Clippers-Spurs Preview By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
LA Clippers (49 - 23)
San Antonio (54 - 17)
(AP) -- Reaching 50 wins is rather routine for the San Antonio Spurs, but it's uncharted territory for the Los Angeles Clippers.
Winning three straight regular-season games in San Antonio would also be a new feat.
The Clippers look to clinch the best season in franchise history Friday night when they face the Western Conference-leading Spurs, who continue a daunting late-season stretch.
San Antonio (54-17) has reached the 50-win mark in 14 straight seasons, and has already assured itself a spot in the playoffs along with Los Angeles (49-23).
While the Clippers are going to the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1991-92 and 92-93, they're on the brink of doing it as the best team in franchise history.
Los Angeles tied the team's 38-year-old record for wins in a season Wednesday while setting a mark for the most on the road at 21 as it beat New Orleans 105-91.
With 10 games left in the regular season, the Clippers are also closing in on their first division title, leading the Pacific by 8 1/2 games on second-place Golden State.
"At the beginning of the season, we set some goals for the team," coach Vinny Del Negro told the team's official website Tuesday. "Obviously, to win the division. It's all about improving throughout the season. I expect a lot from this team, but more importantly they expect a lot from themselves. We just want to play as consistently as possible, count them up at the end and hopefully be healthy going into the playoffs."
Chauncey Billups, who has been limited to 20 games this season, may be the main concern after aggravating a nagging right groin strain and exiting in the third quarter Wednesday. It's unclear if he'll play Friday.
Chris Paul will, and though he struggled against San Antonio in the playoffs last season, he has totaled 55 points and 19 assists in the Clippers' back-to-back regular-season wins at the AT&T Center.
Los Angeles is one of only four teams to win there this season after posting a 92-87 victory Nov. 19 as it held San Antonio to a season low-tying 35.4 percent from the field.
The Spurs, who lead the conference by 1 1/2 games over Oklahoma City, have won 27 of 29 at home since that defeat. They extended their winning streak at the AT&T Center to six games by defeating Denver 100-99 on Wednesday, beginning a three-game homestand that ends Sunday against Miami.
San Antonio has won three of four to begin this season-ending 15-game stretch that includes 11 meetings with teams currently in playoff position.
"The schedule that we have is something that should be embraced and considered a great opportunity," coach Gregg Popovich said, "because it's like taking a final exam every day or most days. To get ready for the playoffs, understanding the physicality, aggressiveness and competitiveness that's necessary night after night in the playoffs."
Having a healthy Tony Parker would help. Parker sprained his right middle finger late in the third quarter against the Nuggets, but returned to finish with 18 points and 11 assists and is expected to play Friday after X-rays were negative.
Parker totaled 15 points as the Spurs lost twice to the Clippers in November, but scored 31 points while sinking 12 of 16 from the floor in a 116-90 win at Los Angeles on Feb. 21. He also helped limit Paul to four points on 1-of-6 shooting in that victory.
Tim Duncan is averaging 25.0 points, 14.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks over the past five home games. Duncan had 20 points and 14 boards against the Clippers there in November.