Clippers Vs. Spurs - Game Preview - L.A. Heads to Alamo City Where They Never Win

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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22-15 26-12
AT&T Center
March 9th, 2012, 5:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul PG Tony Parker
Randy Foye SG Gary Neal
Caron Butler SF Richard Jefferson
Blake Griffin PF Tim Duncan
DeAndre Jordan C DeJuan Blair

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

I blame the Spurs. It was almost three weeks ago, during a Saturday afternoon game against San Antonio when the Clippers lost a game on a blown inbounds play while they were leading by three. Including that game, the Clippers have now lost 6 of their last nine -- including the last two by one point each in almost as painful fashion. Overall, the six losses include two by one point, one in overtime and one by three points -- the Clippers could easily be 7-2 instead of 3-6. They could pretty easily be undefeated on the current trip, as they head into the sixth and final stop in San Antonio. The bad news is that the Clippers have never won in the AT&T Center -- never. The Clippers have lost 17 straight against the Spurs in San Antonio. The last time they won there was over 10 years ago, in January of 2002, when the Spurs were still playing in the Alamodome. They've also lost 26 out of 27 to the Spurs in Texas. So I guess the opportunity is there to salvage the trip with a win that ends a terrible losing streak, and hopefully the Clippers have that extra motivation because of it. But it seems much more likely that the way the team has been playing, they'll finish 2-4 on the trip and lose their 18th straight in the Alamo City. I do know this much -- to have any sort of a chance, Caron Butler is going to have to snap out of the funk that he's in, because the Clippers can't keep playing 4 on 5.

The Antagonist:

The Spurs went 8-1 on their 'rodeo' trip (it's like a Grammy trip, but with bulls) and their only loss was when the chose to rest Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in Portland. In other words, they won all eight games they tried to win on the trip. Then they returned whom and lost two out of four. So maybe it's better to play them in San Antonio. Manu Ginobili is back (again); he has played two games since returning to the lineup after missing a couple weeks with a strained oblique muscle he injured against the Clippers. He's played 24 and 26 minutes off the bench in his two games back, and we can probably expect Popovich to bring him off the bench and keep his minutes down again in this game. With Ginobili missing so many games this season and Tim Duncan's minutes way down, the Spurs have been relying heavily on Tony Parker this season. In the first game, Parker killed the Clippers on the pick and roll. The Spurs will try to ride Parker and their three point shooting to another win against the Clippers.

The Subplots:

