Clippers at San Antonio - Game Preview

LOS ANGELES CA - FEBRUARY 18: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers and the Rookie Team attempts to block the shot of DeJuan Blair #45 of the San Antonio Spurs and the Sophomore Team in the first half of the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam at Staples Center on February 18 2011 in Los Angeles California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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1-0 1-0
AT&T Center
December 28th, 2011, 5:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul PG Tony Parker
Chauncey Billups SG Manu Ginobili
Caron Butler SF Richard Jefferson
Blake Griffin PF Tim Duncan
DeAndre Jordan C DeJuan Blair

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The Spurs won the season series last year, 2 games to 1, but the Clippers are on a one game winning streak!

The Big Picture:

The Clippers play their second game of the season in San Antonio, after beating the Golden State Warriors 105-86 Christmas night in Oakland. The Spurs took down the Memphis Grizzlies 95-82 at home one day later (Boxing Day). It's an early clash of two Western Division hopefuls, coming from entirely different directions.

The Antagonist:

The Spurs made almost no changes during the off-season. That's good from the standpoint of being ready to play right from the first week of a compressed season after a truncated training camp. But it's bad when far and away your three best players are 35, 34 and 29 respectively. The Spurs surprised many people with the best regular season record in the Western Conference last season, but then became only the fourth 1 seed to lose to an 8 seed in the playoffs. So which team will we see this season? The one that defied its age on its way to 61 regular season wins, or the one that showed its age and crashed out of the playoffs?

The Subplots:

  • First, you might want to check out my conversation with SpursFanSteve at Pounding The Rock. It covers a lot of the recent changes for both teams. If my questions aren't quite up to mid-season form blame it on the long layover.
  • Spurs first game. The Spurs faced their playoff nemeses the Grizzlies in the opening game of their season on Monday and whooped them 95-82. Manu Ginobili had 24 and the Spurs held Memphis to just fourteen points in the third quarter.
  • Long time no see. It's been over a year since the Clippers and Spurs have played - which is very strange when you consider that this is only the second game of the season. Of course the lockout pushed things back a bunch, but the real trick is that the Clippers and Spurs played three times in the first month last year.
  • Jefferson and Butler. Shortly after the lockout ended, word spread that Richard Jefferson was going to be placed on amnesty waivers by the Spurs. They were hoping to upgrade the small forward position, and were willing to eat RJ's $9M contract to do so. The Spurs were apparently interested in Caron Butler, but could only offer him the mid-level exception, starting at $5M per year. Instead, Butler took 3/$24M from the Clippers, leaving the Spurs to make do with the forward they wanted to amnesty. Their numbers in their first games? Butler 11p/10r/4a, Jefferson 14/3/1.
  • Kawhi Leonard. As is so frequently the case, the Spurs may have gotten a steal on draft day last June. It's hard to explain, but small forward Kawhi Leonard fell all the way to 15th in the draft, at which the Spurs traded George Hill for the Pacers' pick to get him. Hill had been a good player for the Spurs, so it stands to reason that they thing Leonard is going to be good as well. The Spurs are hoping he can be their small forward of the future once Jefferson's contract is up next season. On Monday he logged 13 minutes and had 6 points and 6 boards.
  • Losing streaks. When the Clippers won in Staples Center last December (on my birthday, yay!) it ended a 18 game losing streak against the Spurs. At the time, it was the longest losing streak of any kind in any sport between any two teams of all time. OK, that's probably not true, but it certainly felt true. But while the overall losing streak has ended, the Spurs still have a 16 game home winning streak against the Clippers. The Clippers have not won in San Antonio since 2002. In fact, the Clippers have NEVER won in the AT&T Center, the Spurs current arena. This could be the night to end that streak as well.
  • Ginobili. For years the Spurs brought Ginobili off the bench, and everyone said what a genius Gregg Popovich was for doing it. I, on the other hand, said "Why doesn't he play Ginobili more, he's their best player." Last season, Ginobili started, played career high total minutes and the Spurs won 61 regular season games. It's really not rocket science to play your best players, is it? Then again, maybe Manu was tired when they got to the playoffs, which could explain the early exit. Maybe Pop is a genius after all.
  • Contrasting power forwards. As I pointed out in the Q&A with SpursfanSteve, Tim Duncan and Blake Griffin, while both power forwards and both great, are very different players. Duncan is very big and very long (in fact, the folly of this particular comparison may be to call Duncan a four - he's really a five, and has been most of his career, but insists that everyone call him a four). Griffin is plenty big, but has a relatively pedestrian wing span. Griffin is ultra athletic; Duncan isn't exactly unathletic, but he's not an uberathlete by any means. Duncan is all fundamentals. Griffin is all skills. You'd never see Duncan facing up his defender, dribbling through his legs, crossing over; he just uses impeccable footwork and technique to score the basketball. To the extent that Griffin can incorporate some of those Duncan fundamentals into his skillfully athletic game, he'll become that much better as a player.
  • A different Clippers team. We know that the Clippers have changed during the off-season, presumably very much for the better. But the change is even more stark when you look at the specific lineup that started the last time these teams met. It was during the period when Baron Davis and Randy Foye were hurt (in fact, Baron's first game back was against the Spurs Dec. 1) leaving Eric Bledsoe as the starting point guard and while Vinny Del Negro was experimenting with Al-Farouq Aminu as a starter - it was our beloved U-23 squad, with five starters all 22 years old or younger. Now Aminu and Eric Gordon are gone, replaced in the lineup with a couple of 30-somethings. And that sums up the difference between the old Clipper reality and the new one. The old reality was exciting and full of potential, but unlikely to win a lot of games. The new reality is older (though still plenty exciting) - and built to WIN NOW.
  • Now we know. When the Clippers and Spurs met last December 1st, Tony Parker left the game early in the third quarter and didn't return. He didn't hurt himself or anything, he just wasn't in the game. At the time, it seemed very strange. In retrospect, we know that Parker was going through a divorce from his wife Eva Longoria at the time, and had had lunch with her earlier that day. It seems the emotions of that situation had left him too upset to be effective that night.
  • Matchups. The Spurs could cause some matchup problems for the Clippers tonight. Ginobili is a big shooting guard at 6'6"; he's not really a post player, but he may just decide to shoot over Billups. Meanwhile, if DeAndre Jordan gets in foul trouble it will be difficult to handle Duncan. The Spurs are quick with the hook for their bigs though, playing Tiago Splitter over 30 minutes on Monday.
  • Three point shooting. The Spurs had the highest three point percentage in the NBA last season at close to 40%. Their spacing is usually perfect, and guys like Matt Bonner and Gary Neal are there to do one thing - shoot threes. Neal recently had an appendectomy and will probably not play in this game.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    spur

    n. tweak, meth, piso,
    hey guys wheres the spur
  • Get the Spurs perspective at Pounding the Rock.
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