OAKLAND, Calif. — Klay Thompson was born in Los Angeles, watched his father, Mychal, play for the Lakers and spent his high school years in Southern California. He understands more than most just how much passion for the game there is in the area. As his Golden State Warriors get set for their first meeting with LeBron James and the new-look Lakers on Wednesday in Las Vegas, Thompson can appreciate just how big a deal it is that James will be calling Hollywood home for at least the next few years.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Thompson said of seeing James in a Lakers jersey. “I don’t think you would have guessed it when he was with the Cavs when he started his rookie season, but it’s adding a ton of interest in the league, and the Lakers are about to get the usual media coverage that I was used to growing up.”
Having played against James and his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in four straight NBA Finals, Thompson knows the intensity level will be ramped up now that the former league and Finals MVP is in the Western Conference.
“Well, the times we’ve seen him he’s always been at the top of the East during the Finals,” Thompson said. “And those games are always intense. I expect him to greatly improve the Lakers and they’ve obviously got a bunch of guys who are proven now. So I just expect it to be intense. Any time you play against arguably the best player in the world, no matter what sport, you want to measure yourself against him so you play as hard as you can, and that’s why guys like Steph [Curry], KD [Kevin Durant], Kobe [Bryant], LeBron, James Harden, any [top] guys face their opponent’s best game every night, so it will be no different when we play the Lakers.”
Both Thompson and Warriors head coach Steve Kerr are looking forward to the budding rivalry between the Lakers and Warriors this season, especially with James in the fold.
“This is probably the first time it’s lined up,” Kerr said after Tuesday’s practice. “Did Sleepy Floyd get his 29 against the Lakers in one quarter? That would probably be the biggest moment. So for Warriors fans, that’s probably the biggest moment of the Laker-Warrior rivalry. I’m sure the Lakers never really looked at it as a rivalry all those years when they were dominating, but this will be fun.
“We’re in the same division, obviously both teams have a lot of talent and the atmosphere is going to be great. Even in the preseason, I think people are going to be really looking forward to it.”
Thompson believes the rivalry between Northern California and Southern California — between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles — will only grow now with the Warriors coming off two titles and James expected to lift the Lakers back to prominence.
“Bay-L.A. in any sport is always great,” Thompson said. “It will definitely carry over to basketball, that’s for sure.”
Thompson said he has been having the NorCal/SoCal debate with friends for years.
“The music, art, movies, destination,” Thompson said. “There’s always a NorCal/SoCal debate, and that’s what makes it so great … high school sports, pro sports, musicians, athletes, we always had a debate where the talent was at.”
After Wednesday’s game in Las Vegas, the Warriors and Lakers will face each other in another preseason tilt on Friday in San Jose, California. Their first regular-season matchup is scheduled for Christmas night at Oracle Arena, the Warriors’ home court.
Kerr knows the emotions in all the arenas, including the Lakers’ Staples Center, will be charged up when the teams face each other.
“Staples is a different vibe,” he said. “It’s not like an Oklahoma City or a Salt Lake, where it’s just noise and intensity. It’s more like, ‘Man, this is the cool place to be in L.A. tonight.’ Obviously, it’s been a very star-driven franchise. So for them to have LeBron makes Staples the place to be and you’ll feel that vibe, we’ll feel that vibe as a visiting team when we’re in there. I look forward to it.”
Warriors forward Draymond Green will not play in Wednesday’s game against the Lakers as he continues to rehab a sore left knee.
“Draymond’s not going to play,” Kerr said. “We’re going to be cautious. He’s still improving, but we feel comfortable giving him one more day … and then we’ve got six days ’til the opener; so the plan is to start practice and play him on Friday and he’ll be ready for the opener.”