|Clippers rookies ready to step up in series vs. Warriors|
The Golden State Warriors tip off the postseason against the last Western Conference team to beat them in a playoff series when they host the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of a best-of-seven, first-round matchup Saturday night in Oakland, Calif.
The pairing of the top- and eighth-seeded teams pits the Warriors, the two-time defending champions, against a Clippers club that has beaten them once in each of the last two seasons.
The Clippers' win this season occurred in November, a 121-116 home triumph in overtime.
The Warriors rebounded with three straight wins, including 18- and 27-point romps in the two most recent meetings.
Having already been locked into the top spot in the West, the Warriors did some scoreboard-watching on the final night of the regular season, when the Clippers were battling Oklahoma City and San Antonio for the final three spots in the conference.
When the Thunder and Spurs locked up the sixth and seventh positions, respectively, with wins, some Warriors took the unusual position of applauding the resulting matchup with the Clippers.
"I would like to stay close to the (San Francisco) Bay," noted Warriors guard Klay Thompson, who grew up in Los Angeles. Facing the Clippers is nice because, he continued, "We don't have to travel far."
Even Warriors coach Steve Kerr liked the way things worked out.
"Just not having to change two time zones is a big deal," he assured reporters. "I like the idea of staying in California (for Round 1). It's easier on everybody. Hopefully we'll take advantage of that."
The last Warriors coach to get that opportunity didn't take advantage. Three days after the Clippers eliminated the Warriors in the first round in 2014, Golden State fired Mark Jackson, eventually replacing him with Kerr.
The Warriors have made the NBA Finals in each of the four seasons since then, winning three championships.
In the Clippers, the Warriors will see a team written off by many after dealing two of their top players -- Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley -- at the trade deadline.
Los Angeles got much younger in the process, importing 22-year-old rookie guard Landry Shamet and 22-year-old center Ivica Zubac among an assortment of players and draft picks.
Shamet burned the Warriors for 17 points, almost exclusively the product of 5-for-6 shooting on 3-pointers, when the Clippers visited Oakland earlier this month.
Zubac had a pair of 18-point games for his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers, against the Warriors earlier this season, completing a double-double with 11 rebounds in the Lakers' surprisingly easy win in Oakland on Christmas Day.
"Not a lot of teams that ever have had two rookies starting going into the playoffs, but we do," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of Shamet and fellow guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. "And Zube is like a rookie. So that experience for them is gonna be amazing, and we want them to have a great experience.
"They're gonna have to grow up fast, but I think they will."
Both teams enter the series healthy after late-season scares.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry has been given the green light after suffering a sprained right foot Tuesday in New Orleans. He sat out Wednesday's loss at Memphis.
Curry had a 42-point game against the Clippers in December and averaged 32.3 points on 54-percent shooting in three meetings with the Pacific Division rival this season.
Meanwhile, the Clippers welcomed back Danilo Gallinari (sore left ankle) and Patrick Beverley (right hip pointer) for their regular-season finale against Utah.
--Field Level Media