LOS ANGELES — With the possible return of Chris Paul looming, the Los Angeles Clippers hope to get back on the winning track when the play the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night at Staples Center.
Paul has missed 14 games after tearing ligaments in his left thumb on Jan. 16 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although Paul received medical clearance to return, Clippers coach Doc Rivers decided to hold him out of Thursday for what proved to be a 123-113 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif.
“He looked good the last two days, but I thought he was a little hesitant,” Rivers said. “I just don’t think we should play him. He’s got to feel 100 percent.”
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Rivers was non-committal on Paul’s return against the Spurs but left the door slightly ajar.
“(Friday’s) iffy. We won’t really practice on that one day, but that’ll get him closer. But we’ll see,” Rivers said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Clippers could have used Paul against the Warriors. Golden State rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit by outscoring the Clippers 50-26 in the third quarter. The Warriors went on to capture their 10th consecutive win over the Clippers behind 35 points from Stephen Curry.
“You know they’re going to go on those runs. They have too many shooters not to,” said Clippers guard Austin Rivers, who finished with 19 points. “They’ve got the best shooters in the league on one team. The three best shooters in the league on one team. It’s stupid to expect them not hit threes and tough shots.”
The Spurs (43-13) will tip off the second half of the season after finishing the first half with the NBA’s second-best record behind the Warriors.
Although the Spurs remain one of the league’s premier clubs, they have encountered problems with the Clippers. San Antonio lost both of this season’s previous meetings against Los Angeles. In the most recent clash on Dec. 18, the Spurs were handed a 106-101 road setback. The Clippers also pounded the Spurs 116-92 on Nov. 5 at San Antonio.
The Spurs have dropped five of the past seven meetings with the Clippers and three in a row at Staples.
San Antonio forward Kawhi Leonard, already enjoying a strong season, has been even better lately. In the past 10 games, Leonard averaged 28 points and 6.8 rebounds. Overall, Leonard is putting up 25.9 points and 5.9 boards per game while shooting 48.7 percent.
However, in the two losses to the Clippers, Leonard averaged 20.5 points and 7.5 rebounds and shot only 34 percent. Leonard managed just 14 points in the November rout.
Spurs center Pau Gasol, who has missed the past 15 games with a broken bone in his left hand, might return against the Clippers. Gasol, who has been out since being injured during warmups on Jan. 17 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, is listed as probable by the team. Gasol is averaging 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds this season. The Spurs are 11-4 in Gasol’s absence.
After an off day Saturday, the Spurs return to Staples on Sunday to face the Los Angeles Lakers.