Warriors and Kings: On the Verge of Establishing a Legitimate NBA Rivalry

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Warriors-Kings on the edge of becoming legitimate NBA rivalry originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO – After so many years fighting the urge to envy, so many nights trying to escape the grasp of futility and so many moments of each wanting what the other had, we have arrived at relative parity.

The imbalance between the Warriors and the Kings, with one team generally vastly inferior to the other, that held for the better part of 40 years no longer exists. They now, officially, are on equal footing, deserving of the same status, with generation the only significant gap.

When the mostly Generation Y Warriors walk into Golden 1 Center on Friday night to face the mostly Gen X Kings, at stake will be a sense of superiority never previously in question.

We all know which team was better in recent years past, as Golden State’s trips to the NBA Finals and championships won make its case. Sacramento’s talented young core makes a strong case for it being best positioned for seasons beyond the current.

We don’t know which is better now. Fans of each team finally can have a legitimate, real-time debate.

This is a treat to be relished, savored, enjoyed. Unleash the passions.

“It’s fun to me,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday.

It’s fun because Warriors-Kings is highly – highly – competitive. The Warriors won three of four in the 2022-23 NBA regular season, but only one game was decided by more than seven points. The first playoff meeting ever between the teams four months ago ended with Golden State winning while outscoring Sacramento by an average of 2.1 points over the full seven games.

“They have a great team,” Kerr said. “They won our division last year. We had that epic, seven-game series with them. Saw them twice already [in preseason]. We’ll see them [Friday] and we’ll see them again next week.

“We’re getting to know each other quite well.”

As it should be when two teams are based in the same state, roughly 85 miles apart. Although familiarity, which once meant almost nothing, might not breed sheer contempt, the Warriors no longer have room to express even the slightest condescension.

The Kings clearly have had enough of the “little brother” role. They outgrew it by finishing ahead of the Warriors and atop the Pacific Division last season. They couldn’t quite bury it in the playoffs, but they gained enough respect that the Warriors can hear and feel their thundering footsteps.

Which may be why the second of two preseason games between the teams nine days ago was unusually spicy for a game without real stakes.

Four of Sacramento’s starters played at least 32 minutes. The Warriors went hard with their core, with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Chris Paul all going 30 or more minutes. Some of this was planned by the coaches, who considered the game a dress rehearsal for the regular season. But there was an atypical desire to win.

With the Warriors trailing 100-91 and 5:37 remaining, Kerr summoned Paul from the bench to enter the game. CP3 thought he was done for the night.

“I didn’t even know I was going to play at the end of the fourth,” Paul told me afterward, “because we hadn’t done that in any preseason game.”

And probably wouldn’t have unless there was a desire to win a game. Why else to risk a 38-year-old reentering after he assumed his work was done? And why take out Paul, who orchestrated a rally, with 13.3 seconds remaining only to reinsert him with 10.9 seconds left?

So Paul could do his part to set up Curry for the game-winning shot, which gave Golden State a 116-115 victory. The players expressed an odd amount of satisfaction with their feat. Steph even added a gratuitous “night-night” gesture.

The Warriors would like to put the Kings back “in their place” but now realize they have played their way out of the NBA dregs. The Kings would like to slap the Warriors hard enough to drop them.

The spice was real before Game 2 of their playoff series, when Draymond Green’s foot landed on Domantas Sabonis’ chest, resulting in a one-game suspension.

But now the pride of each team is on the line. The elders always want to prove they still have it. The youngsters want to show they have arrived.

This is new and welcome when considering the history. Sacramento went 17-2 against Golden State over a five-year stretch at the turn of the millennium. Golden State responded 10 years later, winning 21 of 24 over a six-year span. The turf belongs to them until it’s taken.

It almost was six months ago. The most evident separator of the teams last April was playoff experience. The Warriors had it, appearing for the ninth time in 11 seasons. The Kings, by contrast, had not been there since 2005-06 – the season in which Golden State missed the playoffs for the 12th consecutive year.

Don’t for a second believe the game Friday night is just “one of 82.” On paper, yes, but not in the hearts and minds and souls. We now have a fair battle for territory, perhaps within California, probably in the standings and undoubtedly on the NBA status chart.

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