(SportsNetwork.com) - The most interesting and likely the most competitive first-round series in the NBA begins Sunday night when the Los Angeles Clippers host the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center.
The Clippers earned the third seed in the Western Conference, while the defending NBA champion Spurs fell to sixth on the final day of the regular season.
Los Angeles won seven in a row and 14 of its last 15 to finish the 2014-15 campaign. San Antonio had an 11-game winning streak halted on the final night of the regular season, and lost more than just a game.
San Antonio, with a victory, could have won the Southwest Division and earned the No. 2 seed. Instead, thanks to a loss in New Orleans, the Spurs will try to successfully defend their title for the first time primarily on the road.
"This will be another journey and hopefully it'll be a fun one," said Spurs forward Tim Duncan.
That recent run has a lot of people thinking the Spurs are headed back to the Finals.
"We're pretty hot, too," Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. "Our goal is to win a title. You're not going to avoid anybody. You've got to play."
The Clippers are the NBA's second-highest scoring team, while San Antonio is seventh. The big difference comes, not only in championship pedigree, but on the defensive side. The Spurs are ranked No. 7 in opponents' scoring, while LA is in middle of the road.
It's as even a matchup one can find, including the fact the two teams split four meetings this season.
That one glaring difference is postseason experience.
Duncan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich have five titles together, while Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili aren't far behind. They are so tough to beat because their ball movement is the best in the league and their defense is still so strong. San Antonio is the most unselfish team anyone's seen in decades.
The Clippers' organization has never won more than one playoff series in a season. They've made the postseason the last three campaigns, and won in the first round twice, but that's all. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are dynamic, but together, they haven't made it to a Game 7 of the second round.
The Clippers have a ton of momentum, but 10 of those late-season victories came against teams with losing records. LA also has never made it to the conference finals in the history of the organization.
For the Spurs, they are peaking at the right time, but they'll need the Dallas Mavericks and Pelicans to advance for homecourt advantage in the Western Conference. That likely means they'll have to beat the Clippers, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors on the road just to make the Finals.
And, the Spurs will have to do all of that without the customary rest their starters get at the end of the season. Their fight for the No. 2 seed meant Duncan, Parker, Leonard and Ginobili played a lot at the end of the campaign. Are they rested enough to make another deep run?