One week into the season, there are only two undefeated teams in the mighty Western Conference. They happen to be Pacific Division rivals, they happen to be playing on National TV tonight, and they happen to openly despise one another. Get ready for the most over-hyped NBA game in the history of early November.
When the Los Angeles Clippers travel north to face the Golden State Warriors tonight, the calm, cool, collected (yes, that was irony) professionals at ESPN will be sure to frame it with the proper perspective: as if the NBA title, and perhaps the fate of western civilization itself, hinges on the outcome.
It is without question an interesting game, particularly given how Stephen Curry has begun the season. But here's a newsflash: neither of these teams is actually going to go undefeated this season (at least I'm pretty sure the Dubs won't, but they seem like they might be thinking about it). One of them will drop from the ranks of the unbeaten tonight, because that's how the NBA works, but it won't really mean much in the big picture.
The Warriors were by far the best team in the NBA last season, and they seem to have kept a chip on their shoulder over the summer based on the way they overreacted to every perceived insult (calling them lucky to avoid some of the best teams in the playoffs and to remain healthy all season is just stating the facts: no one's saying you didn't deserve to win guys, just relax). They seem to be on a mission to prove that last season was no fluke, but I'm not sure anyone was actualy questioning that. Of course, the problem is that it matters much more how you are playing in May than how you are playing in November.
It's worth noting that the Warriors' 4-0 has been much more impressive than the Clippers'. The Warriors have accrued a +25 margin of victory against four playoff teams. The Clippers struggled to pull away from lottery teams. If there's a way to be undefeated without being impressive, the Clippers have found it.
So if the Clippers beat the Warriors, much will be made of it; but it will just be one game.
On the other hand, if the Warriors win, it will be even less meaningful. After all, playing at home they are supposed to win. If they win by 50, as they did Monday night against the Grizzlies, well sure, that will send a message.
I might bring myself to attach some significance to it all if one of these teams manages to sweep the two meetings coming in the next 15 days, but I'm going to try to reserve judgment on the state of the rivalry at least until the rematch on November 19 in STAPLES. The media never worries much about looking silly, but it would be a little ridiculous to pronounce one of these teams as clearly dominant after one win, only to have the other team return the favor two weeks hence.
None of this is to say that I'm not incredibly geeked for this showdown. The Clippers, playing on the road against the reigning champs, have much more to gain, and it seems reasonable to hope that Curry is going to miss a few shots at some point. So a win is not at all out of the question.
I have to admit, I haven't actually seen the Warriors play this season: I've just seen highlights, but based on those highlights, it seems like Curry is redefining what is possible. I'm not sure how you game plan for a guy who can consistently score three points in the face of what would be considered great defense against any other human. On the sequences I've seen, Curry is taking a series of shots that would cause Jamal Crawford to blush, they're so bad -- but they all go in. We've seen that Curry before, but in the past at least, he sometimes shows that he's human as well.
Can Chris Paul (or Austin Rivers or schemes devised by Doc Rivers or perhaps a voodoo doll) slow Curry down? Can Blake Griffin continue his own impressive start and take it to Draymond Green? Don't forget that Griffin and DeAndre Jordan dominated the Warriors in the playoffs in 2014. The most intriguing thing for me will be to see how the Clippers play against the Warriors' vaunted small ball lineup. Doc is fully embracing small ball himself, and while the Warriors will have the edge on the wings, the Clippers might be able to take advantage in the paint.
But it's just one game. One team will win, one team will lose. The NBA title is not decided on November 4, despite what the media wants us to believe. Still -- as November 4 games go, they don't get much bigger.