The Clippers made a surprise bolt out of the gate this season to take the top spot in the Pacific Division. A brief cold streak on the road and some nagging injuries let the Suns edge them out, but with the Lakers, yet again, falling on hard times, it looks like Los Angeles’ “other team” is finally getting the respect it deserves. Here are nine reasons why we should all root for the new home team.

Fear the Other ’Fro: ?Shaun Livingston

Every team needs a young phenom to carry the mantle for the future, and the Clippers have that in Livingston, the 20-year-old, 6-foot-7 point guard out of Peoria, Illinois. Sure, he’s been injured off and on for the last few years and most of this season — hell, the kid is still going through puberty — but he’s playing behind veteran Sam Cassell, averaging almost 8 points a game and has a mean-ass fadeaway jumper that reminds me of some other once-young phenom who plays for another Los Angeles team. Just bring back the ’fro, Shaun.

And the Best-Dressed Award Goes to .?.?.

Peep James Singleton’s knee-high tube socks during game day. The Clippers have style. Almost every Clipper rocks a headband, their center has hair like a hesher and GM Elgin Baylor dresses like Bill Cosby. The Clippers remind me of the Bad News Bears, which is a sincere compliment.

Good Show

The Clippers are fun to watch. Remember when Phil Jackson’s zazen-conceived triangle offense was like watching a choreographed Yuen Wo Ping combination? Well, neither do I. But when I was at the Clippers-Cavaliers game a few weeks ago, I got that “Showtime” feeling again. Whereas the Lakers’ entire offense — give the ball to Kobe, pass to Kobe and, when all else fails, throw an awkward lob to Kobe — is ugly sports and boring to boot, the Clippers’ movement is fluid. They pass plenty, make nice drives, and sometimes score spectacularly. With Cuttino Mobley and Sam Cassell, the Clippers’ transition game is only getting smoother.

They Need Us

With the Clippers on top, Staples Center is packed for big games, but the crowd seems lost. There’s excitement, but it’s almost an unsure “we still wish we were at a Lakers game” feeling. Like, who the fuck just scored that basket? And since the hard-working Clippers aren’t the dead-obvious, flashy, asshole Lakers of yesteryear, many Angelenos are confused. Still, in my informal polls, people would rather see Cuttino Mobley drain it from the wing than watch Von Wafer lace up his shoes some more.

C. Mag & Cro-Mag

Though he’s on the injured list for the next month, it’s always fun to see Corey Maggette — C. Mag — have a good game. ’Nuff said. But last time I was at Staples, the guy who impressed me the most was Chris Kaman, the Cro-Magnon-looking center, who I’ve given the nom du sport Fire! — as in the eureka moment when our prehistoric ancestors sought and discovered the elusive and magical element. Fire! After getting a thorough beat-down at the hands of Zydrunas Ilgauskas during the Cavs game last month, Fire! came correct against them the next night with 12 points and 19 boards. (Looks like Fire! took a look at Ilgauskas’ $55 million contract and decided to start playing.) I even heard recently that Fire! is taking up the crossbow. I shit you not.

Elton Brand

Night after night, season after season, E.B. plays tough. It used to be hard to watch his great efforts go to waste. He’d put up numbers only to have the team dump in the last five minutes of the fourth. Now E.B. has backup, and the Clipps are winning most of those games down the stretch. That’s why I asked Santa for an Elton Brand jersey for Hanukkah. Um, Santa? I’m still waiting.

Tickets Are Cheap and Plentiful

For the price of a movie, you can go to a Clippers game. Lakers tix are still through the roof, although after two years of Kobe-ball, ticket promotions are starting to pop up. Can you imagine discounts during Shaq days?

That Dude in the Blue and Red Suit

If you’ve been to a game, you know who I am talking about. He’s the guy dressed like Two-Face in the Batman movies. He’s always yelling “Go Clippers!” and dancing in the aisles. I think I once saw him starting a “wave.” A fan’s fan in a city of fakers, dayenu.

More Blue Than Red

The Clippers air their games on Air America KTLK-AM 1150. Progressive basketball at its finest!

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