The Lakers as a rival is the last thing the Warriors need right now

The Lakers as a rival is the last thing the Warriors need right now

People watched Wednesday’s Warriors-Lakers preseason game imagining all the things that this series could be, starting with the one thing it never has been.

A rivalry.

Oh, there is certainly history with the Lakers, and until six years ago, every day was warm and sunny. They had only five playoff-less seasons in their first 65 years, and had all the reasons to be smug that Boston Celtics have had.

There is also history with the Warriors, and until six years ago it was gray and damp and occasionally plain old lousy. They've missed the playoffs more than they've made them, and only in the last five years have they felt like they could walk with the lower-case-g giants.

And surely there is history between LeBron James, Ltd., and the Warriors because their paths have intersected more times in a shorter time span than any time since the Celtics-Lakers first glory days in the 1960s.

But the Warriors and Lakers have never been a rivalry in any meaningful way. They have rarely been within 10 games of each other in the standings, and the Lakers have won six of the seven playoff series in which the two teams played, the last time 28 years ago. Most of the time, the Lakers were among the league’s elite, and the Warriors listed under Others.

And the Lakers didn't need the Warriors then any more than the Warriors need the Lakers now. 

But that’s only the history, and history is not what we traffic in these days. The reality is, the NBA dramatists wants this to become a thing, and it becomes a thing only at the Warriors’ peril.

The Warriors do not need a rival, not now. They own this league for the foreseeable future, and need rivals like they need blown hamstrings.

And why, you ask, sensing a round of buzzkilling on the horizon? Because the only way this becomes a rivalry is if the Warriors regress again this regular season, and if they regress again, its because they had injuries, or agendas, or internal strife, or some combination of the above.

The Lakers, you see, are not yet a 60-win team by any rational thought. They got James to stop being a 30-win team, and that mission is almost certainly accomplished. If nothing else, their time below the cut line in the Western Conference is finally at an end.

But the Warriors are not a rearview-mirror team, and if they were, the most obvious choice to be closer than it appears is Houston. Oklahoma City is still not whole even though Paul George decided to stay with Russell Westbrook. San Antonio is savaged. Utah is a tough out but an out nonetheless. Denver is on the come, but not at the same level as even the Lakers. Portland is what Portland has been for years now. Minnesota is a hot mess, and can only serve as a disruptive force if/when Jimmy Butler is traded.

In short, the Warriors are only a rival to the Lakers if something goes hideously wrong for them. Anybody up for that scenario?

Yeah, I thought not.

If the Warriors need rivals, they can surely make ones of their own. The officials come immediately to mind, as Golden State easily won the technical foul race a year ago and is already on their way in the practice season this year.

Their own attention spans were a problem a year ago, and while they swear they have figured out how to combat that, they have yet to be tested; so they’re their own rival, attention span-wise.

The looming free agencies of Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant could become an ongoing irritant if only because the questions about their pending free agency will spice up any bland shootaround presser.

But they don’t need the Lakers on their daily to-do list, not anywhere near what the Lakers need from the Warriors. True, this drama-dampening violates the First Two Laws Of Narrative World, “Reality Ain’t Got Nothin’ To Do With It,” and “The Beast Must Be Fed Every Day, Even If It’s The Same Grub Every Time.” And Lord knows their work at sucking the drama out of the story three times in four years has been pretty comprehensive; I mean, their playoff record in the last four years is the equivalent of one of the top 25 regular seasons in history.

Besides, what does beating LeBron James yet again earn them, other than more yawns about disappointing sequels? Mychal Thompson’s earnest prediction on the radio that the teams will play a seven-game series in the Western Conference Finals means that they will play 11 times this year (not including the two practice games, the second of which will be in San Jose Friday night) and will have played James 41 times in five years.

You’re probably up for that in ways that Warriors-Pistons or Warriors-Suns or Warriors-Kings fail. But the Warriors would almost surely prefer something different on the menu, and something less taxing than 11 more enervating rounds with the leviathan that never goes away.

Watch Steph Curry, Kevin Durant play 1-on-1 for Sportsperson trophy

Sports Illustrated

Watch Steph Curry, Kevin Durant play 1-on-1 for Sportsperson trophy

The Warriors accepted their Sportsperson of the Year award this week and in typical fashion, they had lots of fun with the honor.

The Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Show aired on Thursday, but was taped on Tuesday in Los Angeles. Because the Warriors were preparing to face the Raptors, the players couldn't attend the show in Los Angeles. But owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber were in attendance.

