Both teams are driving in polar opposite directions, with the Clippers chasing the championship that has eluded them for the franchise’s first 35 years, and the Warriors pursuing a top draft pick to accelerate their return to the NBA’s elite. They’re passing like ships in the night, briefly stopping at the Staples Center to wish each other Happy Friday and safe sailing.
The Clippers mean something to the Warriors. They were symbolic last year, they are symbolic this year, and they will be symbolic next year.
Last year, a number of the Warriors most important games occurred against their patriotically-clad SoCal brethren. Kevin Durant and Draymond Green’s season-defining altercation? Against the Clippers. DeMarcus Cousin’s long-awaited debut? Against the Clippers.
They met in the first round of the playoffs, where the dynastic Warriors were expected to walk over the pesky-but-starless eighth seed. Instead, LA pushed the Dubs to six games, dominating a few contests along the way, and believing they exposed a few cracks in Golden State’s historically-great armor.
You know what happened next. The Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard, who earned his NBA Finals MVP trophy for ending the Warriors season. They added 2019 MVP candidate Paul George. They cemented their spot as title contenders, if not favorites.
And then the teams collided in Golden State’s first game of this year, and the first ever game at Chase Center. Even with Durant gone, and even with Klay Thompson sidelined, the Warriors had dreams of another title, and the game was billed as a clash of contenders.
But I repeat: You know what happened next. LA trashed the Warriors for 48 minutes, and while one game doesn’t have to be emblematic of something bigger, this one was. Golden State never found their footing in the games that followed, and, just a week later, lost Steph Curry to injury. And with him, their playoff hopes.
Golden State isn’t competitive this year, but it’s hard not to view them as intrinsically tied to the Clippers. The Warriors are the standard bearer for this era of basketball, and LA is seeking to take that spot. But even if they do, Golden State is hoping that a healthy Curry, Thompson, and Green, surrounded by either D’Angelo Russell and a top-five pick, or whatever a package of those two can return, is enough to get them back into the stratosphere of the league’s elite.
Ultimately, the outcome of tonight’s game doesn’t matter. With the lottery odds having been flattened out last year, neither a win nor a loss really impacts the 9-30 Warriors. And with the playoffs - not the regular season - being the focus point and barometer for the 26-12 Clippers, this is just another game in the midseason slough.
But the Clippers meant something to the Warriors last year, even though they weren’t on Golden State’s level. And they mean something to the Warriors this year, even though the roles are reversed.
Because ultimately, they’ll mean something to the Warriors next year, when both teams plan on ending the year under a snowstorm of confetti.