There are a lot of things that you can conjure when the season you care about the most is entering its second twentieth.
The Lakers will never win.
The Sixers will never try to win.
The Cavaliers will trade Kyrie Irving to Milwaukee for a snowman and a quart of Schoeps ice cream. The Raptors will make NBA writers ask what the weather is like in Ontario in May. You could even make a convincing case for the Warriors kicking metric tons of Clipper hinder Wednesday night, which definitely happened.
But if you’re really interested in extrapolating a lot from a little, consider a Western Conference final with Golden State and Sacramento. Put another way, why the hell not? Moments like this don’t pass this way very often, and could be gone in as little as a couple of weeks.
We mention this because as the Warriors put a comprehensive schooling on the Clippers in Oakland Wednesday, so too did the Kings against Denver. Golden State is 4-0, and the nation’s second flirtation with Oakland this year after the pre-trade deadline A’s.
But Sacramento? 4-1? They’ve been 4-1 seven times since the team left Rochester, 57 years and four cities ago. In a world full of small sample sizes inflated large, this is a particularly weird triumph.
Indeed, it is as San Jose Mercury News agitatroid Tim Kawakami put it, Mark Jackson’s worst nightmare. Between Joe Lacob being happy and Michael Malone being happy, can unhappy days be far behind?
This is an odd year for the NBA, the league least susceptible to charges of sweeping conclusions drawn on small sample sizes. The good teams usually stay good, the crap team almost always stay crap, and the regular season is devised to see who is too hurt to go deep in the postseason.
But you know who the good teams are.
The Warriors are one of those good teams, perhaps verging on very good. They are still defensive-minded, but their offense is slowly but surely improving under the tweakery of Steve Kerr, a.k.a. Joey Crawford’s New Bete Noire.
But the Kings have been less than whelming for years now, and they haven’t been good at the same time as the Warriors in any year since 1975, and have never met in a playoff series ever. For being 90 miles away, they may as well be 9 billion miles away.
But let’s play small sample size anyway. Let’s say that the Kings are the Warriors of three years ago, suddenly good and fresh and exciting and fully engaged with this basketball thing for the first time in years. And let’s say the Warriors stay healthy and defensively engaged and inch even closer to the sport’s elite for the first time since . . . yes, 1975.
In fact, let’s go off half-cocked and just say it -– Warriors as the two-seed, Kings as the seven, and finally a rivalry is engaged.
It took successive playoffs for the Warriors and Clippers to become archest of enemies. The Warriors and Lakers have always been rivals only in the envier-envied way. And there isn’t really anything else.
So why not Warriors-Kings, even if it’s just a first-rounder as a palate-cleanser? Two years ago, when the Kings looked Seattle-bound, the Bay Area literally could not have cared less. The Kings did not impact them, and they did not impact Sacramento.
Now? The two owners are former co-owners who split because they didn’t agree with who should have say over the Oakland franchise. The head coach in Sacramento was brought in to be Jackson’s de facto replacement, a problem/threat that reared its ugly head almost immediately. The Kings want to be the new Warriors, and the Warriors aren’t done being the new Warriors yet.
Yeah, this must happen. Only we’re a little too far up the road for that yet. Golden State is 78 games short of the postseason, Sacramento 77. The Warriors are filled with bubbles after hammering the Trail Blazers and Clippers, and the Kings are just at that happy-to-be-here stage. There are 155 games and lots of injuries to deal with before we get to fantasies like that.
But the Kings may not be winning four of every five games in two weeks. They have to prove they are playoff-caliber before they can be playoff-fantasy-caliber. And even if they do meet, the Warriors are further along the path to elite-itude than the Kings.
Still, it’s Week 2, and Game 5, and all we have are small sample sizes, so what’s wrong with thinking big in another direction? Kings at Warriors. Warriors at Kings. It’ll be a stone-cold hoot, and a long overdue one.
Besides, the Lakers aren’t going to continue to stink on their own. You have to strike while the conference’s signature franchise is room-temperature, and heat is where you find it. On Highway 80, bisected by the Nut Tree. What better metaphor for the potential rivalry that dare not speak its name?