10:30 PM EST, TNT – Line: Warriors -12, Over/Under: 230.5
Bitter Western Conference Rivals meet tonight at ORACLE Arena, as the Golden State Warriors host the Los Angeles Clippers as both teams return to action after the All-Star Break. With two-thirds of the season in the books and another playoff run on the way, the Clippers (35-21, 4th in Western Conference) continue to search far and wide for a starting Small Forward at the Trade Deadline, but with their staunch reluctance to break up their core (I.E. Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan) to acquire the likes of a Carmelo Anthony, it remains highly unlikely that they’ll be able to add the requisite pieces to vault themselves into the same stratosphere as the Warriors. Predictably, the likes of Wesley Johnson, Luc Mbah a Moute , and the corpse of Paul Pierce aren’t cutting it, so it’s with that said, the most likely upgrade this team will get is an internal one, as in getting a healthy Chris Paul (17.5 PTS, 47.1% FG, 39.5% 3 FG, 5.3 REB, 9.7 AST, 2.2 STL) back on the court, who was cleared for action Wednesday after missing the previous thirteen games rehabbing from torn ligaments in his left thumb. It goes without saying, but Los Angeles needs their floor general suited up and running Pick & Roll after Pick & Roll, for this has been quite an erratic team despite their relatively stellar ledger; it’s truly been a campaign of peaks and valleys for Doc Rivers and Co. who while putting together some very impressive stretches, including a 14-2 start and a seven-game winning streak in early January, have also experienced their fair share of slides, including a six-game losing streak to end 2016 and a run in which they lost seven out of nine in late January/early February. However, they did manage to establish a good deal of momentum heading into the All-Star Break, winning each of their last four outings, with a 99-84 shellacking of the Atlanta Hawks sending them into the Break on a positive note. The Clippers shot a solid 46.8% from the field, netting fourteen of their thirty-seven attempts from beyond the arc (37.8%), while feasting on the Hawks’ carelessness, turning their twenty turnovers into a wealth of opportunities in transition. All-Star Forward Blake Griffin (21.9 PTS, 49.0% FG, 8.8 REB, 5.0 AST, 1.1 STL) led a balanced effort with seventeen points on 6-of-15 shooting from the field (40.0%), while totaling five rebounds, nine assists, a pair of blocks, and a steal, while the bench turned in a great showing with forty-two points. It’s no coincidence that Los Angeles saw an upward turn in their play once the five-time All-Star was able to get back in game-shape after missing eighteen consecutive tilts after undergoing minor knee surgery (in which his team went 10-8), and has averaged 23.6 points on 51.5% shooting, including 42.9% from three, 8.5 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 1.1 steals in games since his return. Rivers has been more and more apt to utilize the seventh-year veteran in a playmaking role (particularly without Paul), showcasing Griffin’s remarkable versatility. With that said, it would be remarkable if these guys could find a way to make tonight’s meting with Golden State a competitive one, for the two-time reigning Conference Champions have been nothing short of the proverbial Boogie Man to the Clippers. They have faced each other three times this season, and to be honest none of them have been remotely close; Los Angeles has lost those three contests by a staggering average margin of 25.4 points, with the scoreboard reading the following: 115-98 in favor of the Warriors back on December 7th, followed by 144-98 to the Dubs on January 28th, and most recently 133-120 to Golden State on February 2nd. At no point have they shown the ability to slow down Curry, Durant, and Co. as they’ve shot a ridiculous 54.1% from the field, including 38.8% from beyond the arc, while dishing out a healthy 35.0 assists in the trifecta of blowouts. Given that these teams will likely meet at some point in the Postseason (most likely in the Second Round), they may want to try something different because it’s clear that what they’ve been doing certainly isn’t working. After all, this is a team that has lost eight straight games to the Warriors dating back to Christmas Day of 2014.
Meanwhile, for the third straight year, the Warriors (47-9, 1st in Western Conference) are sitting atop the rest of the league, and should be considered once again as the prohibitive favorite to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy come May. Now, as we saw last year, whether or not they actually do that is another question altogether, but in the meantime, the argument can be made that even though this team is certain to lose more games than their record-setting predecessors did, they’re likely the better and more improved team. That distinction comes courtesy of Kevin Durant (25.8 PTS, 53.9% FG, 37.4% 3FG, 8.3 REB, 4.9 AST, 1.1 STL, 1.7 BLK), whose addition during the Offseason sent shockwaves throughout the NBA, and has morphed this team that went 73-9 into an even deadlier incarnation. The presence of the four-time Scoring Champion has given Steve Kerr yet another lethal shooter from the perimeter, along with a weapon that just as easily can get to the rim. And let’s not forget about all the attention he draws from defenders, leaving the likes of Steph Curry (24.7 PTS, 46.9% FG, 41.0% 3FG, 4.3 REB, 6.4 AST, 1.7 STL) and Klay Thompson (22.1 PTS, 47.4% FG, 42.2% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 2.0 AST) alone to snipe away from beyond the arc. As if the Splash Brothers needed any more space to operate… With that said, the most remarkable aspect of this entire story has got be the way that Durant has seamlessly integrated himself into Golden State’s fluid offense. So much was made during the Offseason as to how the presence of the former MVP would do little more than disrupt this team’s chemistry, but at this point of the campaign, it’s become quite apparent that all that speculation was much ado about nothing. Consider this, folks; the triumvirate of Durant, Curry, and Thompson are averaging 17.0, 17.3, and 17.7 Field Goal Attempts per Game respectively. You can’t get more balanced than that! Seriously, the dude that everyone though was going to come and take the most shots, is actually third in the proverbial pecking order. As a result, the Offense has been absolutely deadly; the Warriors have averaged 118.2 points (2nd Overall) on 50.1% shooting from the field (1st Overall), including 56.5% from within the three-point arc (1st Overall) and 38.8% from downtown (3rd Overall), along with 31.0 assists (1st Overall), while leading the league in Effective Field Goal Percentage (1st Overall), which carries added weight for the value of the three-pointer. Furthermore, while they have regressed a bit defensively, they have nonetheless managed to lead the league in both steals (9.6) and blocks (6.6), while permitting just 43.6% shooting from the field (2nd Overall), including 32.6% from three (1st Overall). Yeah, they had to sacrifice the likes of glue guys such as Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezili, and Harrison Barnes to create enough space to acquire Durant (which was a no-brainer BTW), making them smaller and not quite as deep as before. But if you’re not convinced that they can still handle their business on that end of the floor, just ask the Clippers for their opinion. In those three beatings administered by Kerr’s charges, Los Angeles’ own formidable Offense was relegated to 44.3% shooting from the field, while getting outrebounded by 8.0 boards per game, and harassed into 14.3 turnovers opposed to 21.0 assists, each well below their season averages. Oh, and the Warriors’ Big Three have had a field day against them to boot, with Durant, Curry, and Thompson combining for a whopping 72.3 points, and 17.7 assists, with Curry in particular killing them on 30.3 points and 7.7 assists.
Predicted Outcome: Warriors 115, Clippers 103