OAKLAND -- On the early January night Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul suffered a shoulder separation that was to put him out five to six weeks, the Warriors already were hot on the heels of their Southern California rivals.
In fact, when the Clippers lost their first game without Paul and the Warriors beat the Washington Wizards a day later, the teams were tied atop the NBA's Pacific Division at 23-13. With a healthy roster and a more favorable schedule, Golden State seemed primed to take the division lead and possibly run away with it.
It hasn't happened. Since the teams were tied on Jan. 5, the Clippers have gone 10-2 heading into Thursday night's game against the Warriors at Oracle Arena. All the more impressive is that Los Angeles just concluded a 5-2 trip before beating Washington at home on Wednesday night.
And the Warriors? Despite playing six of the last 10 at home, Golden State is 4-6 and has fallen five games behind the Clippers and a half-game behind the Phoenix Suns in the Pacific.
So forget all the bitterness between the two teams. The Warriors need this game simply to re-establish themselves on the Clippers' level, even without Paul. Warriors coach Mark Jackson lauded L.A.'s recent run as a triumph over adversity, at the same time noting he wasn't that surprised.
"They've gotten healthy, other than (Paul)," Jackson said. "J.J. Redick is a big part of it. He's back, he's healthy. Jamal Crawford is certainly running away with the sixth man of the year award when you think about what he's done in the absence of Chris Paul. Blake Griffin is playing at an extremely high level. DeAndre Jordan is rebounding, defending, altering shots and finishing, and (coach) Doc Rivers obviously is one of the best in the business.
"So they've done a very good job," Jackson continued. "That's what the good teams do in spite of guys being hurt or missing for an extended period. They still find ways to win."
Warriors guard Stephen Curry said the Clippers' quality depth shouldn't go unnoticed as the team has continued to win without Paul. Redick has averaged 17.7 points in Paul's absence since returning from his own injury. Darren Collison, meanwhile, has averaged 14.4 points and 6.3 assists since replacing Paul at the point.
"Darren Collison is no slouch as a point guard," Curry said. "He's been a key player on plenty of teams, and obviously, he was there in case something went wrong. That's why he was such a big pickup for them in the offseason. They're just a solid team. Obviously, C.P. makes them better, but with J.J. back in the lineup, they still find ways to get wins and they're playing well. You have to give them credit, and it speaks volumes about how big a game it is tomorrow."
"He's a guy, the way he's playing could get more and more minutes along with Steph," Jackson said. "He's playing at a high level and giving us great minutes off the bench right now."
Jackson said it was tough to take Crawford out of the game after the guard converted a 3-point play and added a driving layup early in the fourth quarter. The coach also praised Crawford for how he ran the team when Curry was out with foul trouble.
"He's an underrated passer and playmaker," Jackson said. "He sees the floor very well. You think he's just a scorer, but when help comes, he's finding guys. He's making great decisions. He's been everything we thought we were going to get in the trade, and he's only going to get better, too."
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