OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Forget the Showtime Lakers or the Sacramento Kings of past decades.
There’s a flashy brand of basketball being played by a new pair of rising California rivals. The alley-oops in Lob City, the deep 3-pointers by the Splash Brothers and the overall bitterness between the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors should make for one of the most entertaining matchups in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
“As far as a series, it’s a 10,” said former New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, who will have a front row seat on the ABC broadcasting team for Game 1 in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Whether the high-octane style and 3-point prowess both teams possess can carry either to a championship – this year or in the future – remains to be seen.
Those Kings teams, dubbed “The Greatest Show on Court” on a 2001 Sports Illustrated cover, never even made the NBA Finals. Neither did the high-scoring Phoenix Suns with two-time MVP Steve Nash at the point. The “Run TMC” Warriors under the direction of Don Nelson never reached the conference finals.
In an age when the pace typically slows down in the playoffs and offenses get bunched in half-court sets, the Clippers and Warriors are trying to speed it up and spread it out.
“It will be a fun matchup,” Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said. “It’s two teams who are both exciting and both love to get up and down the court.”
The high-flying frontcourt of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, coupled with point guard Chris Paul and 3-point shooters all over the roster make the Clippers one of the most fan-pleasing spectacles in sports. Los Angeles led the NBA in scoring this season, averaging 107.9 points per game.
“Incredible offensive juggernaut,” Van Gundy called them.
The quick-shooting Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for Golden State are as dangerous a scoring tandem as the league has ever seen. They combined to make 484 3-pointers this season – eclipsing their NBA record of 483 set last season – and showed in the playoffs a year ago how tough they are to cover when they get going.
“The greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson has repeatedly labeled them.
What both coaches believe separates their teams – and often gets lost in the shoot-first-and-shoot-often approach they employ on offense – is the importance they place on defense.
The Warriors held opponents to 43.6 percent shooting, tied with Oklahoma City for third-best in the league – though Golden State’s defense could be hampered with center Andrew Bogut out with a fractured right rib. Opponents shot 44.1 percent against the Clippers, ranking fifth.
“There’s certain teams that you can slow down, and then there’s certain teams that they’re going to get it going in transition,” Jackson said. “The one thing about us is we defend at a high level, which creates transition opportunities.”
The Clippers and Warriors also have something rare these days: real animosity that could fuel physical play.
“They hate one another,” said former Indiana Pacers guard and current TNT analyst Reggie Miller.
The last major squabble came in Golden State’s win on Christmas Day in Oakland, when Griffin and Warriors reserve Draymond Green were ejected and Bogut had dust-ups with Griffin and Paul. Earlier this season, the Clippers even refused to hold pregame chapel with the Warriors in Los Angeles – something every other team does in the league.
The verbal accusations heated up again on the air waves this week when Thompson was asked to describe Griffin’s tactics. He said the Clippers’ All-Star forward is “out of control” and compared him to a “bull in a china shop.”
“Like how can a guy that big and strong flop that much?” Thompson told KGMZ.
There have been several other incidents, of course, including seven technical fouls in the teams’ first meeting last season. In the next, the Warriors beat the Clippers by 21 and got more than 300,000 views from a YouTube video that showed the bench jeering Griffin’s 3-point attempt that bounced off the side of the backboard. The Clippers came back three days later by overemphasizing celebrations during a 26-point win.
“Both organizations were kind of irrelevant for a while when it comes to playoff basketball and playing important games. The last three years it’s kind of been a progression to where we are now,” Curry said. “You play each other four times a year, sometimes in the preseason, and you understand you’ll probably have to go through them at some point to get to where you want to go and the goals you set for yourself. And all that kind of comes out each time you play them.”
The next phase in that evolution is a playoff series and, for the one surviving team, a chance to make the kind of deep run both franchises have long lacked.
The teams have been in the Pacific Division since 1978, when the Clippers played in San Diego. They have never met in the playoffs – until now.
“I think to really develop a great rivalry, there has to be incidents and there has to be meetings in the playoffs in close proximity,” said Van Gundy, whose Knicks teams produced one of the best rivalries in NBA history against Miami in the 1990s. “With Miami, we had a few things in games, little flare-ups, and then we met four straight years in the playoffs and they all went to a deciding game. You need those things to develop rivalries.”
AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson in Portland, Ore., contributed to this story.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: http://www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP