Fast Forward: Even without Paul, Clippers pose test for Warriors

Fast Forward: Even without Paul, Clippers pose test for Warriors
January 30, 2014, 1:30 pm
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Chris Paul has missed the last 14 games with a shoulder injury, but the Clippers have gone 11-3 in his absence. (AP)

OAKLAND – Though the caffeinated folks who market and promote the Warriors are quite creative and even more so upon request, they don't need much brainpower to sell Thursday night's game against the Clippers at Oracle Arena.

So they're simply calling it what it is: Battle for the Pacific.

[RELATED: Warriors-Clippers: A budding rivalry]

The Warriors can post such a headline on their website because you and I and your mechanic realizes either the Warriors (27-19) or the Clippers (33-15) will win the NBA Pacific Division.

The Clippers, however, have put themselves at an advantage by doing a commendable job of playing without their leader and best player.

Los Angeles is 11-3 since star point guard Chris Paul was sidelined with a shoulder injury. The Clips increased their division lead from one game to five, as the second-place Warriors are 5-6 during the same stretch.

"(The Clippers) have done very good job,'' Warriors coach Mark Jackson said after practice Wednesday. "That's what the good teams do, in spite of guys being hurt or missing for extended periods of time. You still find ways to win.''

Paul's replacement, Darren Collison, is one of the league's best backup point guards. He's no CP3, but the Clippers actually have a higher winning percentage this season when Collison starts.

And they seem to be getting better as they go, averaging 113 points over their last four games, while shooting 53.1 percent from 3-point distance.

"You have to come with your `A' game in order to beat them, even with the injuries they have,'' Warriors point guard Stephen Curry said. "You've got to show up and put together a full 48 minutes, because they have talent all the way through their lineup that can exploit you.''

The term "battle'' seems appropriate because these clubs get particularly thin-skinned and cranky when sharing the court. Their last meeting, a 105-103 Warriors win at Oracle on Christmas night, featured the ejection of L.A. star Blake Griffin and flagrant fouls on Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green of the Warriors.

"There's been a lot of physicality in the two games we've played so far, so it's going to be a tough game,'' Bogut said at the Thursday morning shootaround. "They play physical and we play physical, so we'll see what happens.''

The testiness could work in favor of the Warriors, who have a endency to be more polite that they should be. After 46 games, they're still seeking consistent effort.

"It shouldn't be turned on and off; I don't think it's a switch,'' Bogut said firmly. "The good teams have it every game and every practice.''

As a result of their uneven play, the Warriors have lost of their last seven overall and four of their last five before sellout crowds at Oracle Arena.

"We need a win,'' Curry said. "We need to protect our home court and play better than we did last game. So we're going to come out competitive and be ready to play. And they want to keep their good play going.

"It's a team that's ahead of us in the standings, a team we're chasing still. We've got to look forward to that battle. And it's going to be important for us to start off the game physical on both ends of the floor and try to play our brand of basketball and not get too riled up with anything that may happen.''

Things are plenty riled up. That's why it's juicy. That's what the people want, and nobody understands that better than the folks at marketing and promotions.

David Lee vs. Griffin. Lee relishes playing Griffin, who has improved but still is recognized mostly for highlights. After playing well against Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge four days ago, Lee was barely there in the loss to Washington on Tuesday. He needs a bounce-back game.

Klay Thompson vs. J. J. Redick. These two guards won't always see each other, as Curry sometimes defends Redick. But Paul's absence could allow Curry to take Collison while Thompson chases after the tireless Redick, the most dangerous perimeter threat in the starting lineup.

Andre Iguodala vs. Jamal Crawford. Crawford doesn't start, but he plays most of the game. He's a streak shooter who can be highly prolific. It makes sense that Iguodala gets the assignment, especially when Crawford and Redick are on the floor together.

Bogut vs. DeAndre Jordan. Neither center is known for scoring, so the key is which is more effective at defending the paint and rebounding – the top priorities for both.

The teams split the first two games this season, each winning on its home floor. The Warriors have won 14 of the last 16 meetings in Oakland, including the last four, and are 16-10 against the Clippers since 2007.

Warriors 4-6, Clippers 8-2.

For the Warriors, C Jermaine O'Neal (right wrist surgery) continues to practice but has not been cleared for games. C Festus Ezeli (right knee surgery) and G Nemanja Nedovic (strained left hamstring) are out indefinitely.

For the Clippers, G Chris Paul (separated shoulder) is out.

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