LOS ANGELES -- Clippers stockings were hung by the chimney with care, but the Lakers had a Christmas surprise for them.
Rated underdogs for the first time in the cross-town Los Angeles rivalry, threatened with falling to 0-2 in the city series, the Lakers arose from a three-game losing streak, ran up a 22-point lead and defeated the Clippers 85-75 yesterday at the Sports Arena.
With a national television audience waiting to confirm the changing of the guard, the Lakers served notice: That guard can stay right where it is.
"A lot of things were said after the first game," Byron Scott said of the Clippers' Nov. 5 victory at The Forum.
"A lot of things were said before this game. Things get back to you.
"We've beaten a lot of teams, but we never rubbed their face in it. We were gracious winners. In the nine years I've been here, we let our game do our talking.
"A team like the Clippers wins a couple of games . . . That's almost like a disgrace. We came in here with the attitude they didn't respect us."
Scott says the things he heard were second-hand, from players and friends of players.
"But knowing some of their players," Scott said, "I know it's true."
Clippers respect must be surging once more.
Lakers double-teams eliminated their inside game.
The Lakers held them to 53 points in the first three quarters and led, 80-58, with 5:26 left in the game.
Only a closing rush against the substitutes -- and rookie LeRon Ellis' layup with 1.7 seconds left -- got the Clippers over their franchise low -- 74 points -- last posted in 1981 when they were in San Diego.
"The thing they took away, the strength of our team, is the inside game," Clippers coach Mike Schuler said. "They were very, very good at that.
"This is the first time our guys have been involved in this kind of situation, a big game. They're going to have to learn how to play in big games. As you climb the ladder, you earn respect. When teams think you're a pretty good team, they become more determined."
It took the Lakers 3:30 to put their determination into the game.
His name is A.C. Green. At that point, the Clippers led, 8-4, and coach Mike Dunleavy sent him in for Elden Campbell.
The Lakers immediately went on an 18-4 run.
They led 50-39 at the half, having scored 10 points on offensive rebounds -- six by Green, four by James Worthy.
They never looked back.
"That was the best Christmas present I've ever had without even looking under the tree," Dunleavy said.
In a subdued Clippers dressing room, the losing team tried to figure out what happened.
"I don't pay that any mind," Ron Harper said of Schuler's big-game theory.
"I feel like we've got guys here who've played big games. Danny Manning won a national championship. Loy Vaught won a national championship. Charles Smith played in a lot of big games. James Edwards had all those championship rings.
"It was just that we didn't get the job done."
Instead, they had a job done on them. They have until tonight's game in Salt Lake City to rebound.
"Hey, it's one game out of an 82-game season," Harper said. "I'm sure some guys are hurt, but I'm sure the veteran players will say, 'Hey, it's just one game.'
"I'm not going to go home and throw my ham away, and the toys and gifts. I'm going to go home and enjoy the holiday."