The battle for Los Angeles between the Clippers and Lakers on Sunday had the attention of the basketball world in the showcase spotlight. But in both teams’ locker rooms, the mentality was to approach it as just another game.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel refused to call the matchup between the top two teams in the Western Conference — who also happen to be Staples Center co-inhabitants — a statement game.
“No statement. It’s not a statement game,” Vogel told reporters pregame. “It’s the most important game of our season because it’s the only one we can win today. When we get into the playoffs, all these regular season games are not going to matter. It’s about improving your habits every time you play. And this is another opportunity to test and measure our habits against another great team.”
That means the Lakers next most important game is coming up on Tuesday the depleted Brooklyn Nets. Despite that, Lakers veteran Jared Dudley certainly threw a little extra fuel on the fire of the “rivalry” with the Clippers with some bulletin board material.
“It’s huge. It’s a good rivalry,” Dudley said on Friday about playing the Clippers. “It’s a little fun. It’s not like a serious rivalry. It’s not like they have any banners hanging up. Trust me, I would know, I played for them.”
Clippers Open to Playoff Series Possibility Against Lakers
Clippers coach Doc Rivers delivered a similar sentiment to Vogel when it came to the third regular-season matchup. But following the game, he didn’t shy away from seeing the Lakers in the postseason. The Clippers, after all, have won two of the three matchups against the Lakers this season.
“I’m all for it,” Rivers told The Athletic. “It probably means that both teams are doing well through the playoffs. I just want to win it. I don’t want to beat the Lakers, being honest. But I just have a feeling for one of us to go where we both want to go, at some point we’re going to be in each other’s way. We may not be. We’re prepared for either one and we’re good either way. You have to make that assumption that that may happen.”
The teams meet up for the final time on April 9.
“It’s a good weekend for us,” LeBron James told The Athletic. “Playing against two of the best teams. The top two teams in the league including with us as far as record-wise.
“Both teams have aspirations of something bigger than a regular-season win,” James added, “but both teams understand that it’s a process. They want to try to continue to get better throughout the year and put themselves in the position to be at full strength when the postseason comes around.”
New Additions Could be Difference Makers in Postseason
Both the Clippers and Lakers have made additions to their roster with various veterans. Clippers have traded for Marcus Morris, signed point guard Reggie Jackson and agreed to bring on veteran center Joakim Noah.
“When you get into the deep playoff races, the playoff series, the more weapons you have in your arsenal, the better,” Vogel said. “Sometimes those guys are used at a high level in the series, based on a matchup or whatever. Sometimes they’re not used much at all. I just think any team that has a real chance at competing for a championship wants to have as many tools or as many weapons as possible.”