OAKLAND -- Well, the newfangled Warriors have already ruined one long-honored tradition.
They sucked all the fan base’s fun out of beating the Lakers.
And don’t give me any backsass. That used to matter, a lot. Some years it led the highlight film. Some years it was the only warm memory from a cold season. Often it didn’t happen at all.
The Lakers meant something. And the old, supine Warriors meant something too. And now what do we have?
Games like Wednesday’s. A home opener that somehow managed to stultify the audience while it pleased them. A game in which Andrew Bogut tried to one-hand-tomahawk a Stephen Curry lob in the second quarter, when the game was already decided. A game in which Klay Thompson laughed at the ease with which he poured in his career-high 38 points. A game in which Bogut and Curry had three fouls before halftime and caused the crowd no worry at all. A game in which the dreaded Balkan HellFiends tag team of Ognjen Kuzmic and Nemanja Nedovic played a combined 20 minutes.
A game in which the Warriors won, 125-94, their widest margin over the Lakers in 19 years.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Thompson sets career high, W's throttle Lakers]
In fairness, these Lakers are not anyone’s Lakers. Kobe Bryant is out until Jor-El and his fellow Kryptonians bring the antidote for an Achilles tendon injury. Steve Nash isn’t going to play a lot of back-to-backs. They now believe, and rightly for them, that beating the Clippers at home is far more important than giving the Warriors a go on the road.
And they have now done both. If that’s your idea of a happy Fizzies party.
In other words, they are one of those teams too proud to tank, but not good enough for tanking not to be a viable strategy. They are in the NBA’s no-man’s land, and as it turns out, they are renting the cottage the Warriors stayed in most winters.
And the Warriors are, as has been discussed often, a team with expectations now. And expectations are never fun. It means you are compared not only to other teams, but to an idealized version of your best selves. You know, like the first 10 games of last year’s playoffs.
Curry soared into the nation’s consciousness. Bogut went from a perpetual patient back to a top-six center. Thompson and Harrison Barnes became the new young up-side kids. Mark Jackson ran the oddest yet most enjoyable press conferences. And Joe Lacob was essentially always in sight, as you knew he would be after all the abuse he took while he was trying to figure out the depth, breadth and meaning of his role.
Now the identities of the people sitting in the front row matter (which is SO not an Oakland thing). Now the decibel level of the pregame shows must make dogs’ heads explode. Now every player must be excellent in every way, aesthetically, metrically, box-scorically, everythingically.
And these aren’t the Lakers to help them provide the good old artificial high that comes from beating one’s betters. For that, they have only Miami, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Indiana, Memphis and maybe Chicago. The Clippers and Rockets are big games for standings and seedings reasons, but the Lakers are off the menu.
And you’ll miss them. They were something you could always rely on, in the coldest nights, or the rainiest mornings. They won two out of every three times they played since the early 60s, and they beat the Warriors in every playoff series except the first one, in 1967. They were easy for the locals to hate. They were fun to hate.
But Wednesday, while the Warriors were in the wings-off-flies stage of the game (late second quarter), one thing was missing -- the “BEAT L.A.” chant that was a staple of the building since forever. Beating THIS L.A. was hardly worth wishing for, and no matter how much it helped the drive home, it still left an empty feeling, as though something as yet undefined still awaited while a familiar old signpost had been sawed off at the base.