Clippers-Spurs preview: The rest of the season starts now

USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers finally get back on the court tonight, facing the team with the best record in the league, the San Antonio Spurs.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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39-17

43-12
February 21st, 2013, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Tony Parker
Chauncey Billups SG Danny Green
Caron Butler SF Kawhi Leonard Stephen Jackson
Blake Griffin PF Tiago Splitter
DeAndre Jordan C Tim Duncan
Advanced Stats through games of February 20
91.6 (16th of 30) Pace 94.2 (7th of 30)
109.5 (6th of 30) ORtg 109.7 (5th of 30)
102.1 (6th of 30) DRtg 100.9 (3rd of 30)
Injuries/Suspensions/Other
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
Kawhi Leonard (sore knee) out

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

After a full week off (except for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe who had a few responsibilities in there) the Clippers finally get back to basketball tonight. It's about time. Let's hope they carry the momentum they had built before the All Star break forward into the rest of the season, because they had played brilliantly in their last four games, all wins. The team is healthier than it's been all season, and the time off was undoubtedly helpful for guys like Matt Barnes, who has dealt with a sprained thumb all season, and Jamal Crawford, who has been playing with a broken nose and a sore shoulder. The big addition to the lineup has been Chauncey Billups, who was absolutely en fuego shooting ball in the last two games before the break. More important than Billups even has been the return of Chris Paul, who has been on an absolute tear in the last four games after recovering from a bruised knee cap that had him out of the lineup or severely limited for 15 games. The Spurs are a formidable foe, coming into this game with the best overall record in the league and the best home record in the league -- but one thing San Antonio hasn't done this season is beat the Clippers, who won two meetings between the teams back in the first month of the season. Perhaps three straight over the Spurs is too much to ask for, but the way the Clippers have been playing it seems quite probable.

The Antagonist:

