The Los Angeles Clippers still stand as one of the top contenders in the Western Conference despite their inability to knock off other top competition.
They've had little issue slowing down the league's bottom feeders.
That's a moniker that certainly fits the Los Angeles Lakers, whom the Clippers will try to beat for the ninth time in the past 10 meetings with their arena co-tenants on Wednesday night.
Since their nine-game winning streak from Nov. 24-Dec. 10, the Clippers (23-12) have won only seven of 14 contests, with all but one coming against teams at .500 or worse. They most recently fell to Eastern Conference-best Atlanta 107-98 on Monday.
"We play well in stretches," Chris Paul told the team's official website. "But the good teams, they stick to what they do."
The Clippers have allowed 110.4 points over their last seven defeats, which have come against clubs with a current combined win percentage of .608. They've played excellent defense in their 18 games against teams below .500, holding the opposition to an average of 95.4 points on 43.5 percent shooting.
Teams that are .500 or better are putting up 105.2 points per game against the Clippers.
"I can't say it's still early," DeAndre Jordan said. "You see it in spurts, of us having the right tools to be a great defensive team, and then also there's times that we look like we don't know what we're doing."
The Lakers (11-24) do not possess the elite stature the Clippers have struggled with, although they should benefit from the return of Kobe Bryant. The 16-time All-Star sat out of Los Angeles' 98-94 loss at Portland on Monday to rest but is probable for Wednesday.
Bryant has averaged only 12.3 field-goal attempts in four games since beginning to take some time off, 10 fewer than he'd taken per contest in his first 27. But he's shooting 46.9 percent, averaging 8.0 assists and hit the game-winning bucket late against Indiana a night before the loss in Portland.
"Of course we needed Kobe down the stretch," Nick Young said after the Lakers were outscored 28-21 in the fourth against the Trail Blazers. "We're all so used to him being there (in) the last couple minutes in the game. Obviously we needed him tonight, but we still had a chance."
The Lakers were outscored 32-21 in the final 12 minutes of their first meeting with the Clippers, a 118-111 loss on Oct. 31. Bryant had 21 on 6-of-15 shooting, and Blake Griffin had 39.
The Clippers have outscored the Lakers by an average of 17.1 points while winning eight of the last nine meetings, but dominating Los Angeles' historically dominant franchise isn't what's on the mind of Doc Rivers' club.
"Our job is to win a title, not because of the Lakers," Rivers said. "Our job is to win a title because we're the Clippers and we want to win a title as the Clippers. That's it."
Lakers forward Wesley Johnson will miss a second straight game with a hip injury - Ryan Kelly again figures to start in his place - but Ronnie Price is probable despite breaking his nose against the Blazers.
Forward Ed Davis, who's averaging 11.8 points and shooting 63.4 percent over his last 10 games, also is playing with a broken nose suffered Friday against Memphis.