"First of all, this beats getting booed, I can assure you," Lacob said to open his remarks, referring to that time Warriors fans booed him for trading Monta Ellis. "It's a great honor. And I want to say also that everyone in our organization knows we have the term 'Strength in Numbers,' and it really is strength in numbers, it really is what our organization is about."

Guber, a movie producer, used his remarks to drop a Hollywood analogy.

"Every script needs a great set of stars to make it a hit," Guber said. "And we have the players and the coaches who have made all the difference to bring this to you."

But the best part was when they showed a video of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant accepting the award at the team's practice facility in Oakland.

After both MVPs thanked Sports Illustrated for the award, Curry asked the important question.

"I guess the only question is, who gets to keep the trophy?" Curry asked Durant.

"We might have to play one-on-one for it," Durant responded, which drew laughter from the audience watching the video.

"We'll settle it," Durant said.

Then Curry picked up a basketball and Durant began to guard him. Curry screamed, ran away and flung the ball over his shoulder. The camera cut to a mock shot of the ball going through the hoop.

So there's your answer ... sort of. Curry gets the trophy.

Warriors fans need to accept that the champs are 'not invincible'

Warriors fans need to accept that the champs are 'not invincible'

OAKLAND – Three fans wearing Toronto Raptors black and red were so proud of their team Wednesday night that they shouted out their support in enemy territory.

They stood inside Oracle Arena, where the Warriors are idols of worship, and in the fourth quarter unfurled a Raptors banner while uttering sounds of blasphemy: Let’s go Raptors! Let’s go Raptors! Let’s go Raptors!

“It was weird,” Stephen Curry said Thursday. “But we didn’t do anything about it.”

That sight and those sounds, in that setting, were more stunning than seeing the Warriors used as mops on their own floor.

Those Raptors fans were comfortable because they practically had the place to themselves. Warriors fans vacated the place at such a rapid pace that Mary Babers, mother of Draymond Green, turned to Twitter, referring to them as “spoiled brats.”

There was, to be sure, some truth to her words, for Warriors fans have quickly become so accustomed to winning that they expect it and some don’t react well when they don’t get it.

There will be nights, like the 113-93 loss to Toronto on Wednesday, when the fans don’t get their win because the Warriors don’t bring it. They weren’t engaged early and dug in only for a few minutes here and there before coach Steve Kerr surrendered in the fourth quarter.

“We’re not invincible from getting smacked in the face if we don’t show up and execute,” Curry said. “So, you’ve got to learn that lesson.”

That lesson was taught to the Warriors several times last season. Six of their 24 losses were to teams that wouldn’t sniff the playoffs and as many more were practically given away.

But even when they stumbled into playoffs after a 7-10 finish, the Warriors engaged and went 16-5 in the postseason. They didn’t bother to immerse themselves until it mattered most.

As much as they don’t like to acknowledge the ability to “flip the switch,” there is a higher level of focus the defending champs can summon. They found it last week in Milwaukee and it was the driving force behind avenging an ugly home loss to the Bucks last month.

“That takes tremendous focus and energy,” Kerr said. “And we haven’t had that very often this year.”

They didn’t have it Wednesday when circumstances suggest they should. They’d lost at Toronto two weeks earlier. The Raptors have the best record in the NBA. The game was on national TV. It was at Oracle.

And, yawn, the Warriors were as flat as they might be in a preseason finale against the Suns in Tijuana. There was a similar listlessness in a loss to the Clippers last month. There were traces of it in home wins over the Nets and for halves at home against the Hawks and Magic.

Kerr and his staff are urging more of what the Warriors delivered in Milwaukee.

“We’ve shown flashes of it,” Curry said of. But we haven’t put together a sustained run of game after game playing at the level we expect on the defensive end.

“As much as we’ve built chemistry and an identity – and we’ve talked about it a lot (during) our run – we have to re-identify ourselves this year and put together consistent efforts night after night.”

The Warriors on Thursday practiced for less than an hour. They spent more than twice as much time reviewing video of the loss the Toronto. They saw the lapses that both Draymond Green and Kevin Durant insist are up to the leaders to fix.

But is it not realistic to believe furious effort will be there every night? Well, no. The problem for the Warriors is that they’ve won so many games without it that they, perhaps psychologically, believe they don’t always need it.

That’s how you end up with performances like that of Wednesday night.

“Our fans have seen the highest of the highs and expect greatness every night,” Curry said. “And we didn’t show that.

“I’m sure they had home-cooked meals and dinners to get to and didn’t want to see us getting beat like that.”

Nobody wanted to see it – except for Raptors fans on site.

But it’s going to be visible again this season at Oracle. The Warriors defense of home court has evolved from obsession to flexible goal, and that’s going to take a while to sink in, particularly among their fans.