Clippers, Spurs battle in showdown of two of West's best

A huge showdown in the Western Conference takes places Monday night when the Los Angeles Clippers head to San Antonio to battle the Spurs.

Standings-wise, these are two of the top three teams in the West and for the Clippers, it's the start of a four-game road trip. Only two of the Clippers' first nine have been on the road, and one, was when they were visitors in their game against fellow Staples Center occupants, the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Clips bring a five-game winning streak into Alamo City. During this strong run, Los Angeles has done it with defense, holding opponents to 86 ppg.

"The reason we're having fun right now is because we are defending," said Chris Paul, who is sixth in the NBA in steals. "It's amazing because our season is pretty much predicated on defense because we have the offensive firepower."

Paul's right about the firepower. The Clippers, whose 7-2 mark equals the best nine-game start in franchise history, rank second to the Miami Heat in scoring and lead the league in field-goal percentage bench points per game.

This winning streak started with a 106-84 victory over the Spurs on Nov. 7. Four of the five wins came by double-digits, with the only single-digit margin of victory against the Heat.

The Spurs have won four of their last five with the only blemish a home loss to the New York Knicks. San Antonio got back into the win column Saturday night with a 126-100 drubbing of the Denver Nuggets.

"It was a great response after a tough loss against New York," said head coach Gregg Popovich. "That's what you like to see."

Kawhi Leonard has quadriceps tendinitis in his left knee and will be out of action for two weeks. Stephen Jackson started in his place and scored nine points and grabbed nine boards.

Manu Ginobili had his best game of the season on Saturday. He netted 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting in just 23 minutes of action.

"We're not obviously as good a team when Manu doesn't play well," said Popovich.

The Spurs built an 18-point lead after the first quarter against Denver. They extended to 20 at the half and this one turned into a laugher by the fourth quarter. No Spurs player logged more than 29 minutes.

Now, it's time for the huge contest with the Clippers and a renewed commitment to defense.

"I know that they played with a lot of energy," Pop said of the Clippers' game. "We didn't guard them very well. They pretty much scored at will."

With the win earlier this month, that's two in a row for the Clippers in this series against the Spurs, but San Antonio has owned this matchup in recent history. The Spurs are 20-3 versus the Clips and are 26-2 at home in this series.