The Spurs are a winning machine. They have won 15 of 16, despite the fact that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili sat out many of those games with injuries. It doesn't seem to matter who they put on the floor, the Spurs still execute their offense like a German drill team, generating open look after open look. They're also playing much better defense this year than they did last year. Every year we await the inevitable decline of the Big Three in San Antonio, and with them the decline of the Spurs, but it never seems to happen. In fact, Tim Duncan is having his best season in years at the age of 36 (he'll turn 37 around the start of the playoffs) and all Tony Parker is doing is having his BEST season now that he's 30. Manu Ginobili may be showing his age a bit (though he too is still crazy productive), but it doesn't seem to matter. Youngsters like Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have stepped up their production, and even so it still doesn't hardly matter. The Spurs just win, no matter who plays. Something about those magical, boring uniforms I guess. Oh, and Gregg Popovich is a sorcerer.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. For much of the season, the Clippers were the only team in the NBA in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Now that honor belongs to the Spurs, who are fifth offensively and third defensively. But after their Paul-less swoon, the Clippers are clicking again and are back up to sixth in both categories, with a tenth or two of teams ahead of them. If they keep playing well, they'll be back in the top five on both sides of the ball soon enough.
  • Trade deadline. I'm writing this preview before the noon trade deadline, but the game will tip off after. I don't expect anything to change for the Clippers, and Vinny Del Negro has said as much as well, but you never know. As for the Spurs, don't count on seeing DeJuan Blair tonight -- Blair wants a trade and won't be back next season at any rate, and the Spurs are said to be moving him to the highest bidder (probably for a second round pick).
  • Rodeo trip. The Spurs are in the middle of their annual rodeo trip, which started before the All Star break. They are 5-1 on the trip so far, with three games remaining.
  • Maybe a little vulnerable? Although the Spurs have won 15 of 16, their last two wins games were pretty close against teams with very poor records. They needed a Kawhi Leonard three pointer at the buzzer to beat Cleveland by a single point before the break, and allowed 19 win Sacramento to cut an 11 point lead to three in the final minute Tuesday night. Does that mean that they are beatable tonight? Maybe.
  • Season series. Just before the All Star break, the Clippers pushed their record to 3-0 against the Lakers, assuring that they would win their season series with their intra-city rival for the first time in 20 years. They can do the same thing against the Spurs in the first game after the break. With one game left between the teams after tonight, a win here would assure the Clippers of a season series victory over the Spurs for the first time since 1996-97. Put another way, it would be the first time in Tim Duncan's career -- and Duncan has had a long career.
  • Even when the Spurs lose, they win. The last time the Clippers won the season series the actually swept them 4-0. That was the season that David Robinson was hurt and the Spurs missed the playoffs. With one of the usual spots at the playoff table vacated, the Clippers slipped into the eight seed with a 36-46 record. For making the playoffs the Clippers reward was a three game sweep against the Utah Jazz. For missing the playoffs the Spurs reward was a lottery win and Tim Duncan. Not surprisingly, that was the last time San Antonio missed the playoffs. Even when they lose, they win.
  • Who's hungrier? Citizen Zhiv has often discussed the hungrier team theory, proposing that the team more likely to win is the one that wants it more. So who's hungrier in this one? Is it the Clippers, chasing the Spurs for best record in the league, playing at home and looking to get the post-ASB portion of their season off to a good start? Or is it the Spurs, losers of two straight to the Clippers and needing a win to avoid losing the season series and frankly to avoid going down 0-3.
  • Bad playoff memories. The Clippers were of course swept out of the playoffs last season by these Spurs. San Antonio has been the toughest of opponents for the Clippers in recent years which makes the 2-0 record against them this season all the more special.
  • Do the Clippers have the Spurs number? San Antonio has a total of 12 losses on the season, and two of those have come at the hands of the Clippers. Do the Clippers have some sort of magic bullet solution for beating the Spurs? Not really. The Clippers are a very athletic team, especially on their front line, certainly much more athletic than the likes of Duncan and Spiltter and Diaw, and they used that athleticism to good advantage against the Spurs in the first two victories. Then again, plenty of teams are more athletic than the Spurs. It's nice that the Clippers are having success against the Spurs, and clearly the Clippers are a very good team capable of beating the best teams in the NBA. But I don't see this as being a case of the Clippers matching up really well or having some special formula for winning against San Antonio; after all, you only have to go back to last May to see some very different LAC-SAS results. The Clippers are 2-0 and hopefully they'll be 3-0, and that might give them confidence in a playoff series against the Spurs, but it doesn't mean the Clippers will win such a series.
  • Weathering injuries. The Clippers are 6-6 in the games they've played this season without Chris Paul. They're also 0-3 in games in which Paul has played poorly, shooting under 25%. The bottom line is, the Clippers aren't very good unless Paul is good. The Spurs on the other hand are 8-2 in 10 games without Duncan, 10-3 in 13 games without Ginobili and 2-1 in three games without Parker -- and one of those losses was a close game in Miami when NONE of them played. They also beat the Bulls in Chicago with all of their big three resting. It's absolutely astounding how it doesn't seem to matter to them who actually plays.
  • Three point shooting. Many of the Clippers losses this season have featured a common theme -- they've allowed their opponents to shoot lights out from beyond the three point arc. The Clippers are 0-11 when their opponent makes more than 10 threes while making better than 40% of them. The Spurs are the fourth best three point shooting team in the league and are third in three pointers made. The Clippers will have to stay home on the likes of Green and Leonard and Ginobili and Gary Neal and Matt Bonner. The good news is that the two teams who have made more threes than the Spurs this season are the Knicks and the Rockets, both of whom were held in check from deep in recent Clipper wins.
  • DeAndre Jordan. It's something of a distant memory now, but back in the fifth game of the season, DeAndre Jordan had his first career 20-10 game against the Spurs, scoring 20 points on 10-12 shooting, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking 4 shots. Jordan is bigger and more athletic than anyone the Spurs can put on him, and in that first meeting he simply dominated his matchup physically. It's been a while since he's done that, but it would be great to see tonight.
  • Stopping Parker. Tony Parker has been on a tear, averaging 29 points and nine assists in his last five games. On the other hand, he's been mediocre or worse against the Clippers this season, scoring a season low four points in the first meeting and just 11 in the second. Limiting Parker's penetration and his easy baskets in the paint goes a long way to slowing down the Spurs, and the Clippers were able to do it in the first two games. Paul will have that task initially, but Eric Bledsoe may be called upon to harass Parker at some point as well.
  • Bledsoe versus a backup. The Spurs don't have a true backup point guard. Patty Mills and Nando De Colo play spot minutes, and both are still learning the NBA point. Gary Neal, who is ostensibly the second string point, isn't a point guard at all. Bledsoe loves to go against players like these, and look for him to apply relentless pressure to whomever is handling the ball while Parker is out of the game. (By the way, De Colo is the French rookie that Jamal Crawford completely undressed back in early November.)
  • National TV. This is a TNT game, and the Clippers have been very good on national TV this season. They should be pumped to get back into a real game and pumped to be playing in front of the entire country again. The risk of course is that they could be a little sloppy after a full week between games.
  • Hack-a-Jordan. I think we can assume that Gregg Popovich will employ the Hack-a-Jordan strategy tonight if the opportunity arises. He is particularly fond of using it at the end of quarters in order to get an extra possession. I'm not a fan of the hacking strategy from a purist standpoint or even from a statistical standpoint in most cases, but it actually makes perfect sense at the end of a quarter.
  • Get the Spurs perspective at Pounding the Rock.
  • Lyrical reference:

    I Ain't Taking You Back No More - Dan Tyminski

    Well you ride me like a pony every day but you ride me hard and put me up wet
    I'm about as low as a snake can go and that's about as low as it gets
    I'm tired of the saddle and the saddle is sore and the spurs dig in too deep
    So goodbye so long ain't doing me wrong it's time to get a good night's sleep

    So don't give me your lies just go ahead and cry
    I ain't takin' you back no more
    So don't give me your lies just go ahead and cry
    I ain't takin' you back no more


    So no, I don't listen to a lot of bluegrass, though I do quite enjoy a band like the Avett Brothers who combine bluegrass elements with rock and roll. But if you're going to listen to bluegrass, you could do worse than Dan Tyminski. By the way, if he sounds familiar to you, you're probably thinking of George Clooney. Tyminski was the actual singer on Man of Constant Sorrow that Clooney's character sang in the Coen Brothers film O Brother Where Art Thou?
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