LOS ANGELES – The Warriors are back where they were a year ago, opening the playoffs on the road against an imposing team playing outstanding basketball.
After upsetting the favored Nuggets last season, the Warriors are downright comfortable being the underdog this season against the Clippers in their best-of-seven series that begins with Game 1 Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.
"We were picked last year to lose to the Denver Nuggets by all the experts at ESPN,'' Warriors coach Mark Jackson recalled Friday. "We were picked to lose to the Clippers by the experts. That's not facts. That's their opinion. And they're basing their opinions on the data.
"The data says that we are the underdogs. The data says that Doc Rivers is the better coach. The data says they're the better basketball team. That's OK. That doesn’t mean it's going to happen.''
The Warriors finished at 51-31, earning the No. 6 seed, as they did last season. The Clippers (57-25), who won the Pacific Division by six games over the Warriors, are the No. 3 seed, as the Nuggets were last season. Like Denver's George Karl, Rivers is a veteran coach and considered among the NBA's best.
So, honestly, aside from the Warriors missing their starting center, Andrew Bogut, the circumstances this time around are not that different from last postseason.
It worked last time, so why not try it again?
"It's fun to go into someone else's building first and try to sneak in a win or two,'' shooting guard Klay Thompson said Friday. "That's something you embrace. We embraced it last and we learned from it. We're in a similar situation this year, playing a team that's coming into the playoffs hot.''
The absence of Bogut means Jermaine O'Neal, the 18-year veteran will start at center against Los Angeles big man DeAndre Jordan, the league's leading rebounder and No. 3 shot blocker.
There will be times, though, when Jackson turns to his smaller lineup, with David Lee spending time at center and Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes splitting minutes at power forward.
There's a simple reason Jackson opted to start O'Neal instead of opening with the smaller lineup, which so many find fascinating: Jermaine's old.
"He's a veteran,'' Jackson said. ``He put pressure on your defense because of his ability to post up. I also like the fact that he's got a lot of miles. Rather than having him sit there and then go into a game where everybody else is in rhythm and loose, right now my thought process is to have him start the game and impact the game immediately. You can always go to Draymond outside of that.''
The numbers indicate the Clippers will be too much. The Warriors acknowledge those numbers. And they know from experience that numbers don't play.
"We understand the task in front of us,'' point guard Stephen Curry said. "They'll probably be heavily favored. And I guess not a lot of people are going to pick us, just like last year. So it's up to us to go out and make it happen.''
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Stephen Curry vs. Chris Paul. This matchup of elite point guards with contrasting styles is the marquee event of the series. Paul is the established vet, and Curry the rapidly rising star. This is as much a battle of wills as it is of skills.
David Lee vs. Blake Griffin. Griffin will place third or fourth on most MVP ballots. He has rounded out his game and blossomed into a superstar. Yet Lee typically plays well against the Clippers.
Klay Thompson vs. J. J. Redick. These two won't see much of each other, as Jackson will crossmatch the guards, putting Thompson on Paul and Curry on Redick. Yet the numbers of Thompson and Redick bear watching. Either can shoot his team to victory. Thompson surely knows neither Redick nor Paul can guard him.
For the Warriors, C Andrew Bogut (fractured rib) and C Festus Ezeli are out indefinitely.
For the Clippers, SF Danny Granger (strained left hamstring) is listed as out.
The teams split four games in the regular season. This is the first postseason meeting between the franchises.