Los Angeles (CNN)After all the off-court drama in the NBA recently, the start of the regular season could not have arrived soon enough.
Since June, the league has been in the limelight for a flurry of high-profile star-swapping -- some of it criticized for penalizing small market teams -- then withstood intense scrutiny for a Chinese dilemma that shows signs of dissipating overseas but not at home.
But once the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers tipped-off opening night on Tuesday, the NBA reminded the world how it came to be an iconic global brand in the first place.
The Clippers beat the Lakers 112-102, in a scintillating game that had a roaring Staples Center crowd, split between two in its allegiances, on its feet for much of the night.
Kawhi Leonard looked every bit the player that just led Toronto to its first championship, scoring 30 points for the revamped Clippers while playing inspiring defense, at times shadowing his new Lakers rival LeBron James.
The Lakers performance was a mixed bag, coming back from a 14 deficit to tie the game late, only to squander their chance with poor outside shooting.
James controlled the ball for much of the night, but struggled offensively, scoring 18 points, while making just one of his five three-point attempts.
"It's not a rivalry," James stressed after the game, somewhat unconvincingly. "We're trying to get better every single day and be as good as we can be. We saw some good things tonight and some not so good things."
"I'm just so excited to get back on the floor," he added. "Obviously I'm a little rusty, as far as my perimeter shooting and not being in a game situation in a while, and not playing that many minutes in a game in quite a while.
Newly acquired Anthony Davis scored 25 points and pulled 10 rebounds in his Lakers debut, while Danny Green chipped in an inspired 28-point performance in a losing cause against is longtime former teammate Leonard.
The game could be a precursor for three more intense meetings during the regular season, as well as a potential blockbuster meeting deep in the Western Conference playoffs draw.
"It's unusual to have a game (with this build-up)," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said, "but the moment they made the schedule, it was almost positioned like a prize fight. No matter how much (Lakers coach) Frank (Vogel) and I probably tried to dispel it, once the game started it was all out the window."
Betting on the present
Never before have two NBA teams from the same city been the odds-on favorites to win the title, with the Lakers and Clippers swapping the top two spots between bookmakers in the lead-up to the game.
On the one hand, the expectations are understandable, given that the Lakers made a blockbuster trade for Davis, widely considered the league's top center, and the Clippers scored a coup by landing reigning Finals MVP Leonard and six-time All-