Warriors vs. Clippers Preview: Now the elder statesmen, Curry, Green ushering in second renaissance

Games against LA teams have always mattered to fans; now the Warriors are punching up, and hoping to serve notice to the conference powerhouse teams

When Leandro Barbosa famously uttered the phrase, “we gonna be championship,” it was the sort of emotional judo that eventually became rote domination as the Golden State Warriors slam danced their way through any and all opposition. No team was as close to this reversal of fortunes than the Los Angeles Clippers.

After destroying Lob City years ago, the Warriors watched from a distance last season as the Clippers reloaded, bringing in All NBA talents, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, but eventually falling well short of their ultimate goal. Now, Golden State is no longer the dominant force, but those dynastic whispers are still echoing down the hallways, waiting to be rediscovered by a retooled roster that is younger and more athletic - and the Clippers are precisely the sort of façade that this Warriors squad is ready to scream at.

When asked about it postgame, Green wasn’t sure how they’d come out at the end, but he sounds eager to test their mettle against the upper echelon.

“Are we ready to compete with those teams?” Green said. “I don’t know. But we will compete. That’s the thing. If we defend like we did the last two nights, move the ball, I think we can play with anyone.”


GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors (4-3) vs Los Angeles Clippers (5-3)

WHEN: Wednesday January 6th, 2021 // 7:00 pm PST

WATCH: ESPN; NBCSBA

Blog Buddy: 213 Hoops


Warriors putting it all together, but are they ready for test against truly elite teams like the Clippers?

The James Wiseman experiment is thriving, thanks for asking.

Despite a truly stinky start, the smells wafting out of the Warriors team right now are downright rosy. After waking up and blasting the Portland Trailblazers hard enough to re-circulate rumors about how much Damian Lillard and the Blazers would like to trade for one Draymond Green (not gonna happen!), followed by a dominant win over the wobbly Sacramento Kings, Golden State enters the first of back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Clippers looking like an entirely different (and more dangerous) squad.

The Clippers, despite their untimely demise last postseason, are for sure a championship caliber squad. Led by the wing tandem of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers boast a balanced roster with plenty of top tier talent. They’ve had the most dominant lineup so far this season, and playoff meltdowns aside, the Clippers are a legitimate problem on the court - with the best 5-man unit in the league, sporting a net rating of +33.7 points per 100 possessions.

The Warriors have the top tier talent, but plenty of work to do around the edges of the roster - a roster that suddenly looks a whole lot more lethal with Curry and Green back at something approaching full strength.

The Golden State defense is 13th best in NBA with Green, but drops to the 25th without him. Curry leads the team in points, assists, and minutes per game. Though it was Green that stopped a question dead in it’s track to remind the world that, no, Curry is the flow. And when he’s playing like he has been lately, that flow is a killer.

Coach Steve Kerr, maligned though he may be on various corners of the internet, has fully leaned into Curry. As per Tim Kawakami of The Athletic, Curry’s usage rate is at a career high, 34.9 percent, second highest in the league behind only Dallas’ Luka Dončić… Curry’s season high, to date, is 32.6 percent usage, which came in his unanimous-MVP season of 2015-16. In other words, teams are getting a whole lot of Curry, in a way they haven’t had to deal with in years.

However you’d like to divvy up the kudos at the top of the roster, it wouldn’t matter much if the rest of the Warriors weren’t pulled along for the ride. Green is currently averaging just two points per game - but he is almost certainly the most dominant non-scorer to ever play the game. Third on the team in total assists after just three games played, Green has quickly re-asserted his control of an offense that was in desperate need of a conductor, to go along with Curry’s virtuoso performances.


Bigger on defense, but smaller on offense: how Draymond Green paved the way for Eric Paschall at center


For a long time in the NBA, being a “tweener” was seen as a knock, rather than a strength. While there were certainly the occasional success stories like the 6′ 9″ Ben Wallace, calling a player a ‘tweener (because they are “between” the ideal height and/or weight to play a certain position) was used as a term of derision.

Second-year player, Eric Paschall is currently thriving in the role of backup center, is definitely under-sized. At just 6’ 6” he was forecast as a forward. In fact, coming into the season, the Golden State Warriors were making sounds like they wanted him to play small forward.

Welp.

One injured Marquese Chriss later, Paschall has truly cemented his role as backup center. It’s a fantastic twist, protecting him from getting cooked on defense by wing players, while further reinforcing his quickness and physical advantages.

Over the past five games, it’s been a revelation. After starting in 26 games last season, and two this season, Paschall appears to be settling into a bench role; and it’s been working out well! He had 14 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists against the Sacramento Kings, and has scored in the double digits in five games - all off the bench - averaging 12.4 points on 65.7 shooting during that timeframe.

While this is still a team pulled by Curry, Paschall’s emerging reliability off the bench is a much needed support role.

Playoff P and these Clippers are no joke

First of all, we should note that the Clippers will be on the tail end of a back-to-back. Coming in fresh off a stinging loss to the San Antonio Spurs, it’s likely that Paul George will play (after missing the last night’s game with a tweaked ankle), and Kawhi Leonard will sit. Probably.

This is the first of two games between these squads, who will meet again, baseball homestand style, on Friday. For both teams, this is the first meaningful chance to sniff each other out. With the Clippers penciling in as one of the top teams of the West, and the Warriors planning to play the role of playoff underdog, this is not an entirely meaningless early-season game.

Looking at the stats (as always from Basketballreference.com), the Clippers are a little weird. They’ve been one of the more efficient offenses, with a .557 eFG% that ranks 8th in the league, and play smart with the ball (turning it over only 13.8 times per game, the fifth best such mark in the NBA.

Defensively though, it appears as if there are some vulnerabilities. Their first loss was an absolute thrashing, a 73-124 smashing at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks. The Clippers don’t do a great job at forcing turnovers (25th rank in the NBA), and apparently don’t rebound very well, ranking below average in both offensive (18th) and defensive boards (17th).

One aspect that may tilt the scales in the Warriors favor is that Kerr’s tinkering with bench units seems to be yielding a solidified rotation that works well. The Clippers second unit is still very much a work in progress. Remember that in the past, it was Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams that led the charge; Harrell is gone now, and the Clippers bench has lost a bit of it’s identity.

Predictions

It sounds like Kawhi Leonard will get the night off, and Paul George is returning from a minor ankle roll. The Warriors definitely have a chance for a third consecutive win if a few things go right.

Curry and Green keep doing their thing. Patrick Beverley is a fine defender, don’t get me wrong, but Stephen Curry has been cooking that dude for years.

The re-emergence of Wiggins and Oubre continues as the duo continues their redemption tour after struggling earlier in the season.

Wiseman keeps showing flashes as an elite prospect, while also showing continual defensive improvement alongside Draymond Green.

Warriors shock (some of) the world. Beat the Clippers in a close one, 118-115.

The Warriors-Clippers rivalry is reborn!