Neither the Los Angeles Clippers nor the Golden State Warriors consider themselves as rivals.
At least, that's the story they like to tell. Their own-court clashes, though, suggest something entirely different.
In the classic sense, this Pacific Division battle doesn't don the rivalry tag. Both teams have the talent to join the league's elites, but neither has won anything of significance in a long time (four postseason series wins combined since 1991).
Even if they're not rivals, though, they're still teams with, as ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi called it, "a genuine dislike" for one another. Their last meeting, a 105-103 Warriors win on Christmas night, featured two flagrant fouls, three technical fouls and a near-fisticuffs session between Andrew Bogut and Blake Griffin.
Their first matchup of the year, a 126-115 Clippers win on Halloween, saw each team rack up a pair of technical fouls.
If this isn't a rivalry, it's a heavyweight bout—one that promises to pack all the punches of a premier prize fight.
|Los Angeles Clippers||Golden State Warriors|
|Field-Goal Percentage Allowed||44.4||43.3|
Time: Thursday, Jan. 30, 10:30 p.m. ET
Location: Oracle Arena, Oakland, Calif.
Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul out (shoulder)
Golden State Warriors
Jermaine O'Neal out (wrist), Nemanja Nedovic out (hamstring), Festus Ezeli out (knee)
How Los Angeles Wins
By riding the wings of the powerfully potent, wildly productive beast known as the Griffin Force.
It might have started as a clever commercial campaign, but what better way to describe the dominant displays put on by All-Star starter Blake Griffin? The fourth-year forward has helped the Clippers weather the storm after losing Chris Paul to a separated shoulder on Jan. 3.
Griffin has grabbed the reins since Paul's departure, posting 25.2 points (on 55.7 percent shooting) and 4.6 assists in the 13 games since. He has both quickness and athleticism advantages over Warriors forward David Lee (21.5 points on 53.4 percent shooting in their first two meetings) and the soft passing touch to punish Golden State for showing him too much attention.
"I think I'm learning to take what the defense gives you and not trying to force anything," Griffin said earlier this season, via Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times.
Griffin never shies away from contact—and still embellishes it at times—which could put Bogut in a bind. The Dubs stopper is holding opponents to 44.0 percent shooting at the rim (10th best among defenders facing at least five of those shots per game), but challenging that many shots exposes him to foul trouble (3.9 fouls per 36 minutes).
With both Jermaine O'Neal and Festus Ezeli still on the shelf, the Warriors are woefully short on rim protectors behind Bogut. Aggression is key for the Clippers, who have witnessed firsthand the benefits of attacking the rack.
That aggression needs to carry over to both ends of the floor.
The Warriors are packed to the brim with shooters (9.4 made threes per game, tied for second overall; 38.5 three-point percentage, second), so running them off the perimeter is paramount to slowing their attack. Crowding those gunners has other benefits, too. Golden State averages a league-worst 16.6 turnovers per 100 possessions, so there are giveaways up for grabs if Los Angeles wants to take them.
This will be the second game in as many nights for the Clippers, who scored a 110-103 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday, so they'll need to dip into their reserve fuel tanks.
As long as Griffin leads the way, DeAndre Jordan helps control the paint and L.A.'s shooters do some splashing of their own, the Clippers will make a resounding statement about who the best team in the Pacific Division is.
How Golden State Wins
By exploiting the fact that it has its superstar lead guard on the floor and Los Angeles doesn't.
Fellow All-Star starter Stephen Curry has soared up the superstar ranks, thanks to a combination of scoring (24.1 points) and distributing (9.2 assists) unmatched by his point guard peers this season. A deft perimeter shooter (3.3 made triples per game on 39.3 percent shooting), he can shoot himself into a zone that renders defenses completely helpless.
The Clippers know that all too well.
Curry has lit the lamp 11 times on 20 three-point attempts against the Clippers this season. L.A. will do whatever it takes to keep him from catching fire.
So, Curry needs to flash his floor game, which can be equally dominant when he's under control. He's surrounded by offensive weapons in Lee (19.0 points per game), Klay Thompson (18.9), Harrison Barnes (10.1) and Andre Iguodala (9.9). He needs to use them to his advantage—without coughing up the ball (he's averaging a career-worst 4.2 turnovers per game), of course.
L.A.'s defense is stout, but it can be broken down by ball movement. The Clippers smother pick-and-roll ball-handlers (0.70 points allowed per possession, second overall), but they have been picked apart by roll men (1.13, 27th) and off-ball cutters (1.24, 21st), via SynergySports (subscription required).
Golden State has a productive pick-and-roll game when it avoids the temptation to settle and challenges the defensive interior.
The Warriors' snipers always keep them within striking distance, but that perimeter attack grows increasingly more powerful when it's bolstered by crisp ball movement and dribble penetration.
L.A. has a top-shelf shot-blocker in Jordan (2.4 per game) but not much in terms of intimidation beyond him (Griffin ranks second with 0.6 swats). The more wrinkles the Dubs throw at the Clippers defense, the more likely it becomes that Doc Rivers' team gets lost in the maze.
Defensively, the Dubs have the bodies to slow down a powerful attack. But they've had problems bringing the necessary energy on a nightly basis, as evidenced by their frustrating 88-85 home loss to the Wizards on Tuesday. Coach Mark Jackson thought his team slipped by playing down to its competition.
"We are not good enough to allow who comes in here to determine how hard we play," he said after the defeat, via Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group.
It shouldn't be hard for the Warriors to ramp up their intensity with the Clippers coming to town. Even if they don't view L.A.'s finest as a true rival.
The last four trips up the Pacific coast have ended badly for the Clippers. L.A. hasn't snagged a victory inside Oracle Arena since Christmas 2011.
Which Pacific Division power do you think will come out on top?
Despite the torrid run that Griffin is on, I don't think the Clippers' luck will change on Thursday.
Points typically come by the truckloads when these teams square off (449 total in their first two matchups), so it's hard to bet against the side working with a full complement of offensive weapons. If the Splash Brothers turn the Oracle into their personal water park, the Clips won't be able to keep pace.
Expect fast-paced, hotly contested, fiercely intense action when these teams take the floor. Basically, everything you'd expect to see in any good rivalry—you know, since that's not what this is.
Then, expect to see the Warriors pick up a crucial home victory. Again.
Warriors 113, Clippers 107