LeBron James: Lakers Playing Clippers Is ‘More Than Just Another Game’
(Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Lakers put together an impressive comeback, short-handed, overtime victory against the Crypto.com Arena co-tenant L.A. Clippers on Wednesday. They were led by a rejuvenated performance from LeBron James, who finished with 35 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. All were team highs and the points and rebounds were game highs.

The Lakers trailed by as many as 19 points but stormed back with a huge 39-24 third quarter to force overtime and ultimately steal the win to move to 3-2 on the young season. It was the first time in 12 meetings that the Lakers had beaten the Clippers, making it all the more important for James and L.A. to steal a win.

The Lakers and Clippers have somewhat become rivals since James and Anthony Davis joined the former while Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joined the latter. This season, both teams figure to be in contention for a championship once again while the Clippers have added former Laker Russell Westbrook and James Harden to the mix. It’s another layer in what has been a rivalry dating back to 2019.

James spoke about the nature of the rivalry and why it’s important for the Lakers to assert themselves against a team like the Clippers.

“I think it’s always more than just another game every time you playing cross hallway rival,” James said. “It will be cross-town at some point when they head over to the arena next year, but you know it’s for me it’s always great just to compete versus the best, and PG and Kawhi [Leonard] and Russ are three the best that this league has ever seen. And to be able to be on the floor against them and compete wearing the purple and gold and they’re wearing their colors and competing is definitely a blessing, and you don’t take those moments for granted. So it was definitely fun.

“I was happy. I even stated I was like, I hope those guys are playing because that’s just that’s what the game is about, being able to be the best out there playing tonight. PG hit some big-time plays to send it into overtime. Kawhi was spectacular from the beginning after he had the first 13 out of 15. Russ was great tonight, hitting his jumper and getting into the lane and doing what Russ does, and myself and AD and the rest of the guys that we were just trying to go at them as well. DLo was right there was right there with us. C-Wood. It was a big-time game for both teams. … Both teams got better, and the fans got a great show.”

James felt a win like this one was particularly important because it’s the kind of game the team can look back on later in the season to remind them of their resilience.

“You know, but I think for us, just having that in our back pocket and know that we can say, calm, cool and collected. No matter if we’re down, no matter if we’re up late game. Tonight, we were up seven. I think we’re like a minute 12 or a minute 21 or something like that. Let the lead slip away. Still was able to go into overtime, and we were calm, kept our nerves, and then came back and win that game. So it’s going to work well for us throughout the season. It’s a marathon, but it’s good to get these battles early on, you know, you fall back on some of them.”

The Lakers are still working to find a rhythm during the early stages of this season, but it’s clear that all the tools are there for L.A. to have a successful 2023-24 campaign. And it starts with winning difficult rivalry games like Wednesday against the Clippers.

Westbrook takes subtle shot at Lakers

When asked about his career revival with the Clippers, Westbrook made it clear that he did not feel the Lakers allowed him to be himself on the court.

“Just playing my position, simple as that,” Westbrook said Tuesday when I asked him what about the Clippers has allowed him to bounce back on the court. “I’ve been a point guard since I’ve been in this league, and always will be. And I would say that I’m pretty good at that position, because I’ve been in the league and I’m grateful that coach trusts me to be able to run these guys. And I’m grateful that Paul and ‘Whi and everybody else around here allows me to be able to play my position and try to make the game easy for them.

“Honestly, it’s as simple as that for me and being able to do that since I’ve been here has made me most comfortable where I’m supposed to be.”

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