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Warriors-Clippers: An early Pacific tide

By Matt Moore | NBA writer

You know, this column idea was a lot better before the Clippers completely rolled over and died in their season opener vs. the Lakers Tuesday. Oh, well. That's why they play the games, and why they play 82 of them.

Nevertheless, the Clippers and Warriors meet Thursday in what should be the rivalry to decide the Pacific. Wednesday night's defensive meltdown by the Lakers is likely to be much more indicative of who the team is than their inspiring fourth quarter run vs. their Staples mates. The question that we have to ask, though, is who actually has the advantage here.

Forget the Clippers' loss to the Lakers' Tuesday. Home opener, crazy crowd, new coach, entitled team, lots of reasons for the Clippers to drop that game. It's embarrassing, sure, but weird losses happen and it happening in the first game doesn't make it mean more than if it happened in February.

But the Warriors' first game doesn't feel so much like an outlier. It feels like a genuine sign of who this team is. The Warriors enter the season with a remarkable amount of momentum of last season' playoff run, and a significantly augmented roster. On Wednesday, they unloaded both barrels on the Lakers. It was blistering. It was a rout. It was unstoppable. And no part of it felt unsustainable.

Watch Steph Curry here.

Do you realize how early you have to recognize what's happening? Sure, there's a screen coming. OK. But you have to be ready at that exact moment to blitz him to prevent a three. You have to pick him up at halfcourt, stay on him, and hope that neither Klay Thompson nor anyone underneath gets loose.

What I'm trying to say here is that there's a chance, not necessarily based off one game's results, that Thursday presents an opportunity for a statement game by the Warriors to assert themselves as legitimate contenders for the Pacific title. With the Lakers unlikely to make a run for their zillionth division title, there's an opening, and the Warriors can jump out to an early lead, taking a three game lead on the Clippers for the division (with tiebreaker). And just 80 more games to go!

But seriously, ever surprising title contender has these early statement games. A back-to-back, on the road, vs. the presumptive favorite would go a long way. This is a huge opportunity for the Warriors and a great test of where they are, early in the season. The Pacific isn't the toughest division out there, but that makes it all the more alluring. You can win it and feel good about yourself without needing to go through a gauntlet like the Southwest.

For the Clippers, it's pretty simple. Win Thursday and who cares about that dumpster fire on Tuesday? Back on track, ready to roll, knocking off a division contender. This early in the season there's really no such thing as a true statement game, it's too early. But there is the opportunity for self-statement games. To assure your teammates you are this good, you are worth the hype, this is going to be the year. That confidence is vital to get off on the right foot. Likewise, an 0-2 hole, falling to the Warriors on a back to back at home and a loss to the Lakers' Bad News Bears team wouldn't even flip open the manual on how to prepare the panic button, but it would be disappointing.

Everyone pretends that these games this early don't matter. But with a Western Conference that could come down to four seeds divided by three games, do you really want to drop one vs. a division rival and set your season off like that?

We'll see what happens Thursday night.

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