The Timberwolves play rare back-to-back games in Los Angeles this weekend, two nights in the same Staples Center arena but yet so different.
For once, the Wolves won’t see the Lakers’ 16 championship banners hanging high above both nights.
New Clippers coach Doc Rivers has made sure of that, ordering them covered with portraits of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, etc., on days his team plays there.
Lakers guard Nick Young, among others, was offended. Others who were born there and know L.A. — Hall of Famer and TNT commentator Reggie Miller, Wolves star Kevin Love — applaud Rivers’ intent.
“I think it’s great, it’s Doc being Doc,” Love said. “It’s good to establish a new identity for that team. They’ve been playing extremely hard and they’re only going to get better.”
Love was born in Santa Monica, played his one collegiate season at UCLA, and even though he grew up in Portland, Ore., he still considers himself an Angeleno.
In his 25 years, he has known you’re a Lakers fan, a Dodgers fan or maybe even a Kings fan if you’re from Los Angeles. But until recently, almost never a Clippers fan.
But even with Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant sidelined to start the season, will it ever really be a Clippers town?
“If they win,” Love said. “How many titles do the Lakers have? I don’t see it ever really being a Clipper town, just because of the tradition and the past. But with Doc there and a new identity and the players they have, it sure seems to be going that way. It’s tough. They’re definitely on an uphill battle.”
The Clippers won a franchise-record 17 consecutive games last December, yet lost to Memphis in a six-game, first-round playoff series last spring.
Both the Lakers and the Clippers started this season 3-3, the Lakers even without Bryant winning decisively on opening night in a “home” game at Staples.
Still, the Clippers have the kind of showy, if not exactly Showtime, vibe this season that the Lakers seemingly have had forever. They’ve traded for their title-winning coach and acquired shooters J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, but the question is can they win big with Griffin and Jordan on the floor at game’s end.
“For us to be talking about the Clippers as if they are the Lakers in the second coming is astonishing,” Miller said before the season started. “Right now, it is Clipper Nation in Los Angeles. For them to take the next step, they have to compete for a championship. The Lakers pride themselves on championships. It’s all about those banners. That’s what separates the two. It’s about the mind-set.
“Doc Rivers is bringing that championship mind-set to a team that has underachieved for the last 20 or 30 years. We’ll see when the bright lights are on and you have to go out and beat the Spurs, Thunder and Warriors on a nightly basis. Let’s see if this team can bring it, like we know the Lakers have.”
The Lakers won five championships from 1949 to 1954, when they played in Minneapolis. Their other 11 came in Los Angeles, the most recent in 2010. That’s a lot of fabric that needs covering on Clippers’ game nights now.
“To own L.A., it’s going to take more than just one brilliant year,” said former NBA coach Doug Collins, an ESPN commentator. “I don’t think there are any questions right now that the Clippers are the superior team. But their report card is coming in April, May and June.”
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