There’s a flashy brand of basketball being played by a new pair of rising California rivals. The alley-oops in Lob City, the deep 3-pointers by the “Splash Brothers” and the overall bitterness between the Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers should make for one of the most entertaining matchups in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
“As far as a series, it’s a 10,” said former New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, who will have a front-row seat on the ABC broadcasting team for Game 1 in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Whether the high-octane style and 3-point prowess both teams play with can carry either to a championship — this year or in the future — remains to be seen.
Those Kings teams, dubbed “The Greatest Show on Court” on a 2001 Sports Illustrated cover, never even made the NBA Finals.
Neither did the high-scoring Phoenix Suns with two-time MVP Steve Nash at the point. The “Run TMC” Warriors under the direction of Don Nelson never reached the conference finals.
In an age where the pace typically slows down in the playoffs and offenses get bunched in half-court sets, the Clippers and Warriors are trying to speed it up and spread it out.
“It will be a fun matchup,” Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said. “It’s two teams who are both exciting and both love to get up and down the court.”
The high-flying frontcourt of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, coupled with point guard Chris Paul and 3-point shooters all over the roster make the Clippers one of the most fan-pleasing spectacles in sports. Los Angeles led the NBA in scoring this season, averaging 107.9 points per game.
“Incredible offensive juggernaut,” Van Gundy called them.
The quick-shooting Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for the Warriors are as dangerous a scoring tandem as the league has ever seen. They combined to make 484 3-pointers this season — eclipsing their NBA record of 483 set last season — and showed in the playoffs a year ago how tough they are to cover when they get going.
“The greatest-shooting backcourt in NBA history,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson has repeatedly labeled them.
The Clippers and Warriors also have something rare these days: real animosity that could fuel physical play.
“They hate one another,” former Indiana Pacers guard and current TNT analyst Reggie Miller said.
The last major squabble came in Golden State’s win on Christmas Day in Oakland, when Griffin and Warriors reserve Draymond Green were ejected and Bogut had dust-ups with Griffin and Paul. Earlier this season, the Clippers even refused to hold pregame chapel with the Warriors in Los Angeles — something every other team does in the league.
The verbal accusations heated up again on the air waves this week when Thompson was asked to describe Griffin’s antics. He said the Clippers’ All-Star forward is “out of control” and compared him to a “bull in a china shop.”
“Like how can a guy that big and strong flop that much?” Thompson told KGMZ (95.7 FM).
Curry’s jersey is No. 5: As if you needed any more proof of Stephen Curry’s popularity, the NBA announced that the Warriors star guard is fifth in jersey sales.
LeBron James of the Miami Heat tops the list for the sixth time. “It means a lot to know that I have so many fans that want to wear my jersey because they respect the way I play the game and respect who I am as a man,” James said. “Thanks so much to all that ‘Strive for Greatness.’”
Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City is No. 2 on the list, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, Chicago’s Derrick Rose, Curry and New York’s Carmelo Anthony.
No. 3 Clippers (57-25) vs. No. 6 Warriors (51-31)
Season series: Tied, 2-2. Each team won twice at home, and the dislike between the teams couldn’t even be hidden on Christmas, when Blake Griffin and Draymond Green were thrown out of the Warriors’ testy two-point victory.
Story line: With superstar players on both sides and two division rivals who don’t like each other, this has all the makings of a classic playoff series. The Warriors pulled a playoff upset against the Denver Nuggets last year from the same seed, but the Clippers have their best team ever and hopes of a deep run.
Key matchup I — Chris Paul vs. Stephen Curry: Perhaps the NBA’s best-handling point guard against its best shooting one, and the All-Stars had a sensational duel on Halloween, when Paul had 42 points and 16 assists to beat Curry’s 38 and 11 in a Clippers victory. Paul averaged 28 points and 13 assists in three games, sitting out Golden State’s 111-92 victory on Jan. 30.
Key matchup II — Blake Griffin vs. David Lee: Lee has to battle an injury to the nerve that connects from his right hamstring to his back, along with perhaps one of the few better players at his position. Lee had 20 or more points in all four games, as did Griffin, who finished it off with a 30-point, 15-rebound performance in the Clippers’ March 12 rout.
X-factor: DeAndre Jordan. With fellow center Andrew Bogut out injured, the Clippers’ dominant defender should be able to control the paint, but most not let his poor free-throw shooting cost them down the stretch of any close games.