Kobe Bryant has displayed no love for the Los Angeles Clippers in two meetings this season, but the Lakers have lost both games. The five-time NBA champion looks to lead his squad to victory on Valentine's Day versus the Clippers at Staples Center.
Bryant is averaging 39.0 ppg in two matchups with the Clippers this season, scoring 40 points in a 105-95 loss Nov. 2 and following that performance with 38 points in a 107-102 decision Jan. 4. In 62 career games against the Clippers -- the most against any opponent -- Bryant is averaging 26.0 ppg.
Thursday's matchup will feature a handful of All-Stars from the city of Los Angeles, which includes Bryant, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. All four will start Sunday at Houston in the 62nd edition of the All-Star game. Bryant was asked how important it is to get this win tonight so he doesn't have to hear possible banter from the Clippers' Paul and Griffin this weekend.
"I'm not worried about that. They can't tell me nothing anyway."
Bryant was probably referring to his five titles, four All-Star game MVP awards and 30,000-plus career points. He did, however, say the Clippers are "entertaining" and "exciting" to watch. In order to stop Paul, Bryant added that keeping him out of the paint and playing physical defense will work. Getting bodies on Clippers bigs DeAndre Jordan and Griffin will limit their second-chance opportunities, according to Bryant.
The Lakers have lost three of the last five meetings with their Staples Center co-tenants, but are 11-2 in the previous 13 matchups as the host in this series. These two L.A. teams will meet again April 7, while the Lakers have lost just two season series in team history (92-93, 74-75) to the Clippers.
Bryant was held to a season-low four points in Tuesday's 91-85 win over the Phoenix Suns in the opener of a four-game homestand. He did hand out a game- best nine assists and grab five rebounds, while his four points were the fewest in a game in which he started and played at least 11 minutes in his career.
"I think that the important thing for us is the message of playing for each other," said Bryant, who's fourth in the NBA with 27.0 ppg. "If you sacrifice individual numbers so be it. Who the hell cares? It's about doing the right thing as a group."
Dwight Howard led the Lakers with 19 points and a game-best 18 rebounds, while Antawn Jamison also netted 19 points and grabbed 10 boards. Metta World Peace posted 17 for Los Angeles, which has won eight of 11 games overall and four in a row at home. The Lakers, coming off a 4-3 Grammy road trip, are 16-10 as the host and 10th in the Western Conference standings, three games behind Houston.
The Lakers will also entertain Boston and Portland on the homestand after the All-Star break. In milestone news for the Lakers, veteran point guard Steve Nash is three points shy of 17,000 in his career. He already owns 10,000-plus assists (10,132) and is 10 assists shy of passing Lakers Hall of Fame point guard Magic Johnson (10,141) for fourth on the all-time list.
Meanwhile, the Clippers have won three in a row and four of five games, including Wednesday's 106-96 win over the Rockets. The Clips exploded for 46 first-quarter points (46-28) and held on the rest of the way.
The Clippers, who went 4-4 on their recent Grammy road trip, caught a break when Rockets All-Star James Harden missed the game with a sprained right ankle and sore left knee.
Griffin tallied 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler scored 19 points apiece for the Clippers, who got 10 points and 11 assists from Paul. Butler had 17 points in the red-hot first quarter.
"Chauncey hit some great shots. He was hot early. Caron really got us off to a good start and did a good job defensively, which was good to see," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said.
The 19 points for Billups, who is back from a ruptured Achilles, were the most since he had 18 at Orlando last Feb. 6.
Del Negro's group is third in the West standings and 17-12 on the road. It has won two in a row and three of four games as the visitor. The Clippers will play three in a row at home following Sunday's All-Star extravaganza.