OAKLAND, Calif. — The Los Angeles Clippers will be seeking to salvage one win in their season series with the Golden State Warriors when the top two teams in the Pacific Division clash for the final time in the regular season Thursday night.
And they could be getting some help in their quest to end a nine-game losing streak against the two-time Western Conference champs.
The Warriors have thrashed their rivals from the south three straight times this season, averaging a 25.3-point margin of victory.
The Clippers were without standout point guard Chris Paul (surgery on left thumb) in the two most recent meetings — a 133-120 home loss on Feb. 2 and a 144-98 shellacking in Oakland five nights earlier.
Paul, who had surgery on Jan. 18, returned to practice Tuesday and is expected to be a game-time decision in the second-half opener.
“The thumb is getting better,” he insisted to reporters before Tuesday’s workout. “I’m excited to get out here. I’m getting better.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers was impressed with Paul’s first practice since the injury and announced after the workout that the eight-time All-Star had been cleared to play Thursday.
However, a formal decision on whether that happens or not will not be made until after pregame warmups, Rivers said.
With or without Paul on the court, the Warriors are 10-1 against the Clippers since they met in the 2014 playoffs, a series Los Angeles won 4-3 to reach the Western semifinals in Rivers’ first season as its coach.
Golden State has been extracting more and more revenge ever since, including the 46-point humiliation on Jan. 28 the last time the clubs got together in Oakland.
The Warriors (47-9) begin the second half of the season 12 games ahead of the Clippers (35-21) in the Pacific. If the playoffs were to start today, the clubs would be potential second-round opponents.
Golden State entered the All-Star break having won four of five, nine of 11 and 16 of 19. Then it got less of a “break” than most teams, with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green having represented the team in the All-Star Game, while Steve Kerr coached the West squad.
The Warriors also hope to field a healthier team Thursday than in recent outings, with starting center Zaza Pachulia (strained rotator cuff) and backup power forward David West (broken left thumb) both possibly returning from absences.
As with Paul, no announcement is expected until shortly before tip-off.
Pachulia, signed in the offseason to replace Andrew Bogut as the club’s primary center, made 44 starts before suffering his injury against Portland on Jan. 29.
JaVale McGee, another free-agent signing, has averaged 9.0 points on 33-for-50 shooting as Pachulia’s replacement for eight games.
Kerr was noncommittal about his starting center going forward after watching Pachulia complete practice Wednesday.
“Everybody adds a little something different depending on who they’re playing with,” Kerr said of his center rotation, which now also includes rookie first-round pick Damian Jones. “It’s a center-by-committee situation.”