Villains of the NBA? The Clippers are perfect for the part

Stephen A.: Clippers will not get blown out by Warriors (1:31)

First Take's Stephen A. Smith breaks down the Western Conference matchup between the Clippers and Warriors. (1:31)

The only thing the Clippers-Warriors rivalry lacks is complete honesty.

It has history (10 of the two teams' players have been in place since the 2012-13 season), stakes (they met in a playoff Game 7 in 2014) and physicality within the brink of the rules (there have been five flagrant fouls in the series since 2013, but no suspensions).

There just isn't the level of candor that matches DeMarcus Cousins' assessment of the Clippers: "I hate 'em."

The closest anyone on either side has come was when Warriors owner Joe Lacob said, "We don't like 'em" during a radio interview last week. That's not disdain, that's a thumb's-down emoji.

Clippers president and coach Doc Rivers likes to tweak the Warriors about their sensitivity whenever they express their displeasure at what the Clippers say and do. But he's also the guy who predicted on the first day of training camp that winning the championship would make the Warriors even better because they now have championship swagger. Blake Griffin dispenses little compliments about the Warriors such as "Everybody talks about their offense, but their defense is what set them apart."

Klay Thompson has called the Clippers "bitter" because "they couldn't handle their business," but Tuesday he said the genesis of the combative tone for this series is, "They have a competitive team, we have a competitive team, so it makes for a good environment."

True rivals can't bring themselves to say anything nice about their opponents. They won't even offer them the courtesy of a congratulatory handshake if they're defeated. The irony is that being disrespectful can actually generate respect in the long run. There's a begrudging acknowledgement for those who stick to their principles.

Remember the nostalgia and glowing reviews for the "Bad Boys" 30 for 30 documentary on the Detroit Pistons. The movie had a reverential tone. Younger players who watched it envied the Pistons' license to act like overzealous bouncers on the court. Lost among all that was the fact that everyone outside of Detroit despised that team at the time. Now they're considered quaint.

The Clippers could carve out a niche for themselves as the bad guys if they wanted. It's strange that the role is left to them, because usually it's the winners who are despised, and the Warriors are the ones with the fresh championship banner hanging in their arena.

Hatred usually comes from jealousy and frustration from watching a team pop champagne and being unable to stop it. That's why the Los Angeles Lakers were greeted with "Beat L.A." chants around the league by the end of their 1980s dynasty. It was usually more of a desire than a fulfilled demand. At one time or another, the Lakers have beaten two-thirds of the teams in the league in the playoffs. When Kings coach George Karl was reminded he clearly has been no fan of the Lakers for a long time, he asked rhetorically, "Who is a fan of the Lakers?"

That resentment has yet to apply to the Warriors. They won the championship and their popularity grew. Meanwhile, the Clippers' collapse against the Houston Rockets drew ridicule, not pity. The Clippers are a talented team whose offensive efficiency was actually better than the Warriors' juggernaut last season, yet that's not the way they have been defined. Fans around the league focus on the Clippers' attitudes, not aptitude. They have cast them as the bad guys.

Rivers acknowledged before the home opener that the constant complaining to the referees colors the perception of his team and said, "I think we do it too much and we're trying to do a better job of it."

Then came a play in the first half when Griffin thought he was fouled on a driving layup and he, Rivers and assistant coach Sam Cassell all griped at the nearest official.

If it's in their nature they might as well embrace it. Stay true to themselves. Be honest at last. They already blew a chance when they reworked their logo in the offseason. Instead of curved lines that "symbolize the horizon of the ocean as seen from the bridge of a Clipper ship" they should have gone with a pirate ship flying the Jolly Roger.

It's not too late to alter their demeanor. Go all in. Sneer at the refs. Accent their dunks with celebrations that would make Jose Bautista's bat flip look polite. Blow like the Big Bad Wolf Lance Stephenson (after eating a plate of garlic fries before the game).

If they're not going to be loved, might as well be loathed. It's not as if it's unprecedented for teams to be hated before they've won anything.

"The Heat, when the Big Three went there," as Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said.

Then he went from historian to show-runner.

"It was great for basketball," Cuban said. "It was great to have a villain. It's always good to have a villain."

There has been a void since LeBron James went back to Cleveland. It's time for the Clippers to heed their calling.