There’s a new king in the Western Conference, and it’s the Los Angeles Lakers, who on Sunday night officially replaced the Warriors by beating the Miami Heat in six games to win their first NBA Finals since 2010.
Which puts a juicy new spin on Warriors-Lakers games next season.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his team already are mentally preparing for intrastate warfare. Excuse Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson if they’re rubbing their hands, tightening their jaws and narrowing their energized eyes at the challenge.
For a Warriors team seeking a return to elite status, there can be no more motivating sight than watching the Lakers move into the palace they know so well -- and doing it behind the leadership and performance of one LeBron James, Golden State’s fiercest and most frequent adversary during its pinnacle seasons.
The people are about to get what they want. For the first time in 58 years, the Warriors have reason to believe they have the tools to wrestle for a crown possessed by the Lakers.
These franchises have existed within 380 miles of each other for nearly six decades without ever being legitimate championship contenders at the same time. The Lakers mostly have represented superiority, the Warriors mostly despair.
In the 20 seasons before 2013-14, the Warriors were 21-60 against the Lakers. In the 10 years prior, the Warriors were 17-38 against the Lakers.
In the six seasons prior to 2019-20, the Warriors were 19-5 against LA. For once, the Warriors were able to feel the glory with which the Lakers are all too familiar.
Despite the geography, these franchises never have been the rivals the NBA marketing arm would love them to be. That changed Sunday night.
The Lakers, one of the league’s hallowed franchises coming off six seasons in the wilderness, confirmed that they are back. The Warriors, after one abysmal season, have the goods for a comeback.
With one team always on the sport's marquee and the other relatively new to celebrity meeting four times next season, can there be a more captivating storyline for 2021?
The reassembled Warriors won’t forget this season and how their fragmented roster was rolled by the Lakers, who won all three games by an average 20.3 points. They endured the indignity of LA taking over Chase Center on Feb. 27, with M-V-P chants directed toward backup guard Alex Caruso during a 30-point Lakers victory.
Curry will be out to prove, at age 33, that he still has it. That he remains the league’s deadliest 3-ball bomber and its foremost gravitational offensive force.
LeBron will be out to prove, at age 36, that he is not finished. That he still has the will, the might and the endurance to once more pull a team to the top of the league’s mountain.
In the Bay Area, it’s the return of Thompson, with observers scrutinizing his every move to see if after ACL surgery he is as fabulous as he was before. It’s Green, determined to follow a snoozy season with a triumphant redemption tour. It’s Andrew Wiggins -- if he’s still on the roster -- with his best opportunity to match commensurate production with vast potential.
In Los Angeles, it’s LeBron, having won over much of LA, seeking the back-to-back title that would grant him lifetime membership to the exclusive purple-door club of Lakers legends: Kareem. Kobe. Magic. Logo. Elgin. Shaq.
It’s Anthony Davis, believing that nobody in the league, Warriors or otherwise, can stop him now that he is a certified champ.
Will the Clippers have something to say? Sure. After an epic postseason flameout that cost coach Doc Rivers his job, they’ll look to make amends.
But oddsmakers already have installed the Lakers as favorites to repeat, with the Clippers No. 2 and the Warriors No. 4, right behind the Milwaukee Bucks.
Warriors-Clippers once was a rivalry. After LA won a seven-game playoff series in 2014, the Warriors commenced to routinely spank the Lob City Clips until they disbanded. That rivalry, while intense, always felt regional.
A Warriors-Lakers rivalry is regional, national and global. It’s old money vs. new money, two of the most recognizable franchises in sports. It’s made-for-TV theater, straight from the dreams of NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
Congrats to the Lakers. In a season unlike any other, they are deserving champions. LeBron earned his Finals MVP.
They also planted a flag that proclaims the league is theirs. Which means there will be ring ceremony in 2021. May it be witnessed, in person, by the Warriors.