening.
The Lakers' 24-point loss to the hometown rival the Los Angeles Clippers pretty much summed up the state of Hollywood hoops.
Jamal Crawford's reaction to the news that the Clippers took the first three games of a season series against the Lakers for the first time ever -- "Ever!?" Crawford exclaimed -- pretty much sums up the past and the present of the two franchises.
The Clippers jumped to an early lead, let the Lakers climb back into the game, then applied the pressure once more in a 125-101 win at Staples Center.
Crawford made it clear that the Clippers, who at 39-17 are in third place in the Western Conference entering the All-Star break, are focused on the future.
"We understand the big goal for us is to play into June," Crawford said. "That's what we'll ultimately be judged by. That's great to get a lot of firsts, but for us, we're trying to get better and build toward the end."
On Thursday, the Clippers didn't need much beyond an opportunistic opening.
The Clippers built a 15-0 advantage less than five minutes into the game as the Lakers struggled to get any form of offense together until early in the second quarter.
The Lakers cut the Clippers' lead to three points midway through the second quarter, but the Clippers regained their footing and went into the half ahead 64-52.
That was the closest the Lakers would get, as the Clippers went up by as much as 28 points in the fourth quarter to clinch just their third season-series win over their Staples Center co-tenants.
"We just talked about it before the game -- we knew this was the last game before the All-Star break, and a lot of teams think about where they're going on their vacations," Clippers guard Chris Paul said. "We wanted to close it out. It was very important."
The Clippers offered a balanced offense, with six players finishing in double figures, including all five starters. The Clippers had 25 assists and a .517 shooting percentage. They were particularly successful behind the arc, connecting on 16 of 30 shots from 3-point range.
Chauncey Billups led the barrage, finishing with five 3-pointers and 21 points in just 16 minutes. Paul had 24 points and 13 assists for the Clippers, who've won four straight, and Blake Griffin added 22 points and 10 rebounds.
"You can see the effect Chauncey has out there for us," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We've seen it in practice, the way he takes pressure off everybody, not only his scoring. He can handle the ball, he takes pressure off Chris. He's another weapon."
The Lakers offered an impressive offensive performance as well at times, hitting 51 percent from the field and finishing with 30 assists. But the younger Clippers raced around the perimeter and dominated the glass, outrebounding the Lakers 47-37.
Kobe Bryant had 20 points and 11 assists to lead the Lakers, but he finished with six turnovers. Dwight Howard had 18 points and eight rebounds, and Antawn Jamison added 17 points off the bench for the Lakers.
"We had a stagnant offense, and I think our offense hurt our defense," said Lakers guard Steve Nash, who finished with seven points and five assists. "They hit a lot of 3s in transition. ... It's a loss, and a loss isn't going to help us on our playoff hunt. We're not going to roll our heads, we're not going to quit. We're going to keep playing."
NOTES: Lakers center Pau Gasol remains out with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot. Jordan Hill (left hip surgery) is also out for the Lakers. ... The Clippers took the first two games of the season series despite huge games from Bryant. The Clippers won 105-95 on Nov. 2, when Bryant scored 40 points, and 107-102 on Jan. 4, when Bryant had 38. ... The Lakers won the series 2-1 in 2011-12 and lead the all-time series 143-51. ... Both teams return from the All-Star break with tough matchups. On Wednesday, the Lakers host the Boston Celtics, who beat them 116-95 on Feb. 7. The Clippers welcome the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 21. ... Nash is four assists shy of tying Magic Johnson for fourth on the all-time list. He topped 17,000 career points during Thursday's loss.

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