Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland, California
When: 5:30 PM PT
How to watch/listen: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups:
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Landry Shamet – Garrett Temple – JaMychal Green – Ivica Zubac
Warriors: Steph Curry – Klay Thompson – Kevin Durant – Draymond Green – DeMarcus Cousins
Clippers: Pat Beverley Doubtful (Hip), Danilo Gallinari Doubtful (Ankle), Luc Mbah a Moute Out (Knee)
Warriors: Andre Iguodala Questionable (Toe), Shaun Livingston Questionable (Knee), Damian Jones Out (Pectoral)
The Big Picture:
The Clippers are officially stumbling. Just two nights after dropping their biggest loss of the year to the Houston Rockets in an absolute shellacking, the Clippers were shocked at Staples by an undermanned, invigorated Lakers team. With Pat Beverley ailing, the team has lost its edge, and the toughness and energy that have been a hallmark of this team have been virtually absent the past couple games. Really though, the Clippers haven’t been playing great basketball in nearly a month. They’ve been doing just enough to skate by, and in this final run-up to the playoffs, that has not been enough. If they’re to avoid this Warriors juggernaut in the 1st round, they need to win at least one of their final two games. To do so, they’ll need that competitive edge back, and quickly.
Despite playing lethargically for much of the season, the Warriors have accumulated 55 wins with three games to go, and are just one win away from clinching the top seed in the Western Conference. They’ve been surging lately, winning their last four and eight of their last 10 games, and appear to be fully ready for the postseason to begin. Steph Curry is having one of his strongest seasons, as is Kevin Durant, while Klay Thompson’s shooting has returned to norm after a frigid start to the season. The Warriors’ depth still isn’t great, but it doesn’t really matter when they have one of the most talented starting lineups ever. Despite the impressive seasons the Bucks and Raptors have had in the East, and the Houston Rockets’ getting their season back in order down the stretch, the Warriors remain the odds-on favorite to win the NBA championship, for good reason.
Get Lou back on track: Lou Williams has quietly had a down stretch the past few weeks. He’s only scored over 20 points in one of his last eight games played, and that game (against the Knicks) was really the lone “vintage Lou” performance in the bunch. He’s still been giving the Clippers scoring in the mid-teens with good efficiency and a handful of assists, but they need more from him, especially in the playoffs. It’s quite possible he’s just storing energy for the postseason, but it would still be nice to see him have a great game as a lead in for when the “real” games start.
Shai’s looking great: If Shai hit the rookie wall in January, he’s bounced back with a vengeance, and is playing by far the best basketball of the season down the stretch. His defense has improved as is foul rate has gone down, and he’s already a real pest on that end with his long arms and quick instincts. But his whole game has taken a giant leap forward, and the Clippers are a better team for it. In the past five games, Shai is averaging 17.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game, all with only 2.0 turnovers per contest. He’s doing all that while shooting 54.4% from the field, 41.6% from three, and 71.4% from the line. Those are All-Star level numbers, especially when paired with his defense, and while this is certainly a hot streak, the fact that he can put together a stretch like this in big minutes for a team that’s trying to win games is incredibly impressive. He’s already improved greatly this season, and the sky is the limit.
Another challenge for Zu: After playing great the past few weeks, Ivica Zubac has struggled the past couple games against the length and athleticism of Clint Capela and JaVale McGee. Against the Warriors, he will square off with DeMarcus Cousins, who doesn’t have the athleticism he used to, but remains a load in the paint and one of the most skilled big men in basketball. The Warriors have been trying to get him going early, and it will be important for Zu to shut him down on the glass. If Cousins gets offensive rebounds, the already difficult to beat Warriors become nigh unstoppable.
Potential playoff preview: The Clippers are currently in 6th, but a loss and Thunder/Spurs wins would push them to 8th – and a date with the Warriors in the first round. The Clippers won’t back down from anyone in the postseason, and the Warriors are certainly no different, but the talent disadvantage would be massive. The Clippers would obviously like to avoid the behemoth, and a win tonight would really help them do so.
Check out Golden State of Mind for the Warriors’ perspective, and come back later for the game thread!