OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – The debate about whether the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers are growing into unlikely California rivals might just be a matter of vocabulary.
Call it what you want.
On the court, there’s no denying the players don’t like each other.
The Pacific Division-leading Clippers visit the Warriors on Thursday night for the first time since Golden State’s win on Christmas featured two ejections, two flagrant fouls, three technical fouls, countless elbows and constant chatter.
”It’s not a rivalry. We don’t have bad blood,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson insisted after practice Wednesday, doing his best to downplay the rematch. ”In this league, when you’re competing and teams are getting after it and you’re jockeying for playoff position in your same division, it makes it exciting. We embrace it. They embrace it.”
Golden State’s marketing team is sure trying to capitalize on the game.
On Wednesday, the team’s website directed visitors to a preview page with the headline: ”Battle for the Pacific.” It also touted the game as ”the season’s final appearance of the division rival Clippers.”
That nobody can agree on what to make of this revitalized series only speaks to how quickly it has blossomed even more. The physical play from both sides, though, has really said it all.
The games have grown increasingly testy the past two seasons as the franchises have transformed from perennial losers into Western Conference contenders. The most spirited meeting might have been the last one, a 105-103 win for the Warriors on Dec. 25 that left plenty of aches and accusations afterward.
Officials called a flagrant foul 2 on Warriors reserve Draymond Green for elbowing Clippers star Blake Griffin in the face while setting a screen near halfcourt at the end of the third quarter. That earned Green an automatic ejection, and the NBA fined him $15,000 for failing to leave the court in a timely manner.
Griffin received a technical foul for jawing with Green, and he was ejected for his second technical with 10:43 remaining after scuffling with Warriors center Andrew Bogut, who grabbed Griffin by the shirt and began wrestling with him when the two got tangled up going for a rebound.
Bogut was whistled for a flagrant foul and a technical. The NBA said the following day that Griffin should have received a common foul and not a technical.
Griffin accused Golden State of playing ”cowardly basketball.” Clippers coach Doc Rivers was equally irritated, cleverly saying he thought the Warriors tried to get Griffin thrown out.
”I don’t know if they were but it sure looked like it. I can’t accuse them of that but it looked like it. I’m not sure but that’s what it looked like,” Rivers said. ”It’s whatever you have to do to win, I guess.”
About the only thing everybody involved can agree on is that the series can’t truly be a rivalry until both teams compete for the division title or meet in the playoffs – or both – on a more consistent basis.
The Warriors (27-19) are five games behind the Clippers (33-15) and percentage points behind 27-18 Phoenix in the division. A night after Washington rallied in the second half to win 88-85 at Golden State, Los Angeles held off the Wizards 110-103 on Thursday.
The Clippers outlasted the Warriors 126-115 at Staples Center in the first meeting this season on Oct. 31. They meet for the final time on March 12 in Los Angeles, and a close race could only fuel the animosity more.
”It’s two teams trying to get back to that (playoff) level and get further, so whenever you play against each other that intensity kicks in,” said Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, whom fans voted to start the All-Star game over injured Clippers star Chris Paul.
”It’s going to be a physical game,” Green added. ”That’s just the way it’s always going to be when us two teams face off.”
While both teams are likely headed to the playoffs this April, that feat has been rare in their recent history.
The Clippers had made the postseason only once in 14 years until the last two seasons. The Warriors had made the playoffs just once since 1994 until a memorable run to the second round last spring.
With the Lakers in full rebuilding mode, the Clippers and Warriors suddenly believe they are built to contend for the division – and possibly an NBA title – for years to come.
”It says a lot about how far both teams have come,” Jackson said. ”You take baby steps and you continue to grow, you continue to develop and maybe one day this will be a rivalry. Maybe one day we will be playing for more than just a nationally televised game during the regular season. And all indications are that both teams are headed in that direction. It’s a powerful statement to everybody involved.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP