The summer of 2019 in the NBA was by far the most hectic free agency period in basketball’s history. It started with Anthony Davis teaming up with LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers, and saw Kawhi Leonard and Paul George join forces on the L.A. Clippers.
With this, fans sensed a rivalry between the two teams, anointing it the battle of L.A. The Lakers and Clippers have co-inhabited L.A. since 1984, when the Clippers moved from San Diego. Since then, the two teams had never truly been forces in the NBA at the same time.
The Clippers were the laughingstock of the league until about 2011, when the team’s fortunes changed and they became a perennial playoff team. At that time, the Lakers fell off and became a lottery team for six years.
The 2019-20 season was a chance to see both the Lakers and Clippers be legitimate title contenders for the first time. And while both teams attempted to downplay the rivalry, it felt like everything was leading up to a Western Conference Finals matchup between them.
However, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers downplayed that notion, explaining his view of the Lakers simply being in his team’s way, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic:
“I look at it like, they’re in our way,” Rivers said of the Lakers. “I don’t look at it as the Battle of L.A., because we don’t get a trophy if we beat the Lakers. We need to go through the Lakers to get to the trophy, to have a chance to play for the trophy. That’s what it is for me. They’re in our way. For us to get to where we want to get to, we have to go through them, and probably the same way for them – they have to go through us. As a group, we’re good with that, and I think they’re good with that. And I think that sets up for a pretty good battle. The problem is, we’re in the west, and we have to get through a lot of good teams just to get to them.”
As much as both teams claim that this isn’t a rivalry, players and coaches on both sides talk about the other team pretty consistently. It certainly helps add to the drama if the two teams do end up meeting in the postseason.
Even though both teams say that it’s not a battle of L.A., that’s still how it will be framed. That’s simply the nature of the NBA and its fans. Either way, it seems like both the Lakers and Clippers know that they’ll likely need to beat the other in a seven game series if they want to win the championship this season.