Teams heading in opposite directions clash as Warriors host Clippers

Two veteran-laden lineups with championship aspirations duel in a match-up with serious playoff implications when the Los Angeles Clippers visit the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco on Thursday night.

Three straight Clippers losses and three consecutive Warriors wins have put the clubs in a virtual tie for fifth place in the Western Conference as they prepare for the third meeting of the four-game season series.

The California rivals have split their first two meetings — both winning at home — and now come together separated by less than one percentage point in the standings.

The final head-to-head is scheduled for March 15 in Los Angeles, with the Clippers currently holding the tiebreaker edge in division record should the clubs come out of that meeting with a 2-2 deadlock in the season series.

The Warriors would like to believe they’ll have Stephen Curry back for the final match-up, as he has returned to the practice floor in a part-time capacity after missing the last nine games with a partially torn ligament in his lower left leg.

Klay Thompson has taken up the 3-point shooting slack in Curry’s absence. The veteran has moved up to No. 2 in the NBA in threes, trailing only Buddy Hield, while hitting 55 at a 47-percent clip during those nine games.

Thompson had 23 points and Jordan Poole a game-high 29 in Tuesday’s 123-105 home win over the Portland Trail Blazers. But the big news of the night was the return of Draymond Green, who contributed 12 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, two steals and two blocks in the win.

Green had missed the previous two games with a bruised right knee.

“It just feels like we’re coming together. It feels like there’s some chemistry, some energy that’s forming,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr gushed after the win. “We’ve been battling all season … just keeping our heads above water. I think we can feel the finish line. We know Steph’s gonna be back before too long, hopefully (Andrew Wiggins), hopefully Gary (Payton II). So we got reinforcements coming.

“In the meantime, these guys are doing a hell of a job. It feels like there’s some grit and some toughness, and the guys are really coming together. It’s fun to watch.”

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue wishes he could say the same. The new look featuring February additions Russell Westbrook, Mason Plumlee, Eric Gordon and Bones Hyland already has taken two gut-punches in double- and single-overtime losses to the Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets, respectively, before struggling through a disappointing 108-101 home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday.

“I’m not one bit worried,” Westbrook assured in the wake of the Minnesota defeat. “We have an unbelievably talented group in this locker room, and we know what we have. We just got to make sure we put it together, and I really feel we gave three games away thus far. We’re going to get it together.”

The Clippers arrive in San Francisco in good health, led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who have combined to average 60.6 points during the losing streak. Leonard is shooting 58.3 percent from the field during that stretch, while George is hitting at a 48.1-percent clip. The duo has combined to shoot 51.3 percent from beyond the arc.

–Field Level Media