The Lakers downplayed it.
Beating the Clippers is unimportant. Regular season games are meaningless. The playoffs are the only thing that matters.
After those breathless platitudes, they showed how they really feel, pouring out their hearts in a 112-103 win over the Clippers on Sunday at Staples Center.
The even-keeled Avery Bradley picked up his first technical foul of the season and scored a season-high 24 points. LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 58 points. James took over in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers weren't about to lose this game after falling to the Clippers in their season opener and again on Christmas.
"It feels good just because we can create a little more separation in the standings," said Davis, who had 30 points on 11-for-19 shooting and eight rebounds. "They were creeping up on us."
The Lakers, who sit atop the Western Conference, improved to 49-13, 6 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Clippers (43-20).
James had another incredible performance, scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter as he made sure the Lakers won a game that had 13 lead changes and 10 ties.
James opened the fourth quarter with a 28-foot step-back three-pointer. He made layups, dished the ball to Davis for a reverse jam, drew out the defense to open up his teammates, and attacked the basket when he had a lane, getting sent to the free-throw line six times and making five of those shots.
He made sure the Lakers never trailed in the final 12 minutes, finishing with 28 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. It was his second-straight huge performance against a great team, following a 37-point, eight-rebound and eight-assist game against the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.
"I prepare myself both in my body and my mind to endure anything," James said. "Even at this stage of my career, I know what it takes for me to be prepared mentally and physically to go out and perform at a high level. And it’s my responsibility to put this team in a position to be successful. They look at me as a leader. And it's my job, not only on the floor to get guys opportunities, get them great looks, but to inspire them as well. To show them that I'm not slowing down, even at this stage of my career."
Davis reiterated that James is the league MVP.
He even had a message for anyone who doubts it.
"They need to watch the last two games," Davis said. "I mean, what he’s been able to do; taking on matchups defensively, leading the pack offensively, making the right plays, you don’t see that from a guy who is 17 years in the league. And his team is number one in the West. He’s continuing to show the world why he’s the best. And if people don’t understand that, then [after] the last two games, I think they understand now."
The Lakers were great even when James was out Sunday.
James went scoreless in the third quarter while playing just under 6 minutes as the Lakers outscored the Clippers, 36-28, to erase a 53-49 halftime deficit.
Sunday was technically an away game for the Lakers, but James received MVP chants and the Lakers' fans out-roared the Clippers' faithful.
The Lakers and Clippers have never met in the playoffs, but that could change this year.
It would be thrilling.
Even Davis couldn't help but imagine how that would look.
"Chippy. Defensive-minded. Scrappy," Davis said. "The best type of games is when you come out of there with bloody lips and scratches and, you know, guys taking charges and guys chirping. Those the type of games that you live for. The fun games in basketball that every player in this locker room wants."