This was to be the season during which California NBA fans, particularly those in the northern portion of the state, finally received the overdue wish for a legitimate rivalry between the Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers are coming off their first championship in a decade. The Warriors, who followed five consecutive trips to the Finals with their worst season in 20 years, expect to bounce back into the championship chase.
If this rivalry is to heat up anytime soon, the Warriors have a lot of work to do.
With a 6-6 record through 12 games, they’ll be heavy underdogs when they meet the Lakers (11-3) for the first time this season Monday night at Staples Center.
Though the Lakers have several players on the injury list -- LeBron James is listed as “questionable” with a tender ankle, Anthony Davis is listed as “probable” with lower-back tightness -- the belief is they’ll be at or close to full strength for the marquee matchup on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Here are three keys to the Warriors snagging the upset.
Sizzle from deep
The Warriors have had several games in which 3-pointers were at the heart of their success. When raining 3-balls at a rate of at least 38 percent, they are 5-0. Only once this season has Golden State lost while making more triples than its opponent.
The Lakers don’t have many weaknesses, but they are 2-3 when opponents make more 3-pointers than they do.
Here’s the catch: Only three teams have defended the arc better than Los Angeles, which is holding opponents to 33.9 percent. Golden State, giving up triples at a rate of 38.3 percent, is 24th in 3-point defense.
If the Warriors can find their way to at least 17 3-pointers, while shooting at least 35 percent, they should be in decent shape.
Defend from the opening tip
The Warriors spent Saturday and Sunday getting back to the basics, one of them being a focus on defense. When they are energized, connected and communicative, they are very good. When they are not, the invite a blowout.
They’ll have to be great against Los Angeles, which leads all Western Conference teams in field-goal percentage (48.8) and is fifth in the NBA in 3-point percentage (39.6).
Davis is shooting 54.5 percent from the field, and Montrezl Harrell is shooting 62.2 percent. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been terrific, shooting 53.5 percent from the field, and an astonishing 55.3 percent from distance. Kyle Kuzma is shooting 40.0 percent from deep
If the Warriors allow any these players to get comfortable early, it’ll be a long trip home late Monday night.
Keep it close
All three of the Lakers' losses have two things in common. One, they trailed at halftime. Two, the games were decided by fewer than 10 points.
If the Warriors are good at both ends early and can take a lead into the locker room at the half, the Lakers could get wobbly. For the Warriors to be good, they’d have to do more than shoot and defend. They’d also have to hold their own on the glass, which has been an area of weakness. LA leads the NBA in second-chance points.
For inspiration, the Warriors need not look any further than their Jan. 8 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Once the Warriors proved they weren’t going to fold, that they were going to keep coming, the Clips faded.
The Lakers are not the Clippers, but close games can put both teams on their heels.