LOS ANGELES -- The Warriors appear likely to face the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, but Golden State still has a chance to improve its seeding with three games left in the regular season.
Golden State plays at Portland on Sunday with a chance to take a large step toward overtaking the Trail Blazers for the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference.
A Warriors win would earn them the head-to-head tiebreaker against Portland. If Golden State were to then go on to defeat Minnesota at home and Denver on the road and the Trail Blazers lose to the Clippers in their season finale, the Warriors would grab the No. 5 spot.
The Warriors losing at Portland would leave them in the No. 6 seed, barring a major collapse.
"They have to help us obviously to pass them, but we can take care of what we can control hopefully on Sunday," Warriors guard Stephen Curry said of the Trail Blazers.
There are a couple of reasons the Warriors might prefer the No. 5 seed and drawing Houston as a first-round opponent instead of the Clippers.
Dwight Howard (ankle strain) and top perimeter defender Pat Beverley (knee sprain) each missed eight games in recent weeks before returning Saturday, at a time when ideally the two Rockets starters would be preparing for the playoffs.
James Harden presents a matchup problem and has had games of 34, 26 and 39 points against the Warriors this season, though Golden State did win in overtime in their most recent meeting.
A playoff series against Houston, which went 2-1 against Golden State in the regular season, would enable the Warriors to avoid a physical series against the Clippers. The two teams have gotten under each other's skin, with Blake Griffin usually ending up right in the middle of it.
The Warriors and Clippers match up evenly and split their season series with the home team each winning twice. But with Griffin having a strong season and Chris Paul regaining his health, the Clippers emerged as one of the best teams in the NBA after the All-Star break and at one point went on an 11-game winning streak.
So if the Warriors can get the higher seed, they will try.
"We will not rest guys until we have our position locked up," coach Mark Jackson said. "It's not our goal to just be a playoff basketball team."
Curry said the other goal was just to be playing well headed into the postseason next weekend. The Warriors bounced back from a stunning loss to Denver at home by easily handling the Los Angeles Lakers on the road.
Up next is Portland, which blew an 18-point lead in a loss to the Warriors last month but this time will have top scorer and rebounder LaMarcus Aldridge back in the lineup.
"You want to win as many games as you can down the stretch," Curry said. "You don't want to have that losing feeling going into the playoffs regardless of what it means in the standings, so that's big for us.
"Obviously we know we probably won't play (Portland) in the playoffs, but it's going to be a playofflike atmosphere, so you've got to be ready."
For more on the Warriors, see the Inside the Warriors blog at ibabuzz.com/warriors.
Warriors (49-30) at Portland (52-38), 6 p.m. CSNBA
Warriors (49-30) at Portland (52-28), 6 p.m. CSNBA
THE RIGHT MATCH
If the Warriors (49-30) catch Portland (52-28) and earn the No. 5 seed in the playoffs, it would mean a first-round series with Houston. A No. 6 seed would pit Golden State against the Los Angeles Clippers. Here's how the Warriors have fared against both teams this season:
Game 1: Dec. 6 at Houston
Rockets 105, Warriors 83
Game 2: Dec. 13 at Oakland
Rockets 116, Warriors 112
Game 3: Feb. 20 at Oakland
Warriors 102, Rockets 99, OT
Game 1: Oct. 31 at L.A.
Clippers 126, Warriors 115
Game 2: Dec. 25 at Oakland
Warriors 105, Clippers 103
Game 3: Jan. 30 at Oakland
Warriors 111, Clippers 92
Game 4: March 12 at L.A.
Clippers 111, Warriors 98
First-round matchups if the season ended Saturday:
West: San Antonio-Memphis, Oklahoma City-Dallas, L.A. Clippers-Warriors, Houston-Portland.
East: Indiana-Atlanta, Miami-Charlotte,