Lakers Are Overhyped and Clippers Are Underrated—NBA in L.A. Is Business as Usual

The Los Angeles Lakers continue to dominate the wider conversation in the National Basketball Association, often for things that have only tangentially to do with shooting hoops.

For instance: The Washington Wizards visit Staples Center on Wednesday, and the build-up has focused around a tweet sent out by Wizards center Marcin Gortat. “Man..... pleaseeeeee!!! @JohnWall will torture him [Lonzo Ball] for 48min,” Gortat wrote in reply to a message from LaVar, Lonzo’s father, that said: "They [the Wizards] better beware cause Lonzo ain't losing again. Not in the same week!”

The brio and bravado doesn’t come from Lonzo, of course. "I don't pay no mind to it," he said in quotes reported by ESPN on Tuesday evening when asked about Gortat’s tweet. The Lakers, nobody should need reminding, are 1-2 and ninth in the brutally competitive Western Conference. But because of LaVar’s incessant exhortations, because of the expectations around Lonzo—who came close to a triple-double against the Pelicans on Sunday night but also finished a team-worst minus-24, because of the history of the franchise and because of playing in one of the country’s biggest television markets, the hype around them once again threatens to outweigh any progress they make this season.

All of which, strangely, may be good news for the team that shares a building with them. The Clippers stayed unbeaten on Tuesday night, beating the Utah Jazz 102-84 in a game that featured a classic posterizing of Rudy Gobert by Blake Griffin.

Griffin, of course, could have left the Clippers in the summer, joining Chris Paul in escaping from under the Lakers’ giant circus tent. Instead, he leads a team that sits top of the Western Conference beside the Grizzlies and Spurs. Through three games, Griffin has averaged 26.7 points. Long characterized as sublimely talented and frustratingly injury-prone, he has raised his game since Paul left, dragging the Clippers along in his wake.

And, yes, maybe the Lakers making enough noise to fill Staples Center by themselves helps the Clippers to just go about their business of playing good basketball. Maybe Doc Rivers wouldn’t even mind so much if Lonzo outplayed John Wall on Wednesday night, leading to more shouting from LaVar and more blanket media coverage for a franchise that, by its own admission, is seeking progress rather than playoffs this season. The NBA in 2017—at least in Los Angeles—looks very much like last year’s version so far.

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