The Golden State Warriors have owned the Los Angeles Clippers in recent years, and they will look to continue that trend on Thursday night.
The Warriors and Clippers are meeting for the fourth and final time in the regular season on February 23. Tip-off is slated for 10:30 p.m ET at Oracle Arena in Oakland and the game will be televised by TNT.
The Warriors have won 10 of the 11 meetings with Clippers since the beginning of the 2014-15 campaign, including nine straight. The Dubs have won the three matchups this season by an of 25.3 points a game.
The good news for the Clippers is that star point guard Chris Paul has been medically cleared to play, per AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA Today. Paul, who underwent thumb surgery on January 18, is expected to be a game-time decision.
Los Angeles (35-21) has won four in a row to improve to 6-7 in the 13 games that Paul missed due to the thumb injury. This includes two games against Golden State where they were beaten up 133-120 (Feb.4) and 144-98 (January 28). The Clippers are 8-12 without Paul this season overall.
With Paul out, Blake Griffin, and Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers have stepped up their games for the Clips. Griffin has tallied 20 or more points in eight straight games, which ties a season-high. He also has picked up double-digit rebounds in three of his last five games.
Crawford is having his best month of the season, reaching double-figures in seven of eight games while shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from beyond the arc. Crawford is producing 16.3 points, 3.3 assists, and 1.4 steals in February.
Rivers has scored double-figures in 11 games since replacing Paul in the starting lineup, including four 20-point outings. He is averaging 14.0 points along with 4.3 assists and 2.5 rebounds while also knocking down 36.1 percent of his three-point attempts.
In the meantime, J.J. Redick has gone through a rough stretch recently. The six-foot-four sniper is only shooting 35.5 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from beyond the arc in February. As a result, he is tallying 12.4 points in eight games for the month, which is his lowest since tossing in 10.0 points a game in October.
Los Angeles is not going to catch Golden State atop of the Pacific Conference. The Clippers may not even catch the Houston Rockets for third place as they are four games behind. But the Clips can’t afford to fall behind their current pace as they are just a half-game in front of fifth-place Utah. Sixth-place Memphis is only two games back and seventh-place Oklahoma City is three-and-a-half games behind.
Golden State (47-9) has the best record in the league and by far and away are the best team in the league. The Warriors are also reportedly getting healthy for the stretch run as center Zaza Pachulia and power forward David West are expected to play against the Clippers according to ESPN. Pachulia has missed the last eight games, and West has missed 14 straight. Both players are listed as questionable.
“They both looked great,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I would say there’s a good chance both of them would play tomorrow.”
Even with their recent depth issues, the Dubs have been rolling. They are a league-best 18-4 since January 1.
Golden State has a four-game lead over the San Antonio Spurs in the race for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. While the Warriors are not projected to reach the 70-win plateau like they did last season, they are expected to remain in the top spot in the conference.
Kevin Durant has been everything the Warriors could have hoped for when they signed him. The 2014 NBA MVP has been more efficient than he has ever been and is playing outstanding defense. Although he is currently going through his worst stretch of the season, averaging 22.5 points while shooting 49.6 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from beyond the arc in eight February games. He is doling out a season-high 5.8 assists.
Durant leads the team in scoring, blocks, and rebounding for the season. He is also shooting a career-best 53.9 percent from the field. Durant (25.8 ppg) combined with Steph Curry (24.7 points, 6.4 assists) and Klay Thompson (22.1 ppg) form the highest-scoring trio in the league. Those three combine to score 72.1 of Golden State’s league-leading 118.2 points (61.4 percent).
Golden State has the top offense in the league. The Warriors also rank first in assists and field goal percentage and third in three-point percentage. They are also first in scoring margin (12.2).
But their improvement on the defensive end is the reason that the Warriors are favorite to claim the NBA championship. The Dubs’ defense ranks third overall. Golden State is first in steals, blocks, and deflections. They are second in opponent field goal percentage and contested shots.
Prediction: Warriors 120, Clippers 108.
[Featured Image David Zalubowski/AP Images]