While both team have fought off injuries to key players—Chris Paul for the Clippers and Andre Iguodala for the Warriors—they have also had to battle a surprisingly strong Phoenix Suns team. While the Warriors look poised to keep pace with the Clippers, will the Clippers be able to hold them off and claim the division title this season?
Injuries and the Numbers
First of all, we need to compare both teams' records with and without Iguodala and Paul.
Iguodala’s hamstring injury sent the Warriors into a tailspin. During the 12 games he missed, the Warriors went 5-7. Iguodala’s versatility, ball-handling ability and impact perimeter defense were sorely missed.
Need more proof? The Warriors are a stellar 24-13 with Iguodala in the lineup.
Even more impressive has been Golden State’s play since Iguodala returned to the rotation on December 17. Since Iguodala came back, the Warriors are second—yes, second—to the Indiana Pacers in points allowed per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. Considering the Warriors finished last season 13th in points allowed per 100 possessions, the addition of Iguodala has shaved 4.7 points off the mark since the middle of December.
The Warriors defense will be under the spotlight the remainder of the season, because if they can defend that well, the Clippers might not be able to hang another divisional championship banner this season.
January 3 marked a night when all Clipper fans held their breath, as Chris Paul fell to the floor and was later diagnosed with a separated AC joint in his right shoulder. Unlike the Warriors' demise without Iguodala, the Clippers stepped on the gas and have gone 11-5 since his injury. Even more impressive has been the offensive output with Paul sidelined.
The Clippers rank first—yes, first—in offensive rating, scoring 112.5 points per 100 possessions with the best point guard in the league injured. Blake Griffin has elevated his production during that span, taking the reins from Paul and empowering himself as the go-to No. 1 option. Moreover, J.J Redick's return came at the perfect time, as his shooting has helped space the floor for Griffin to attack.
Both teams are nearing 30 games left in the regular season. The Clippers have 31 games remaining and sit 34-17 as of February 5. Meanwhile, the Warriors have 33 games remaining with a record of 29-20.
Should both teams be able to stay healthy the remainder of the season, the Pacific Division race could become quite interesting.
Both teams have one last difficult road trip remaining on the year, with the Clippers hitting the road for five games at the end of March and the Warriors embarking on a six-game trip spanning the end of February and the beginning of March. Additionally, both teams' longest remaining homestand consists of five games.
Finally, the most important game comes on March 12. It will be the final regular-season meeting between the two teams. Considering the Warriors currently lead the season series two games to one, the final matchup could turn into the deciding battle for the division.
Considering how well both teams have been playing over the past month, it should be noted that the Suns currently are on the same pace as the Warriors. According to John Hollinger’s playoff odds, courtesy of ESPN, the Warriors are projected to finish 49-33, one game ahead of the Suns.
However, the Clippers are projected to finish 55-27 and win the division.
Which team will win the Pacific Division?
Obviously, those projections are only part of the narrative. The real verdict will be determined by which team is able to maintain its efficiency on both sides of the ball the remainder of the season. More importantly, will the Clippers’ top-rated offense, per 100 possessions since Paul went out, be able to hold off the Warriors' second-rated defense, per 100 possessions, since Iguodala came back?
Therein lies the true narrative the remainder of the season. The Warriors offense is fully capable of getting hot and performing as well as the Clippers’. Similarly, the Clippers defense has shown it is capable of playing tough defense much as the Warriors have been. Fortunately for the Clippers, not only do they lead the Warriors by four games, they also have played two more.
These two teams are going to be in a fight the rest of the way in order to win the division, but the Clippers clearly have the upper hand at this point of the season.