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Reggie Jackson, Clippers demolish Lakers to sweep season series

LOS ANGELES — So often, the Clippers have struggled to stave off the Laker invaders in the stands of their own home games.

But on Thursday night, Arena belonged to the Clippers – more specifically, Reggie Jackson, who had the charismatic pull of a rock star making his final encore.

Jackson already had his season-high point total when the fans began chanting for him: “REG-GIE! REG-GIE!” And twice, the bespectacled guard obliged, sinking a 3-pointer over LeBron James and finishing a tough layup in the heart of the Lakers’ defense – which admittedly hadn’t had shown much backbone for most of the evening.

At one point, after Jackson and former teammate Russell Westbrook clashed and exchanged words, Jackson responded by drilling a 3-pointer over Westbrook’s defense to earn one of several standing ovations.

“We just want to build something special here,” Jackson said. “I appreciate the chants, but more importantly I appreciate the way our fan base comes and supports the entire Clipper Nation. I enjoy it, we’re gonna try to keep this thing rolling.”

Through one half, the score was close. There had been a handful of dunks and blocked shots and all the other highlights one might expect in a true rivalry game between reasonably matched foes. But a true rivalry means each team beats the other every once in a while. And with a dramatic third-quarter surge, the Clippers – even without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George or Norman Powell – delivered a reminder of why they have beaten the Lakers seven consecutive times.

Jackson was shimmying, Ivica Zubac was hammering, and the Lakers (27-35) were left reeling after a 132-111 loss to the Clippers that not only determined who holds sway in L.A. pro basketball, but also felt like a fairly damning statement of the tailspin they’re still in. Only one spot – eighth and ninth – separates them in the Western Conference standings, and yet they seem worlds apart.

The Clippers have now won five straight games and seven of their last eight, fighting against all odds to try to avoid the play-in tournament. They have won every game of the in-arena rivalry (7-0) since Tyronn Lue became their head coach. The Lakers, on the other hand, have now lost 11 of 14 overall and four straight since the All-Star break – even if they make the play-in tournament, it seems inevitable that substantial organizational changes will follow at the end of the season.

A 40-18 Clippers run in the third quarter turned what was a 3-point game at halftime into a rout. Within that frame, the Clippers scored 23 unanswered points spanning more than five minutes, starting with a Marcus Morris Sr. jumper and ending with a Jackson layup.

Jackson in particular was a menace, scoring nine of his season-high 36 points during the back-breaking rally while also finishing with nine assists and eight rebounds. But he gave credit to Lue, who strolled in with a casual halftime address.

“T-Lue just kind of comes in calm, smiles, and he’s like, ‘Hey, we’re in a great place. Like, if we stop turning the ball over, we’re in a great place,’” Jackson recounted. “Like, ‘Alright, if coach ain’t mad, things are going well.’”

In that crucial stretch, the Lakers missed 10 consecutive shots and had two turnovers. Though Coach Frank Vogel had switched the lineup to go smaller to start the third quarter, all their shooting deserted them at once: Among the misses were three looks at the rim.

The team’s top stars, James and Westbrook, combined for just 15-for-34 shooting for 43 points. The Lakers were massacred by the Clippers’ size on the glass, getting outworked by a 46-36 rebounding margin, a reminder of Anthony Davis’ absence from the Lakers lineup.

“I mean, they’re a better team,” James said succinctly.

It had taken a furious Lakers rally just to make things close. They had fallen behind by 17 in the second quarter, following a familiar slow-starting first-half effort, especially on defense. The Clippers made seven of their first eight 3-point shots, a testament as much to the sharpshooting of Jackson and Luke Kennard as the inattentiveness of the Lakers’ defense.

Out of nowhere, the Lakers put together a 14-0 rally, highlighted by alley-oop dunks by Westbrook and Malik Monk (both off assists from Austin Reaves). The fact that they had that bolt of life was what stood out as most frustrating afterward.

“There’s stretches where we play the right way,” Westbrook said. “And there’s stretches where we obviously don’t.”

James had 18 points at the half, but only scored eight the rest of the night.

For the game, the Clippers shot 54.8% from the field, including 17 for 27 from 3-point range. But more than any stat, the pride of claiming their home arena floor for this season was the brightest spot. But going 4-0 against the Lakers isn’t their only ambition.

How far can they go?

Said Jackson: “I don’t never put no ceiling on anything.”

Meanwhile, though the Lakers haven’t shown many signs of life since returning from the All-Star break without Davis, Westbrook vigorously countered that the season isn’t over for them. There are just 20 games remaining, but Westbrook said he’ll take it to the final bell.

“I’m not a quitter. It’s not in my genes,” he said. “I don’t quit, regardless of what the hell is going on. I’m going to fight to the end and if it don’t work, that’s cool, too. I can live with the results. But I’m never going to give up or give in because of a little struggle that’s happening this time of the year.”

Unfortunately for the Lakers, actions speak louder than words.

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