An intriguing battle involving Western Conference inhabitants is set to take place Saturday night between the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets from the Toyota Center.
The Clippers will close out their quick tour through Texas and a four-game road trip against the Rockets. Los Angeles is 1-2 on the swing and will try not to lose any more ground in the West standings.
L.A., which is fourth in the conference at one-half game behind idle Denver and one-half game ahead of Memphis, had won three of four games until running into the West-leading San Antonio Spurs in a 104-102 setback Friday night. Tim Duncan made a three-point play with 2.2 seconds left and Chris Paul misfired on a shot at the horn for the Clippers.
"The Spurs are obviously having a tremendous season. They've been together a long time," said Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro. "I thought we battled. We could have slowed them down a little bit. We did a better job in the second half controlling them as much as possible. We were not able to convert down the stretch. They made a couple shots that we didn't. That's the difference in these games."
Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford scored 18 and 16 points, respectively, and Paul ended with 14 points and 12 assists for Los Angeles, which is 21-16 on the road and will start a four-game homestand next week versus Indiana. Clippers guard Chauncey Billups (groin) did not play in San Antonio.
The Clippers are averaging 100.9 ppg this season, eighth in the NBA.
Houston is second in the league with 106.0 ppg, but has been held under the century mark in scoring over the last three games (1-2).
The Rockets had a three-game losing streak stopped versus Indiana on Wednesday, then sustained a 103-94 setback Friday at Memphis. They shot 42 percent for the game and were led by 16 points from both Chandler Parsons and Donatas Motiejunas.
"We made more mistakes defensively tonight than we have been," said Rockets coach Kevin McHale.
James Harden had only seven points -- his lowest output since a six-point effort Nov. 18 at Utah. Harden leads the Rockets in scoring and is fifth in the NBA with 26.0 ppg.
Houston, which had won three straight and five of six games until the recent slide, is 25-11 at home and seventh in the West -- 1 1/2 games behind Golden State and 2 1/2 games in front of Utah and the L.A. Lakers.
The last time the Rockets lost three in a row was during a seven-game slide from Jan. 9-19 this season.
Houston is winless (0-2) against the Clippers this season and has lost five in a row and six of the last seven meetings.