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Preview: Warriors face rival Clippers on National TV

It's the latest installment of the Warriors-Clippers rivalry and it might be the last time these two teams meet this season, if they don't match up in the playoffs.

Curry and Paul, two main MVP candidates, face off tonight.
Curry and Paul, two main MVP candidates, face off tonight.
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers

Staples Center -- Los Angeles, CA

TV: TNT // Radio: KNBR 1050

Tip-off: 7:30 PM Pacific

Glenn "Doc" Rivers and Blake Griffin vs. Draymond Green get all the headlines, but the true reason the Warriors and the Clippers are battling for Western Conference supremacy is their point guards.

This matchup between the once-doormats is now a defined rivalry. These two franchises have an animosity toward each other stemming from being division rivals, having prayer disagreements, and meeting in the playoffs last season. The teams know it, the organizations know it, the fans know it, the writers know it, everyone knows it. Now, the only way it can grow into a full-fledged rivalry on the level of Lakers-Spurs or Spurs-Mavericks — and the only way they can meet again this season — is by meeting once again in the playoffs. That'll only happen if both teams advance past the first round, but it sure is possible.

The matchup between star point guards and MVP candidates Stephen Curry and Chris Paul is always one to watch, but especially because it might be the last time they match up this season — and they are such a contrast of styles.

Curry has always been known for his shooting prowess, and his recent surge from the three-point line makes it worth keeping an eye on his totals. With 247 threes, he is not only blowing away the field (38 more than his backcourt mate, Klay Thompson, who has the second-most) but has an outside chance at breaking his own record of 272 threes. It's not just that Curry can make so many threes, but it's the fact that he (and Klay) can shoot them at such a high percentage — both at over 43% from deep.

The threat of Curry's three-pointers, as well as his expansion into a complete playmaker and defender this season, has made him arguably the favorite for the Most Valuable Player award this year.

Chris Paul, on the other hand, is not only uniquely suited to take on Curry but is one of the contenders for MVP himself. Though the Clippers have sort of flown under the radar, with not as good a regular season as one would expect, Paul has been excellent once again this year.

In fact, SB Nation's own Tom Ziller recently wrote why he thinks Chris Paul should be the MVP. Ziller argued that Paul is "the best offensive player in the league" because of his points produced and limited number of turnovers; Paul leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio among qualified players, with a ridiculous 4.1 AST:TO, per the NBA's media-only stats site. Furthermore, Ziller lauded the credentials of Paul on the defensive end, with an opinion that he is "a better defensive player than any of the other candidates." The good thing about living in an age of increased information and data is that now we are actually starting to create sufficient metrics to quantify defensive abilities.

At the 2015 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Alex Franks, Kirk Goldsberry and Andrew Miller presented their findings on defense in the NBA. It was a groundbreaking paper because now, as Franks said, "We can...describe how individual defenders impact opponents shot frequency and shot efficiency in [all] areas of the court."

Their methods showed that Chris Paul is the best defensive player in the NBA, in part because of their shot charts, which show that Paul limits the number of shots of his opponents and the field goal percentage of those shots better than anyone else in the NBA. According to their metrics, Franks et al. found that "Paul gives up the fewest points against per game on average," at 10.8 per 100 possessions.

CP3 defensive shot chart

Via Andrew Franks, Kirk Goldsberry, Andrew Miller

Now, to move the conversation elsewhere.

Draymond Green might not play, and the reason is because he could have a case of "Blake-itis." I think he wants to play, especially going against the rival Clippers, but Steve Kerr will probably lean toward resting him. Take no chances when you've got the West locked up already.

If he doesn't play it will be a good opportunity to see how the Warriors match up with a potential playoff foe when Green is on the bench. Will Stephen Curry jack up more threes? Will David Lee start and get more playing time? Would the Warriors double Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan more? Play faster? Post up more? All interesting questions that might get answered tonight, and important issues to monitor, when Green is on the bench, once the playoffs start.

Predictions!

  • Stephen Curry and Chris Paul duel, and each have 20-10 double-doubles with multiple steals.
  • Klay Thompson goes for 22 points and four three-pointers.
  • Andrew Bogut wins the battle of the paint against DeAndre Jordan.
  • The game comes down to the wire as each team wants to send a message heading into the playoffs.
  • Warriors 111, Clippers 106.

Follow me on Twitter @samsorkin23

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