With rivalry evolving, Lakers, Clippers set to close season series

It will be the end of an era in Los Angeles on Wednesday when the city's two NBA teams clash for the final time this season.The host Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers will play a schedule

With rivalry evolving, Lakers, Clippers set to close season series

It will be the end of an era in Los Angeles on Wednesday when the city’s two NBA teams clash for the final time this season.

The host Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers will play a scheduled game against each other one more time as co-tenants of the same downtown arena.

Since the 1999-2000 season, the teams have occupied locker rooms just down the hall, less than 100 feet from each other. It has been called the “Hallway Series” after all.

Barring the first playoff series between the teams this spring, the next time they will meet will come next season after the Clippers have moved to their new state-of-the-art arena in nearby Inglewood, Calif.

Change already has arrived this season with the Lakers ending an 11-game losing streak to the Clippers on Nov. 1. The Lakers won again on Jan. 7 before the Clippers won two weeks later. With a victory on Wednesday, the Lakers can win the season series between the teams for the first time since they met three times during the 2011-12 campaign.

In an inconsistent season, the Lakers enter Wednesday’s contest having lost two of their past three games, including their 123-113 defeat on the road Sunday against the Phoenix Suns. Prior to that run, the Lakers had won six of seven.

In Sunday’s game, the Lakers had season lows with eight free-throw attempts and four made shots from the line. Afterward, they grumbled about the disparity from the line, with the Suns going 18-for-19.

“I’m not one to use referees as an excuse,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “But it’s becoming increasingly tough because of the inconsistency. I’m seeing our guys get the same contact on them as we’re supposedly committing. And the whistle is not being blown.”

Perhaps a bigger issue was the Suns’ 45 first-quarter points.

“Super slow start for us, offensively and defensively,” said Lakers star LeBron James, who scored a team-high 28 points against Phoenix. “You give a team 45 points in a quarter, that’s always going to be a problem.”

Earlier this month, the Clippers were closing in on the top spot in the Western Conference. But a 3-4 record since Feb. 7 has raised questions about a defense that had carried the team toward the top of the standings.

The Clippers are coming off a 123-107 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday and were planning on using the two full days between games to restore order.

“It’s a grind and so we just got to get back mentally focused, understanding what we need to do if we want to take that next step … going into the playoffs,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “So, (we have to be) mentally focusing, getting back sharp again on both sides of the basketball and taking these days to get better.”

Without Paul George because of a sore left knee, Norman Powell ended up leading the Clippers on Sunday with 21 points. Kawhi Leonard and James Harden each scored 20 points while combining to shoot 11 of 31 (35.5 percent) from the floor.

“I mean, we all know how to win basketball games, so we just got to go out there and do it,” Leonard said.