Lesson: Don't take win, loss for granted
I don't blame you if you opened up this story, glossed over the headline and assumed you were reading about another Lakers win over the Clippers, the same way Derek Zoolander went on autopilot and approached the stage when Hansel was announced as male model of the year.
The Clippers were supposed to show up to work Wednesday for their "home" game against the Lakers, see as many yellow and purple shirts in the stands as red and blue ones, and lose.
That's just what happens when the Clippers play the Lakers. It had happened the previous nine times the teams had matched up, and it had happened 137 out of the 182 meetings in the history of the two franchises.
Tom's not supposed to catch Jerry.
No matter if the lights at the Staples Center are turned up or dimmed down to the Lake Show's theater atmosphere.
No matter if the marquee celebrity in the seats is Jack Nicholson or Rondell Sheridan, the dad from "That's So Raven."
But then there was Wednesday, meeting No. 183, and the Clippers used a 19-10 run over the final seven minutes to win 102-91.
How did they do it? How did the team with the 12th best record in the West beat the team with the top record in the entire league? How did it escape the streak?
By not thinking about it.
"I didn't even know [about the streak]," Clippers center Chris Kaman said after putting up 21 points and 14 rebounds.
If anybody on the Clippers would know about the streak, it would be Kaman. Now in his seventh season in L.A., he's the longest-tenured team member by a long shot -- the closest Clipper to him is Al Thornton, who is in his third year. Kaman was in L.A. for all nine of those losses, taking one on the chin nine times.
"All that stuff doesn't really matter," Kaman said. "Any team can beat any other team on any night."
It's a lesson the Lakers ultimately had to learn the hard way. They had had sub-.500 teams threaten them before, but they always came through with a win thanks to Kobe Bryant.
He single-handedly staved off the Kings in double overtime, dropped 44 points and 11 assists on the Warriors, and hit game-winning buzzer-beaters against Milwaukee and Sacramento (to swat away those pesky Kings again), but his 33 points on 10-for-30 shooting couldn't cut it against the Clippers.
Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy was miffed that the streak his team extinguished was even brought up after the game.
"People who are Lakers hangers-on were touting all the streaks, that we lost the last nine straight," Dunleavy said. "We've had guys in the medical ward. In a fair fight, we're a good team. They were missing [Pau] Gasol tonight and we were missing Blake Griffin, but it was a good game. They're a great team, but when you look at streaks, you have to look a little deeper into it to see what it entails."
Just as Dunleavy didn't look at the streak as a damning statistic, Lakers coach Phil Jackson wouldn't give credence to it before the game, saying, "It [only] means something if we win 10 [tonight]. ... It's just a streak."
(It was one common ground the two men shared Wednesday. When Jackson was asked whether he could ever see himself juggling dual roles as general manager and coach like Dunleavy, he said, "It's a very difficult job; I'm just thankful I've never had to do that. [I have] no interest in it. I don't want to deal with agents; I don't want to have to lie ... I don't want to just throw it out there like 'lie,' but you have to do a bit of negotiating the truth a lot of times in that situation, and I don't like that.")
The Lakers have a laundry list of excuses they could blame the loss on: Gasol missed his second straight game with a strained left hamstring; Ron Artest was as rusty as a nail in a fence post after missing five games with a concussion; Lamar Odom, D.J. Mbenga and Josh Powell were under the weather; Bryant relied too much on his left hand after his fractured right index finger was aggravated against Houston; and the whole team had to endure a back-to-back, but the Lakers should learn from the Clippers that excuses don't get you anywhere.
"I think guys just realized, 'Hey, he's not somebody so unbelievable you can't score on him,'" Kaman said about the Clips' offensive breakthrough against the defense rated No. 2 in the league in opponent's field goal percentage.
The Lakers travel to Portland to play the Trail Blazers on Friday at the Rose Garden.
It's a place where the Lakers have lost eight straight games dating back to February 2005, almost as bad as the Clippers' slide going into Wednesday.
The way the Lakers can end this streak is to treat this game like any other game.
"Take it game by game," Odom said. "Set short-term goals, turn them into long-term, and it will be another game where we just try to play our A-game and go get it."
Imagine that -- the Lakers learning from the Clippers.Dave McMenamin is a writer and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.