  • We've exchanged questions with SpursfanSteve of the SBNation Spurs blog Pounding the Rock for the first two meetings. This time we did something a little different -- Steve answered questions submitted by the Citizens of Clips Nation, and I answered questions submitted by the Pounding the Rock folks. It was fun. Check it out.
  • Tonight's Special Guest Recapper: Citizen LJ Hann.
  • Key Spurs Metrics
    Pace: 91.9 (13th of 30 NBA Teams)
    Off Rtg: 107.1 (6th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 102.6 (14th of 30)
  • Key Clippers Metrics
    89.7 (26th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 107.7 (4th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.5 (21st of 30)
  • Losing close ones. Not so long ago, the Clippers were 4-1 in games decided by 3 points or less. Having Chris Paul on your team is a distinct advantage in such games. But they're now 5-5 in close ones, with four of their last six losses during this bad streak being of the one possession variety including their last three. But it's one thing to lose a close one -- it's quite another to lose by committing a turnover, missing a free throw or giving up a wide open three. One such loss hurts -- three in nine games is brutal. Let's hope that it's just a string of bad breaks and that things will turn around soon.
  • Two straight losses. Although the Clippers have lost 6 of the last 9, they've managed to avoid losing three straight games all season. To avoid a third loss tonight will be a massive challenge -- playing on the road, against a very good team, at the end of a long road trip, in a building where they've never won. Fingers crossed.
  • Start defending from the beginning. For two consecutive one point losses, the Clippers have fallen into a hole and fought back to be in a position to win in the fourth quarter. In both, they played abysmal defense for the first three quarters, and finally got serious in the fourth. It's no way to win games, as they've been finding out. The Clippers are going to have to start giving a better defensive effort from the beginning of games. I guess the good news is that they have shown that they are capable of playing good defense -- they just need to do it for an entire game, or for more than a quarter at any rate.
  • Caron Butler. On the road trip, Butler is shooting less than 30% from the field. He's averaging fewer than 8 points per game. In the last two, he's 1 for 12 for a total of 2 points. After beginning the season as consistent as a metronome, Butler has completely disappeared in recent weeks. He's clearly lost confidence in his jump shot at this point, as he's either passing up or reluctantly taking jump shots that he are up earlier in the season.
  • Eric Bledsoe. In the Spurs game three weeks ago, the Clippers trailed by 15 in the third quarter before they went on a 17-0 run to take the lead. Eric Bledsoe was a big part of that run. Bledsoe has been playing more on this trip, and given his success defending Parker in the last meeting, it seems likely that we'll see him for extended minutes tonight.
  • Griffin. Lost in the misery of the last second miscue and overtime loss from the last meeting was the fact that Blake Griffin had a monster game. He set a career high with 20 rebounds and also scored 22 points, the first 20/20 game of his career.
  • Paul. Chris Paul will simply have to have a great game tonight for the Clippers to have a chance. He doesn't usually look to score early, be he'll need to in this one. Ralph Lawler keeps Paul apprised of the team's history against teams -- Paul will be well aware of the decade long win drought in San Antonio, though it remains to be seen if he can do anything about it.
  • Hack-a-Clipper. Gregg Popovich is perhaps the NBA's foremost authority on the hack strategy. You can expect him to use it at some point tonight, given the way Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Reggie Evans shoot free throws (one of them will be out there at all times in all likelihood). Pop likes to use it particularly at the end of quarters, when the opposition is holding for one shot. He figures he'll put the poor shooter on the line, and get a final possession for his own team. I'm no fan of hacking as a strategy, but I suppose that's not a bad rationale. Possessions are worth something after all.
  • Three pointers. The Clippers and Spurs both use the three ball as a big part of their offense. The Clippers are fifth in the league in three pointers made per game, and the Spurs are third -- the Clippers make 7.6 threes each game, the Spurs make 8.1. The Spurs shoot a sightly better percentage from deep, 46% to 45%. If the Clippers hope to have a chance in this game, they'll need to make some threes, and do a good job of defending the three against the Spurs -- not something they've been good at this season.
  • Finding players. The Spurs seem to be better than any other organization at finding productive players that other teams have missed. Last year it was Gary Neal, who came out of years in international leagues to make the All Rookie team. This year, it's Danny Green. Green was originally drafted in the second round by the Cavs, but only played 20 games with the Cavs. He caught on with the Spurs at the end of last season, and is a key rotation player and spot starter for them this year.
  • Supporting cast. The Spurs have for years plugged role players in around their big three of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker. This year's group may be the most unlikely yet. There's no veteran free agents like Antonio McDyess or Michael Finley. Other than Richard Jefferson, I guess. The other guys are young, and mostly not even first round picks (guys like Green, Neal and Matt Bonner). The Spurs traded away George Hill to get Kawhi Leonard, the 15th pick in this year's draft, which is the highest pick they've had in a while.
  • All Star Point Guards. Chris Paul and Tony Parker were both on the Western Conference All Star team this year. Keeping Parker out of the lane is the key to beating San Antonio -- but it's a lot easier said than done. If either one of these point guards can significantly outplay the other, it will likely determine the game, since both teams are very dependent on their floor leader.
  • Former teammates. Tim Duncan is a former teammate of Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro. Duncan's rookie year was the final year of six VDN spent with the Spurs, by far the longest stint he had with any NBA team. Vinny started 38 games that season, so one presumes he played a lot of minutes together with Timmay.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    spur

    n. Abbreviation of the car, Bentley Continental Flying Spur. Commonly used in rap songs.

    "Know it's me when you see the Spur in ya area"
    "They love the Bentley and the seats in the Spur"
  • Get the Spurs perspective at Pounding the Rock.
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