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Kings vs Warriors Key Matchup: Battle of the Spartans

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Two Michigan State alums Zach Randolph and Draymond Green renew their friendly rivalry in final preseason game.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

I was all ready to spend 30 paragraphs breaking down the “Omri Casspi Revenge Game”.

Really, I was.

The former Sacramento Kings small forward is returning to the place where he, along with Tyreke Evans, were Sac’s two first round draft picks of 2009. It seemed like a juicy subplot: Casspi has been resurrected from the lonely grave of Kings basketball to come alive for the Golden Empire in the chase for a ring. Surely Coach Steve Kerr will let “OmriMania” run wild all over Sacramento to stick it to his old franchise in this game’s garbage time.

Then I remembered Zach Randolph is now a King! Remember “Z-Bo”? One of the original members of the early 2000's Portland Jail Blazers era, this ground-bound power forward’s prodigious potential was overshadowed by his trouble with law enforcement. After brief stints with the New York Knicks and L.A. Clippers, Z-Bo reinvented himself with the Memphis Grizzlies as a burly, crafty, bullying power forward who on certain nights seemed unguardable.

Old School Monster

Randolph has averaged 16.8 points and 9.3 rebounds for his career without relying on dominant athleticism. I’m not sure he could jump over a phone book (do they still have those?). A product of legendary Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo’s tutelage, the 6-foot-9, 260lb Randolph has Mensa-level basketball IQ. He possesses the elite foot work to out-position bigger defenders for easy buckets, and the nastiness to use his rotund girth as a battering ram to the rim. He has a crafty mid-range jumper and a maddeningly soft touch around the rim.

The worst part is as he’s getting buckets on the defender’s head, Z-Bo does it with his patented “I’m taking your lunch” sneer.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Sacramento Kings
Zbo Figuring Out Whose Lunch He’s Gonna Take
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

I remember realizing he was an elite monster when he was the star of the 8th-seeded Memphis Grizzlies squad that tortured the #1 seeded San Antonio Spurs in the 2011 playoffs. He lit up Tim Duncan’s mighty Spurs for 31 points and 13 rebounds in the Game 6 clincher in San Antonio.

Ew. That’s just classic, old school, post domination. No need to dunk or fly down the court when you have tried and true skills. Who can stop a dude like this?

New School Monster

Enter Draymond Green. Did you know that Dray actually followed in Z-Bo's footsteps at Michigan State about a decade later? He too was hardened under the tutelage of Coach Izzo. Like Z-Bo, he’s not an “above the rim” type guy who stuns you with his athleticism. Dray also has an elite basketball IQ, which allows him to facilitate as a playmaker for the Warriors' high powered offense and opportunistic defense.

Dray’s definitely tough too: he’s the undersized (actually 6-foot-5 according to Coach Kerr) defensive anchor of the greatest small ball lineup in league history. Dray won NBA Defensive Player of the Year this past year for constantly dominating his bigger, more athletic opponents. He figures out what his offensive counterpart does best, and methodically denies it from them until their spirit breaks.

NBA: Preseason-Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors
Draymond Receiving DPOY Award From Ben Wallace
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

While Z-Bo prefers to slow the game down and methodically get buckets out of the post area, Dray operates in the Warriors' electric offense as an air traffic controller. He spaces the floor with respectable 3-point shooting and is an elite distributor, lazering passes to cutters or lobbing up alley oops. Draymond is the new era power forward: versatile enough to guard any position and capable of punishing defenses for leaving him open beyond the arc.

Brotherly Love and Epic Clashes

Randolph and Green have had intense battles rooted in competitive respect. Z-Bo has a close personal relationship with Draymond, evidenced by his comments during their only playoff battle in 2015.

“Just seeing where he’s come from -– he’s like a little brother to me,” Randolph said. “He looks up to me and came through the struggles and worked hard. I just told him to be ready when he gets his chance. People said he wasn’t going to get drafted, that his knees weren’t no good. So we relate. Look at where he is now. I wish him the best, except for this series, because I am proud of him.”

Michael Wallace for ESPN

Whenever these guys clash on the court, they bring out the best in each other. Their similarly high levels of intelligence and competitive swagger combined with their contrasting playing styles (Randolph old school vs Dray’s new school PF) create sparks when they square off.

In the 2015 playoffs, the Grizz stole the Warriors’ home court advantage and were up 2-1 in the series. That Game 3 was a tour-de-force from Z-Bo as he stymied the Warrior’s momentum with 22 frustrating points. A bunch of them were right in lil’ brother Draymond’s mug.

The Warriors would storm back and win the series in six games, learning valuable lessons about dealing with playoff physicality. Draymond would take the hard education he received defending Randolph with him for the rest of his career, and later spring them on big brother in a truly Gold Blooded moment. Last year, Dray had the first Triple Double without scoring 10 points in NBA history on Randolph’s Grizzlies. His final line of four points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 steals, and five assists is a defensive masterpiece for the modern era. He was the first player since 1973 to have a game with 10 steals and five blocks. Take that Z-Bo!

This Is Gonna Be A Good One

I’d bet money elder Randolph is going to get a ton of touches as the Kings figure out their hodge podge of young players and old vets. He’s the only proven guy on the roster who is feasibly still capable of settling down the offense and getting buckets consistently (sorry Vince Carter). Z-Bo’s steadying leadership should provide a calming presence for Sacramento and — wait! He got arrested again in August?! Wow. Forget what I said about calming presence. Anyways, if he has the ball in his hands, look for the Dubs to sic the DPOY on him

Watching Z-Bo and Dray battle reminds me of old Kung Fu movies where the master has to battle his super powered student. It’s always a great combination of bar room wrestling and daring chess moves when these two Spartan alums lock horns. As a Golden State fan, here’s hoping Draymond beats Z-Bo down in a fun matchup. To do it, he’ll definitely need “The Eye Of The Tiger”.