When the NBA releases its schedule each summer, only a handful of games among the hundreds are worth being circled as must-see events.
One of them will be tonight, when the Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers butt heads at Oracle Arena for the first of four times this regular season.
The Clippers and Warriors don’t like each other. Haven’t for a while now, which makes theirs the hottest rivalry in the league. Only Warriors interim coach Luke Walton could dismiss the matchup as just another game and do it with a straight face.
“It will be fun for the fans, it will fun for our guys and it will be fun for [the Clippers]. But whoever wins the game … you know, it’s not that big of a deal,” Walton said after practice Tuesday. “Obviously, both teams want to win, but in the big picture of the playoffs and all that, it’s one game like the other 81 we’ll play besides that.”
“Just game No. 5 on the schedule,” Draymond Green said Monday night after a 50-point blowout of Memphis.
Playing extraordinarily well amid a 4-0 start, the Warriors must not feel the need to rattle cages this early.
“Since I’ve been in the league, it has been pretty much the same core guys battling one another for four, five years,” the Warriors’ Klay Thompson said. “We’re both very competitive. We’re two of the better teams in the West vying for the top spot. We know that we stay in each other’s way. And [the feud] is probably as simple as that.”
It looks to be more of the same this season. The Clippers and Warriors are the only two Western Conference teams without a loss.
Reminded that the Warriors were at the top of their game, the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan replied Monday night, “So are we.”
Told that the Warriors beat the Memphis by 50 points that night, Jordan said, fairly unimpressed, “That’s fine, we [also] won.”
Blake Griffin didn’t much care to talk about the Warriors, either. “I thought we played well,” he said, changing the subject. “Phoenix is a good team.”
“Listen, you’re both as good as your record,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who recently said the Warriors were lucky to win the NBA championship last season. “They’re undefeated and we’re undefeated. No matter how many points you win by, the records are the same. They’re the champs, they’re a really good basketball team.
“[The Warriors] remind me of us [the Boston Celtics] in 2008. People forgot, the following year, we were better in the first 15 or 20 games before Kevin [Garnett] got hurt. We were beating teams by 30 every night, it felt like. That swagger is hard to knock off.”
The Warriors could be without the services of Andrew Bogut (concussion) for the third consecutive game. The center did not practice Tuesday, but if he receives clearance from the league in time, he could be in uniform tonight.
Not only could the regular-season series decide the Pacific Division title, but the winner might gain a mental edge should the teams meet in the playoffs. While the Warriors dominated the series last season, 3-1, the Clippers had the look of a team that wasn’t fully convinced that it could beat the Warriors.
“Yeah, there is,” Thompson said of the potential benefit. “I mean, there’s a very definite possibility we might see them down the line, so you want to send them a message as many times as possible. Like, ‘Look, we’re not going to be an easy out, especially on our homecourt. It’s not going to be easy to come up here and get a win.’”
In the first round of the 2014 playoffs, the Clippers beat the Warriors in seven games. They were on a collision course to meet again last spring, when the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead against the Houston Rockets in the conference semifinals.
A lack of depth was fatal for the Clippers in the series, a weakness they addressed with the acquisitions of veterans Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson last summer.
“They had short rotations last year,” Thompson said. “But this year, having added guys like Pierce and Smith, they’ve got more depth. I don’t think they’re as deep as us, but they’ve got a lot more bodies.”
Like the Warriors, the Clippers have one of the elite talents in the league.
While Stephen Curry has been otherworldly in the first week of the season, Griffin hasn’t been far behind. The Clippers’ forward ranks among the league leaders in points (fourth), field-goal percentage (sixth) and rebounds (10th).
Tonight, Green figures to see plenty of Griffin and vice versa. Green didn’t speak with reporters after practice, perhaps because he wanted to save his voice for the game.
“Hopefully, I don’t say anything dumb in the next 48 hours, and we can just play basketball,” Rivers said of his part. “Don’t bet on it.”