After a seven-game road trip, the Los Angeles Clippers are ready to return to the comforts of home.
Awaiting them there Monday night are the San Antonio Spurs, one of the top teams in the Western Conference and a longtime nemesis of the Clippers.
"It's a test, a good test," forward Blake Griffin said of opening the season series with the Spurs. "To be away for a long period of time and come home and play a top-notch team, a team that always executes and plays the right way, so that's why I think it will be a good test for us."
The Clippers (16-9) played fairly well on their trip, going 4-3 and finishing with a 113-97 win at Washington on Saturday. Chris Paul had 38 points to go with 12 assists as the team shot 56.5 percent from the field and made 26 of 31 free throws, an impressive mark for a team ranked among the NBA's worst from the foul line at 70.9 percent.
Los Angeles, though, has lost 34 of 39 against San Antonio and eight of 11 since Paul's arrival, including a four-game sweep to the Spurs in the 2012 playoffs. Paul averaged 12.8 points on 36.8 percent shooting in that series and was no better in last season's four meetings with 11.8 points per game. Since May 2012, he has a 2.48 assist-to-turnover ratio versus San Antonio, compared to 4.15 against the rest of the league.
The Spurs (19-4), winners of four straight, have seen some strong play from Tim Duncan recently. Duncan averaged just 11.3 points on 39.2 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds during the team's first 13 games, though he didn't play in two because coach Gregg Popovich decided to rest him. Since Nov. 29, however, Duncan has averaged 17.6 points on 56.9 percent shooting with 10.3 boards while not missing a game.
"It's not really that hard to do much better," Duncan said of his early season struggles. "I'm still not shooting the ball well, but I'm trying to play hard and find ways to contribute."
Duncan scored 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 100-84 win over Utah on Saturday. Popovich considered resting Duncan for the game, given that it was the team's fourth in five nights and the start of a four-game road trip, but Duncan insisted on being in the lineup, citing his strong play lately.
"We were never worried about Timmy. I've been saying (it) since the beginning of the season," point guard Tony Parker said. "He's the last guy we ever need to worry about. But now he's getting aggressive and he's getting his shot back."
Duncan looks to stay hot and help extend the recent struggles of Griffin, who is averaging 16.0 points on 41.0 percent shooting over the past six games. He had only two double-doubles on the road trip but remains among the league leaders with 17.
Both teams bring top offenses into this game, though they go about scoring in different ways.
The Clippers score 103.7 points per game, with four players averaging 14.0 or more. One of those players, J.J. Reddick, is out with a fractured bone in his right hand.
The Spurs, who score 103.3 points per game, have only one player - Parker - who averages more than 14.0. San Antonio is considered to have much better depth, with nine players averaging at least 7.0 points.