California heats up for playoff season
MATTHEW ROBERSON | SPORTS EDITOR | @mroberson22
The latter part of April inevitably creates two different kinds of NBA and NHL fans. With the playoffs getting underway, fans of teams that fail to make the postseason have no choice but to pack it in and hope that next year brings greater fortunes. The other side of that is fans of teams who are still fighting for championship rings. These students often take their fandom to the next level, shirking their academic responsibilities and social lives to make sure that they catch every second of the action.
From personal experience as a Seattle sports fan, I know both sides of this all too well. For the last 14 autumns my beloved Mariners have been at home while other teams are still playing meaningful games. Luckily the Seahawks have turned themselves into one of the most formidable forces in the NFL in recent years, providing the opportunity to become fully invested in their last four playoff runs.
Here in California, half of the state’s NBA teams and all of its NHL teams are participating in their respective sport’s championship tournaments. The Golden State Warriors are not only the defending champions who have the best record in the NBA this season, they also managed to put up the best record in the history of professional basketball. Additionally, their star player and point guard, Stephen Curry, eclipsed his own record for most three pointers made in a single season. Look beyond the greatness of Curry and one finds the less-heralded, unassuming greatness of Klay Thompson. If Curry’s 402 threes weren’t enough, Thompson connected on 276 shots of his own from beyond the arc, good for third best in NBA single season history. Who has the second most three pointers in one year? That Curry guy, in 2014-15.
Junior Aidan Davison, a native of Piedmont, California has been a Warriors fan since the pre-Splash Brothers era, when the team was consistently mediocre and led by divisive shooting guard Monta Ellis. When the team changed ownership in 2010, Davison saw the move as a potential make-or-break situation, especially when Ellis was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for center Andrew Bogut in 2012.
“When the team’s ownership changed, and the Monta-Bogut trade happened, pretty much every Warriors fan thought we would be terrible because Monta carried the team,” Davison said. “Steph Curry was on that team and was popular but no one imagined he would turn into a god. The thought of a championship was a long shot. Now they’re world renowned and the fan base probably multiplied by 1,000. It’s crazy.”
Despite their all-encompassing name, the Warriors aren’t the only Golden State team competing for an NBA championship. The Los Angeles Clippers nabbed the fourth seed in the Western Conference Playoffs after amassing a 53-29 record in the regular season.
This marks the fourth consecutive year in which both the Clippers and Warriors have qualified for the playoffs, giving California residents from both ends of the state a team to root for. If both teams can win their first round of matchups, they will square off in the Western Conference Semifinals in a heated battle for state bragging rights.
For Californians who prefer the ice over the hardwood, the state’s hockey teams have also provided something to cheer for during the always exciting playoff season. All three teams based in California — the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, and San Jose Sharks — qualified for this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. To add even more intrigue, the Kings and Sharks are paired up in the tournament’s first round, making this the third time in the last four years that the regional rivals have duked it out in the playoffs. While hockey is undoubtedly still lower than the other major sports in terms of Californians’ priorities, the recent success of all three local squads has done wonders to bring interest to the game.
Senior Corey Neveau grew up in Orange County as a devoted follower of the Ducks. He loves the fact that California’s NHL teams are consistently playing deep into the season, as it brings attention to the often slept on sport.
“The Ducks organization has invested money in developing the sport by buying local hockey rinks and supporting youth hockey,” Neveau said. “They have also been one of the best teams in the league for the last few years and that has gotten people to pay attention. Additionally, the success that the Kings have had for the last few years has done a lot in growing the sport in Southern California.”
Realistically speaking, the Warriors, Clippers, Kings, Ducks, and Sharks all have a chance of winning a championship this summer. All five teams have talented rosters with playoff experience and coaches who are used to the big stage.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately if you’re a fan of intrastate drama, the teams will have to go through each other to get to the championship round. Whether you’ve been a California kid for your whole life, or just moved here upon enrolling at the University of San Diego, this year’s NBA and NHL playoffs will offer a great opportunity to watch the state’s best athletic clubs try to climb the treacherous playoff mountain.