How do you know the NBA’s hottest rivalry is between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers?
Even a blowout in January is must-see TV just to watch the players wearing No. 23.
Instead of Kurt Rambis being clotheslined by Kevin McHale, the Warriors have their emotional leader, Draymond Green, antagonized by LeBron James, the best player of his generation.
Perhaps not since the Lakers-Celtics battles of 1980s, when they met in the Finals three times in four years, has the contempt been so obvious between contenders, as we appear headed to a Warriors-Cavaliers matchup for the third consecutive season.
Never miss a local story.
The Warriors dismantled the Cavaliers on Monday in the league’s showcase game on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Oakland, in front of a crowd that especially reveled in James’ struggles.
James needles the Warriors, saying their back-and-forth is not a “rivalry,” but of course it is, and it’s one of the best in decades.
It began during Game 4 of the NBA Finals when James stepped over Green, who retaliated with a shot to James’ groin. That earned Green a one-game suspension for excessive flagrant-foul points and set in motion Cleveland’s comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to capture the championship.
Green sent James to the floor with a hard foul in the second quarter last week.
James put some extra on it, holding his face as if the late pro-wrestling manager Mr. Fuji had thrown dust in his eyes.
“I fouled him to stop the break and he went down,” Green said. “The aftermath, I told R.J. (Richard Jefferson) to get out of my face. It was just in the heat of the moment, I think, having some fun, nothing dangerous.”
The sight of James selling the foul was just the latest “act” that keeps Warrior fans riled up at the sight of the wine and gold.
James’ role in Green’s suspension in June – even though Green accumulated prior flagrant-foul points – might have pushed James past Tom Brady as the symbol of East Bay playoff anguish.
This can only be settled in the Finals after a regular-season split with an appropriate level of griping on both sides.
The Cavaliers will point out that Kyrie Irving was injured in Game 1 of the 2015 Finals and Kevin Love missed the series because of a shoulder injury.
The Warriors still wonder what might have been had Green not been suspended and if Stephen Curry was himself when it mattered most.
James, however, continues to treat as just another team the squad he seemingly mocked with an “Ultimate Warrior” wrestling T-shirt following the Finals.
“I don’t think there’s a rivalry,” James said. “It’s two great teams that have aspirations. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a rivalry in the NBA. It’s just that too many guys move and go places and change different locations. It’s totally different from the ’80s when obviously we saw the Celtics and the Lakers go at it so much, and I don’t look at it as a rivalry.”
Naturally, Green disagrees.
“Yeah, I think it’s a rivalry,” Green said. “It’s just me, though. It’s definitely fun, though. ... If you look at the last two years and this year, we’ve been the top two teams in the league. I look at it as a rivalry and it’s definitely fun getting to play them, but I don’t really care if anyone else sees the game the way I see it.”
The ‘This Can’t Be Life’ Award
NBA players have lost their right to complain about how media or fans vote for the All-Star Game.
That so many took voting as a joke makes the nation of Georgia’s push for Zaza Pachulia an admirable and worthy endeavor.
Leaving LeBron James off more than 100 ballots? Sounds as if some players are haters. A vote for Kings rookie George Papagiannis? Someone was being a comedian.
The ‘Keeping It Way Too Real’ Award
Russell Westbrook just ignored that old notion of gangsters moving in silence when asked about a flagrant foul by Pachulia against him last week.
“I don’t know,” Westbrook said when asked what happened on the play after the game. “He hit me kind of hard, but it’s alright. I’m going to get his (butt) back – straight up.”
Come again? And oh, Pachulia stood over Westbrook after smacking him in the face.
“Nah, I didn’t see until just now, but I don’t play that game,” Westbrook said. “I’m going to get his (butt) back so – whenever that is, I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I don’t play that game.”