Playoff preview? Clippers grind out win over Warriors for 9th straight

LOS ANGELES — With five weeks and 16 regular-season games left, the Clippers still aren’t sure whom they’ll play in the first round of the NBA playoffs next month.

But wouldn’t it be perfect if they matched up in a seven-game series with the Golden State Warriors?

It could happen. If the playoffs began today, the Clippers and Warriors would face each other in an opening-round Western Conference series. So perhaps Wednesday night’s game should be considered a dress rehearsal.

The Clippers were not at their best, but they still overcame whatever shortcomings they had to pull out a 111-98 win at Staples Center, giving them a 2-2 split in their head-to-head season series with the Warriors.

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They also won their ninth consecutive game, the third longest winning streak in franchise history.

As much as the victory could have been considered a statement game — it was a win at home against a potential playoff opponent — Clippers coach Doc Rivers felt pride in the fact his team won when iwt wasn’t at its best.

"I don’t think it was significant because we beat Golden State," he said. "It was significant because we were struggling."

Guard Chris Paul struggled more than anyone, making just one of six shots in the first half and five of 15 for the game. When the game was over, he remained on the court and spent almost a half hour shooting jumpers as the arena emptied.

But others picked up the offense. Willie Green and Danny Granger combined to score 31 points off the bench on 12-of-17 shooting. Blake Griffin had 30 points and 15 rebounds, and all five starters were in double figures.

"I’m proud — proud of the way we fought, proud of the way guys handled themselves," Griffin said. "Danny coming off the bench and giving us big minutes. Willie, Darren (Collison) — guys were fighting. We struggled at times, missed a lot of shots, easy ones, had some stupid turnovers, errors. But guys just kept fighting."

Paul fought, too. Despite his failure to find consistency on offense, he drilled a 26-footer at the end of the third quarter that gave the Clippers an 84-79 lead that they never relinquished. Granger called it a turning point.

"It was great for Chris," Rivers said. "Sometimes you just need to see one go in."

The Clippers and Warriors have played physical games the past two seasons, sometimes resulting in shoving matches between players. It almost happened again in the fourth quarter when Griffin and Jermaine O’Neal exchanged words after a timeout had been called. O’Neal was assessed a technical foul for not going to his team’s bench.

Griffin didn’t want to discuss their disagreement after the game, but he still had the final word.

After the timeout, Granger missed a shot from the corner, and Griffin, sprinting toward the basket, reached behind his head for the rebound and slammed an emphatic one-handed dunk. It put the Clippers ahead by seven points.

"I’m not going to lie," Griffin said, smiling. "I kind of wanted it to come off the rim if I was going to run that hard. I was at the 3-point line when he shot it, and I started running in and it came off just right.

"I got lucky."

In a way, so did the Clippers.

"It was one of those games," Rivers said, "where you just had to keep fighting."