As Jackson sauntered during the ensuing break in play, his chin up defiantly and jaw clenched, James did a double-take at the apparent temerity, his next-play focus transforming into disapproval. But there was little he could say. the Clippers led by 25 and the yawning gap between these franchises’ seasons had never been more apparent.
After winning the first three games of this series between Crypto.com Arena co-tenants by a combined eight points, the Clippers left no doubt during a 132-111 victory that extended their winning streak to five, pushed the Lakers’ losing streak to four — and extended their misery.
The Clippers are 32-7 against the Lakers since the 2012-13 season and have won five in a row overall, and all of it left coach Tyronn Lue and Jackson waving their arms toward fans, asking for more noise, with less than four minutes remaining and the lead a stunning 29. Jackson had just hit a three-pointer while hearing chants of his first name on his way to 36 points, and Lue was on his way to improving to 7-0 against the Lakers since becoming the Clippers’ coach.
It is the first time the Clippers have swept four meetings against their rivals in the same season since 2015-16.
Amid a third quarter won by the Clippers, 40-18, they scored 23 unanswered points in a four-minute stretch that put two disparate seasons on display. With Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Norman Powell all watching from the sideline, with Lue offering no update on their injury recoveries, the Clippers continue to pound away.
Meanwhile, injured Lakers, including Anthony Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker, watched their team cut a 17-point first-half deficit to three at halftime, only to be overrun in a third quarter where the Clippers scored on all five transition opportunities and made five of their seven three-pointers.
James finished with 26 points and eight rebounds to lead the Lakers (27-35), who allowed the Clippers (34-31) to shoot 63% from deep.
Even as Lue acknowledged before tipoff that capturing the sixth seed — and thus evading the play-in tournament — is dubious, the win kept them one game behind Minnesota in the seventh seed. Finishing seventh provides home-court advantage for the play-in round.
For nine first-quarter minutes, the Lakers led by six while exhibiting an efficient side rarely seen in recent weeks. Russell Westbrook made his first two shots two nights after starting one-for-nine. Clippers center Ivica Zubac, coming off of two strong performances sparked by what he called a disappointing performance against the Lakers last week, went to the bench with two fouls within seven minutes. And Austin Reaves, a 30% three-point shooter, made two straight threes to leave Lue irate.
Yet a constant remained — their moment of momentum again only fleeting. The Clippers closed the final two minutes of the quarter on a 13-2 run and kept going. The Lakers had enjoyed only marginal success this season when James played center with Clippers backup Isaiah Hartenstein also on the floor, and when the Lakers turned to that small lineup again in the second quarter they saw their deficit grow to as many as 17 points. When Hartenstein rebounded a missed shot by Jackson with a dunk for a 13-point lead, Dwight Howard and Reaves looked at one another like each expected the other to box him out.
Then came the third quarter that resembled a tidal wave, and Jackson’s swipe wasn’t the only time James was left unable to respond.
Barely a minute into the first quarter, James stalked toward the Lakers’ timeout when his path was blocked by the coach he won a championship with in Cleveland. But while whatever inside joke Lue said left the coach laughing behind his mask, James didn’t appear to share in the laughter with the Clippers’ leading by 13.
When James fell and slid on his back in the third quarter, the Clippers quickly used their numbers advantage to find Zubac all alone under the hoop for a dunk.
It would get worse for the Lakers, and much better for the Clippers, and as this season enters its final five weeks, the question is how much more, for both.