Loaded with bad blood, on and off-court dust-ups and plenty of trash talk, the Clippers and Warriors have made it clear to the rest of the league they just don’t like each other.
Or rather Golden State seems to have a problem specifically with Clippers star power forward Blake Griffin.
In November of last season, the Clippers refused to participate in pre-game prayer services with Golden State. A month later Griffin tussled with Warriors center Andrew Bogut and both were promptly ejected.
The situation continued to escalate this season. One month ago, following L.A.’s 111-98 win, Golden State’s Jermaine O’Neal waited for Griffin outside the Clippers locker room and had to be restrained after the two exchanged words in the adjacent hallway. And most recently Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson only stoked the fire by indirectly accusing Griffin of flopping.
Possibly the most heated and adrenaline-fueled rivalry going in the NBA today, the No. 3 Clippers begin their first round series against No. 6 Golden State in Game One on Saturday.
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The teams split their season series at 2-2, but they’ve never faced each other in albeit their limited playoff histories.
Nevertheless the series will feature an incredible matchup at point guard, with L.A. rolling out two MVP candidates in Griffin and lead playmaker Chris Paul and Golden State’s Stephen Curry looking to repeat his eye-popping offensive display from last year’s postseason. The Warriors will also have to make do without center Andrew Bogut, who has been ruled out of the postseason with a fractured rib.
Chris Paul vs. Stephen Curry
The marquee point guard matchup of the early postseason is sure to be thrilling. Curry is one of the league’s premier shooters and averaged 22 points and 58.6 percent shooting from three against the Clips this season. Paul led the league in assists for the third time in his career with 10.7 a game despite missing six weeks with a shoulder injury. Paul has a slight advantage in that he doesn’t have to shoot nearly as much as Curry for the Clips offense to flow.
J.J. Redick vs. Klay Thompson
Redick has battled injuries this season missing 47 games. He’s still a lethal shooter, but has only shot 33 percent from three in 48 career postseason games. Redick is unlikely to matchup defensively against the longer and taller Thompson, who’s never shot lower than 40 percent from three and lit up for 15.2 points in 12 playoff games last year.
David Lee vs. Blake Griffin
Lee’s status for the playoffs was in serious question due a hamstring injury earlier this month, but he came back in time and when healthy he’s one of the best post players and rebounders in the league. Griffin posted a career-high 24.1 points per game while averaging more field-goal attempts (17) than any season before. Lee’s ability to keep Griffin covered in the open floor and away from the glass is a major factor in the series.
Andre Igoudala vs. Matt Barnes
The Clips weakest position by far is small forward, but Barnes provides that veteran defensive toughness needed to win a playoff series. Igoudala won’t have to worry too much about Barnes on the defensive end, but he will be charged with limiting Paul’s penetration and possibly rotating over to the post with Bogut out.
DeAndre Jordan vs. Jermaine O’Neal
The NBA’s leading rebounder with 13.6 per game, Jordan has the opportunity to feast inside with Bogut out and the aging O’Neal logging heavier minutes than he has in years. After Bogut the Warriors are extremely thin up front, with Marreese Speights and Draymond Green likely to help out.
Jamal Crawford vs. Harrison Barnes/ Jordan Crawford
Crawford remains the best Sixth Man in the league and should Redick come up short or lame he’ll pick up the offensive slack. Barnes and Crawford have the chance to exploit L.A. at small forward or shooting guard, but will have to make their presence felt early.
Steve Blake vs. Darren Collison
Arguably the best trade acquisition at the deadline, Blake can manage the game while Curry’s on the bench and provide some timely shooting in crunch situations. Blake could play the same role Jarret Jack did for Golden State during last year’s playoffs. Same goes for Collison, who was L.A.’s fifth leading scorer with 11.4 points per game and second in steals at 1.16 per.
Betting Odds: The Clippers are favored -6.5 in Game One.
Prediction: If Lee can stay healthy and Igoudala helps to contain Griffin while chipping in on offense, the Warriors can extend the series to seven games. But Paul will prove the difference with L.A. prevailing 4-3.