With all due respect to Sunday's thriller against Portland, Wednesday's game against the Clippers is the marquee matchup for the Warriors early in the season. The two teams have a capital-R Rivalry that has featured its fair share of scuffles in the last two years, and - I can't believe I'm writing this - I may now dislike the Clippers even more than I dislike the Lakers. This is what happens when your favorite team goes down in seven games in the playoffs to another team: you circle the next contest between the two on the calendar.
Since that Game 7 loss in May, the make-up of both teams has changed ever so slightly. Like the Warriors, the Clippers had no problem keeping their core intact, but they made some tweaks in hopes of advancing to the Western Conference Finals.
While Warriors fans are still getting used to the team's new acquisitions early in the season, we may not have had sufficient time to size up the additions made by our newfound rivals. The games between these two teams will always come down to matchups like Stephen Curry vs Chris Paul and Blake Griffin vs the Warriors Defense, but role players and the bench matter, as well. With that in mind, let's familiarize ourselves with the new Clippers, how the Warriors matchup with them, and how we can learn to hate them.
Presumably picked up by the Clippers to fill the Byron Mullens stretch center void but to actually be, you know, good, Hawes has been the most featured new player for the Clips. Having a competent center who can stretch the floor should allow for more room for Paul and Griffin to work in the pick and roll, but the Warriors can matchup fine with Hawes by going with a small lineup and guarding him with Draymond Green or Harrison Barnes. So far this season, 3 out of his 7 field goal attempts per game have been three pointers, so he's being used as more of a threat from outside, and the Warriors' bigger wings should be able to shut him down defensively and exploit him with their quickness on offense.
One need the Clippers were trying to address this offseason was that of a good wing defender. J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford are both one-way players and Matt Barnes cannot get by on energy and toughness forever, so the thought of having one of those guys matched up against Klay Thompson should get Klay's mouth watering. Maybe the Clippers thought they were getting the other hyphenated name from Charlotte, but Douglas-Roberts is not the kind of lockdown defender that will swing the guard battle heavily in the Clippers' favor. He'll provide a couple of threes a game, but even matched up against Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston on the second unit, he shouldn't be a worry for the Warriors.
Say what you will about Darren Collison, but the Clippers downgraded at the back-up point guard position. Farmar has not played more than 41 games in the last three seasons, including one whole season where he played in Turkey. At times in the playoffs last year, Collison was able to give the Warriors fits with his quickness and physicality, neither of which Farmar will bring in the same capacity. Farmar is a marginally better outside shooter than Collison, but he is not dangerous enough to give problems to the Warriors' back-up guards.
Jared Cunningham/Ekpe Udoh
These two don't seem to be playing too many minutes for the Clippers, so they get combined into one section. Cunningham played ten minutes in a loss to the Kings, a game which Crawford sat out. This speaks to the lack of depth on the wing for the Clippers, as Cunningham cannot be expected to make up even the smallest portion of Redick's or Crawford's offensive production. Udoh played three minutes against the Thunder, but he's Ekpe Udoh, Warrior draftee! Maybe the Clippers want him to get under Bogut's skin and stoke the rivalry even more, but, then again, maybe he won't play at all.
The New Blake Griffin
Who's this guy? With the weird mustache? And the smooth midrange jumper? Why, it's the new and improved Blake Griffin. I hope he shows up to play on Wednesday because he's shooting a career-high 41% of his shots from greater than 16 feet through three games this season, and maybe he's so taken with his new toy that he's forgotten a little of what has made him a superstar in the league and so successful against the Warriors.
Theoretically, the ability to stretch the floor and hit jumpers makes Griffin an unstoppable force. However, he's still shooting below league average from these spots beyond 16 feet. If the Warriors can force Griffin to take these shots, they should be content, because he has the tools to destroy them inside. He obliterates David Lee and he's too quick for Andrew Bogut. Green has done a decent job defending him in the past, but Griffin can still overpower him when he realizes not to show Green too much of the ball. We will just have to wait and see how the Clippers choose to deploy Griffin and how the Warriors choose to defend him.
I've seen both the Warriors and the Clippers get picked to win the championship this year, and neither will be able to do so if they haven't improved their depth. They may run into each other in the playoffs again this year, and Wednesday is our first glimpse into how these iterations of the teams match up. Should be a fun one.