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Clips Have Good Reason to Think They Can Beat Warriors, but Do They Believe It?

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterDecember 7, 2016

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 4:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers handles the ball against the Golden State Warriors during a preseason game on October 4, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Before the Los Angeles Clippers try to depart from recent history and show they can actually beat the Golden State Warriors Wednesday night, let's rewind about two-and-a-half years.

Y'know, when the Clippers actually beat the Warriors.

In the playoffs.

"Over the years you realize," Blake Griffin said Tuesday, "the playoffs are what the regular season is for."

The Clippers have lost seven of the past eight regular-season meetings between the teams, including six consecutive games.

Before that, though…

Through their regular-season accomplishments, the Clippers put themselves in position to be the last Western Conference team to eliminate the Warriors. With home-court advantage in the No. 3-vs.-No. 6 series during 2014, the Clippers took advantage of their Staples Center surroundings to come back from an eight-point halftime deficit and win Game 7, 126-121.

The changes made to both teams in the aftermath of the series still fascinate in light of where the Warriors have gone since and how the Clippers have been unable to follow.

In Oakland, Steve Kerr replaced Mark Jackson as Warriors head coach, while Steve Ballmer replaced Donald Sterling in L.A. as Clippers owner. Far more has been made of Kerr's impact than Ballmer's—logically, given the Warriors' on-court success—but that makes this ongoing rivalry all the more compelling.

The Clippers were perfectly set up to capture the nation's heart. That moment when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stood tall in front of an all red, white and blue backdrop to declare "effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life" inspired people and helped lift the Clippers' spirits enough to capture Game 5 from Golden State.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Ballmer has come through on his promise to make the Clippers a higher-class organization. The latest evidence of that was Wednesday's opening of the private, members-only Season Ticket Club on Staples' Suite Level A—a luxurious lounge with sweeping views of downtown for those non-business business meetings for which Los Angeles is famous.

Such upgrades would resonate more deeply if there was an NBA championship to validate everything.

The Clippers' failure to launch since that series may sting even more considering the Warriors—themselves longtime losers in recent NBA history—elevated their franchise since that playoff series in 2014.

Being as opaque as he often is, however, Griffin maintains that the Clippers aren't at all hung up on the Warriors as rivals—even while noting, "I'd be lying to come in and say it's just a regular game."

Griffin's passive-aggressive tone leads one to wonder whether the Warriors are in the Clippers' heads.

That shouldn't be the case. The Clippers, largely unchanged in the two-plus years since their series win, should be one of the few clubs confident in their ability to defeat Golden State. Around the league, it is generally acknowledged they are also one of the few clubs with the personnel to be a problem for the Warriors.

Chris Paul limits the Warriors' running game by avoiding turnovers while also defending Curry well. The Clippers' switching capability is good enough to limit the offensive chaos on which the Warriors thrive. And none of Golden State's wing players are big and tall enough to handle Griffin's power when he turns to it or DeAndre Jordan's when he unleashes it.

The Clippers' 16-6 start has brought lots of reasons to celebrate for Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and their teammates.
The Clippers' 16-6 start has brought lots of reasons to celebrate for Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and their teammates.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

On top of that, the Clippers have continuity, which Golden State does not as it continues to integrate Kevin Durant. While the Warriors' collection of talent has accelerated the transition process, the bonds the Clippers have developed over the years fueled their own fast start until the bench regressed some to its norm and a brutally compacted schedule sapped the overall energy.

At one point during the Clippers' 14-2 opening, Doc Rivers even offered a comparison between these Clippers and his only NBA championship team, the 2007-08 Boston Celtics, who marched through their hiccups all season with confidence and unity.

"The '08 team didn't have [adversity] until the playoffs," Rivers recalled, "which was crazy."

As promising as the first month has been in L.A., the tale of the Clippers' season will depend on whether they will feel, and play, differently in the playoffs—as Griffin is suggesting by downplaying the regular season.

Perhaps come spring, the Clippers will understand the magnitude of what they're up against—not just elimination or the mighty Warriors, but the specter that the best run in their own franchise's history may be over with Paul and Griffin free to exit their contracts this summer.

Maybe that realization is enough to ditch their cool cohesion for the impassioned harmony they'll need to get past the juggernaut up north. All championship teams have another gear in May and June.

Maybe, just maybe, the Clippers can find that.

Yet this has been an organization of 'maybes' for so long that it's hard to build a convincing case against the Warriors' accomplishments.

It's also important to note that Jordan jumped center against Jermaine O'Neal in that 2014 series because Andrew Bogut, then considered one of Golden State's best players, was out with an injury. Curry also hadn't developed into the two-time MVP he became, while Draymond Green was only in his second season.

Whatever the peripheral issues, the Clippers haven't carried an unwavering belief about their ability to beat the Warriors since. That makes winning some regular-season games against them a little more important.

That 2014 series for LAC wasn't as much about beating the Warriors as it was about proving themselves.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 3: Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers defends against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in Game Seven of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 3, 2014 in Los An
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

It wasn't as much about external validation as it was about overcoming all of that Sterling suffering, which is how those within the organization ultimately remember it. By the same token, if the Clippers start beating the Warriors now, or later en route to a title, it won't be about the rivalry.   

It will be about the readiness of this Clippers team.

"They're a team that you have to beat," Griffin said of the Warriors, "to win a championship."

     

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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