Clippers-Lakers: 5 moments that changed L.A.’s power balance

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Dec 2, 2014; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) during the game against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The physical decline of Kobe Bryant

Even with the multiple struggles that the Lakers and their fans have endured over the last few years, the physical decline of the Black Mamba has to be the most painful to see. He’s become one of the biggest icons to ever play, and his 20 years in the league have been some of the best put together by any player in the history of the game. From his five championships to more memorable shots than almost anyone else, Kobe has been carrying the team and doing everything for his Lakers for years.

So, many seasons after the departure of Shaq and after the back-to-back championships with Pau Gasol and Co., Kobe was no longer the player he once was. Age was always going to sneak up on him as it does with any player, but even more so for a player with so much mileage, so many playoff runs and Team USA experience, throughout almost two decades.

First, the Achilles injury he suffered during game 80 of the 2012-13 season. He’d been playing heavy minutes to desperately try and carry the Lakers to the playoffs, and averaged 38.6 minutes per game for the season despite being 34 years old. He still got up after tearing his Achilles tendon to sink two free throws before exiting in the game, which sums up the kind of drive and grit that Kobe has always had.

The Lakers made it to the playoffs, but got demolished and swept in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs.

Next, Kobe appeared briefly in the 2013-14 season, and was soon sidelined again with a devastating knee injury. He played just six games during the entire season.

Then, in 2014-15, Kobe suffered a shoulder injury and required surgery. Even though he wasn’t out quite as long, he still only appeared in 35 games. With so many miles on his knees and the injuries he’d sustained, it wasn’t surprising that he shot a career-worst 37.3 percent with the fourth worst player efficiency rating of his career (17.6).

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Amidst the physical struggles Kobe dealt with and the problems of the team all together, the Lakers recorded 45 wins in 2012-13 and scraped together two new franchise-worst win totals of 27 in 2013-14 and 21 in 2014-15.

At the other end of the L.A. power struggle, the Clippers spent 2013-14 winning a franchise-record 57 regular season games, and made it to the second round of the playoffs before losing a tough six game series to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Which, despite coming up short, was incredible improvement for a team who seemed doomed for so long.

With the disaster of Dwight, lacking talent, lacking depth, and the painful decline of Kobe’s health and efficiency, the Lakers just haven’t been the formidable team fans are used to seeing. Meanwhile, the Clippers, regardless of their playoff collapses which are by no means excusable, have still been one of the top teams in the NBA with far more talent and potential to contend than their local rivals.

No, the Clippers don’t have the history, the fan base or the commercial success of the Lakers. In L.A. lore, the Lakers still reside at the top. However, when it comes to talent, there’s no denying the Clippers are far ahead. If they can just find a way to resolve their current bench issues, maintain high effort consistently, give their elite starting five the correct support, and Doc Rivers’ can learn how to manage his team correctly with better rotations, they still have real potential to be a threat.

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At the very least, when looking back over recent years and these five factors, it’s clear how the Clippers have emerged as the superior basketball team in Los Angeles.