Programming note: Clippers-Warriors coverage kicks off tonight at 7 p.m. with Warriors Pregame Live on Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area
The Golden State Warriors are looking to play more than just spoilers this season.
The epic 17-game winning streak of the Los Angeles Clippers came to an end on Tuesday night in Denver against the Nuggets, one game prior to tonight’s Pacific Division showdown against the Warriors.
This Warriors season, different from years past, is no longer about playing spoilers. The Warriors have a streak of their own to play for, entering the New Year at 21-10, the team's best start since 1991-92.
“I will not be satisfied and we will not be satisfied as a team,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said after the team’s last contest, a Saturday win against the Boston Celtics. “We will enjoy the success that we have had, but we will not fall in love with what we have been able to do thus far.”
The Clippers, in first place in the division and 3.5 games ahead of the Warriors, went undefeated in the month of December before starting 2013 with a loss.
The Warriors remain hot, as well, having won 14 of 18 games and are 9-1 against teams with a winning record when the teams meet.
Defensive efforts key vs. Clippers
The Warriors’ new character is about more than just winning, it also features an emphasis on defense.
While still allowing 98.7 points, ranked 19th in the league, the Warriors are beginning to clamp down. Golden State has held three of its last five opponents to less than 40 percent shooting. The Warriors are 16-3 on the season when holding opponents to less than 45 percent.
After limiting Boston to just 36 percent shooting on Saturday night, Warriors guard Stephen Curry explained the team’s changed defensive mentality this season:
“I don’t really know, to me it’s a commitment. We’re even having multiple situations where you might even get beat but you get back there and help out. We care about each other and we want to make sure that no one is left out to dry. We’re just relentless."
The Clippers had their worst shooting night of the season on Tuesday night against the Jazz, shooting 38.5 percent from the field and just 17.2 percent (5-for-29) from three-point range.
Battling with Clippers stars
David Lee will have his hands full in a matchup against Blake Griffin. The sheer athleticism of Griffin, and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, is a heavy task for the front court of Lee and rookie Festus Ezeli.
If Golden State can limit Griffin’s easy buckets inside, and work to outrebound the athletic inside tandem, then half the job is complete defensively.
The other half is even more difficult.
The multiple defensive effort plays that Jackson speaks of, including returning to help side defense after being beat initially, will be crucial in efforts to contain Los Angeles’ elite point guard Chris Paul. Paul is arguably the best point guard in basketball this season, averaging 16.1 points and 9.3 assists.
Former Warrior Jamal Crawford is an early favorite to win Sixth Man of the Year for his 16.3 points per game off the bench. Stopping Crawford has been a key in beating the Clippers. The scoring guard has shot just 39.3 percent in the seven Los Angeles losses.
Youngsters shining in D-League
Warriors rookie Kent Bazemore is proving to be more than just a cheerleader in uniform.
Though Bazemore has played as little as 1.6 minutes per game this season for Golden State, he has performed well for the NBA D-League affiliate Santa Cruz Warriors.
In averaging 34 minutes in four games for Santa Cruz, Bazemore is averaging 23 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 4.8 steals. He is shooting 49 percent from the field and 50 percent (10-for-20) from three-point range.
The Warriors have been assigning and recalling Bazemore and second-year forward Jeremy Tyler between games with Golden State. The team recalled the pair from Santa Cruz today after playing last night in Santa Cruz's win over Sioux Falls.
Tyler is averaging 15 points on 52 percent shooting and 8.3 rebounds in 30.5 minutes in four games with Santa Cruz.
Follow @jimmypspencer for Warriors news and analysis.