Clippers got better this summer, yet in L.A. it’s same old story (all Lakers)

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The Clippers are a legitimately good team.

They went 40-26 last season, one game back of the Pacific Division winning Los Angeles Lakers. Then this summer they went out and added Lamar Odom, Grant Hill and Jamal Crawford. They have the best point guard in the game in Chris Paul — a guy you can argue even today is the single best player in Los Angeles. They have a dynamic and athletic front line with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. They are fun to watch and may well be the third best team in the Western Conference right now.

And in Los Angeles, it’s like they barely exist.

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

Ever since the Lakers moves to trade for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Clippers have felt invisible in Los Angeles (where I am from). You don’t read much about them in the sports pages, you don’t hear about them on sports talk radio, they don’t get much play anywhere. The Clippers may have turned a corner, they are a quality playoff team, but the dynamic in Los Angeles now with the Clippers has not changed. The only time they get mentioned is when we are reminded the Lakers are still better.

Los Angeles is a Lakers town. The NFL moved on from Los Angeles a generation ago (and kind of lost said generation to the X-Games sports). The Los Angeles Dodgers couldn’t seem to get on track, going from an owner where you didn’t think things could get worse — FOX — to an owner who actually was worse. (The new ownership group is working to change all of that.)

Through it all, the Lakers kept on winning. They did it with Shaq and Kobe Bryant. Shaq went away and they eventually did it with Pau Gasol. You can trace a lineage of winning back to George Mikan. The Lakers maintained a standard of excellence that no NBA team has matched over the past couple decades.

In a Los Angeles that can be transient (a lot of people move here due to the entertainment industry… and the weather), the Lakers are the one generational team right now. The Dodgers are trying to recover that, but it is the Lakers where your grandfather watched Jerry West, your father watched Magic Johnson and you watched Kobe. It is the one constant, the one sporting bond that can be passed down the way Green Bay Packers or Chicago Bears fans pass down season tickets generation to generation

And when the Lakers are the story they can drown out everything in L.A.. USC football will get its spotlight this year. But that will not ignite the passions of most Angelenos like the Lakers (half of L.A is still UCLA fans).

The Clippers, for all the changes and for all the excitement around the franchise right now, for all the hope they can generate going into the playoffs next year, they are still the other team. The little brother. Lakers fans don’t look on the Clippers as rivals so much as an annoying roommate.

That roommate is going to be a very good team this year. There are questions — Can DeAndre Jordan step up? Can Vinny Del Negro really lead them far? — but the Clips should be talking about 55 wins or more and getting out of the first round of the playoffs again. They should be talking about taking the next step or steps forward.

They are. It’s just hard to hear them in Los Angeles over the Lakers.

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder won in triple overtime, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.