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Warriors/Clippers Rivalry In The Making?

(originally written 1/5/13)

I didn't plan to write about Wednesday's Warriors/Clippers game, but that was before watching it. A lot happened, a lot didn't happen, and a lot will probably happen when the two teams face off again Saturday night.

All the stars were aligned for a Warriors win: the Clips were fresh off loss No. 1 since November, said loss had come the night before in the asthmatic experience that is Denver's Pepsi Center, and key Clipper veteran Caron Butler was a late scratch—not to mention the off-court distraction caused by the untimely death of their owner's son.

Yet, in the NBA (and pro sports as a whole) no victory is a given, as Warrior fans who remember the closing days of the Nellieball era can attest—you know, the days when Anthony Tolliver, Chris Hunter, Anthony Morrow and a washed-up Devean George contributed heavy minutes and yet Golden State still won occasionally.

(Side note: those were dark days. The 2010 Warriors were so injury-depleted and so desperate for bodies that Mikki Moore's return to health was celebrated nearly as much as Monta Ellis'. But I'm not here to talk about the past.)

In the end, the Warriors did beat the Clippers, who happen to be the only team in their division better than them. In fact, they beat the hell out of them, running up a 20-point lead, surrendering nearly all of it to LA's pressing defense, then re-building the lead to 24 en route to a 115-94 final.

During one first-half transition, Clips F Lamar Odom came down on top of Carl Landry while attempting a rebound; the two #7's wrestled around for a few seconds behind the play before rejoining the action (fortunately, official Kevin Fehr wasn't there to break it up; the NBA doesn't need that kind of pub). 

The two veteran big men kept their cool, even ass-patting each other, but later in the game Warriors rookie C Festus Ezeli roped superstar F Blake Griffin into a very hard fall that appeared to daze him—the kind of unnecessary hard foul from which tussles often sprout. None did in this instance, but it's unlikely Los Angeles has forgotten.

As a Warriors fan, I'm hoping they didn't. 

Because Golden State could use a rival.

You might say the Clippers already have a rival in the Lakers, based on geography. But the truth is: the Lakers will always be the pride of Los Angeles. Short of winning eight titles in 10 years as the Lakers annually finish last, the Clippers "rivalry" with their co-tenants will forever tilt towards purple. Even then, the Lakers will still attract more star players, draw more celebrity fans, earn more television airtime, and sell more authentic jerseys.

In the 20 years I've followed the NBA, Warriors/Kings has never really taken off because the two teams have never been simultaneously competitive. The 50-win Warrior team of '94 beat up on Sacramento, winning their first four by a combined 53 points, before dropping a basically meaningless fifth game. During Sac's resurgence in the early 2000s, Golden State was wretched; barely watchable.

During the Warriors "We Believe" 2007 and 2008 seasons, and this year, the Kings are again mediocre. Besides, all signs point to their days as the Sacramento Kings being numbered.

Over most those same 20 years, the Warriors and Clippers have, in many ways, been the same franchise: Stepchildren to their city. Much-maligned owners (although, by most accounts, one was merely incompetent while the other is basically evil).

The occasional, brief stretches of success wrapped around many, many years of futility. Rarely good enough to make the playoffs, rarely bad enough to contend for the highest draft picks (and little return when they do land those draft picks; Joe Smith, Michael Olowokandi). Shoot, both teams even fired Hall-of-Fame players-turned-executives around the same time.

So tonight, as the weary Clippers host an idle-since-Wednesday Golden State—their fourth game in five nights—maybe things get a little bit chippy should the Warriors repeat their January 2nd effort. Maybe this time Odom doesn't respond with an ass-pat. Maybe this time the Clippers don't stand for some rookie grappling their prize big man and sending him to the floor.

I'm not saying I want to see a repeat of Nuggets/Knicks circa 2007. Or even Nets/Celtics circa 2012, version 1 or 2.

I am saying that one mark of a good team is a good rival (when has anyone ever discussed a Bobcats/Wizards throwdown?), and just enough enmity tonight to lead to January 21st—the date of their next clash—being circled in red on the calendar isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Lord knows Golden State could use the recognition that would come with being Lob City's nemesis.

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