Clippers-Spurs preview: Paul vs. Parker

USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers haven't beaten an elite NBA team in months. A win over the Spurs would be huge, not to mention that it would help L.A. keep pace in the race for third in the Western Conference.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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49-23

54-17
March 29th, 2013, 5:30 PM
AT&T Center
Prime Tickets, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Tony Parker
Willie Green SG Danny Green
Caron Butler SF Kawhi Leonard
Blake Griffin PF Tim Duncan
DeAndre Jordan C Tiago Splitter
Advanced Stats through games of March 28
91.3 (18th of 30) Pace 94.2 (7th of 30)
110.2 (3rd of 30) ORtg 109.4 (7th of 30)
103.1 (8th of 30) DRtg 101.2 (3rd of 30)
Injuries
Chauncey Billups (groin) out
Tony Parker (finger) probable

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have a lot to win and a lot to lose tonight in San Antonio. Ostensibly a road loss to the Spurs is to be expected, and given that San Antonio is not really catchable for the Clippers, there's nothing extra riding on the game -- it's not as if hanging another loss on the Spurs and winning the season series is going to vault the Clippers ahead of them into first place.But given L.A.'s struggles against the elite Western Conference teams in recent weeks (they've lost four straight since the All Star break and five in a row overall), much will be made of another loss. At the same time, a road win over the might Spurs would get the "can't beat the best teams' monkey off their back, at least for a little bit. One thing is certain though -- in order for the Clippers to have a chance, they'll need big games from Chris Paul (who was really dreadful in the last meeting) and Blake Griffin (who showed signs of breaking out of his mini-slump Tuesday in New Orleans). If Paul gets undressed by Tony Parker again, the Clippers were be blown out as they were in February. Paul's a proud dude with a very good memory -- somehow I don't Parker is going to best him again.

The Antagonist:

The Spurs continue to defy conventional wisdom and remain at the top of the league. The core three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have played together for 11 seasons now, and they've won three titles together. But their last ring came in 2007, and championship teams aren't usually expected to be the number one seed in the West six years later without rebuilding. While the Big Three have remained productive into their early (Parker) to late (Duncan and Ginobili) 30s, the real genius of the Spurs is that they've managed to put the best supporting cast around the big three they've ever had in San Antonio. Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, in particular, aren't just your usual Spurs role players who seem more productive in Gregg Popovich's system than you'd expect them to be elsewhere -- these guys are good. In fact, with Parker and Duncan playing as well or better than they ever have, this may be the most loaded Spurs team since David Robinson retired.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers are third in the NBA in offensive efficiency and eighth in defensive efficiency. The Spurs are third in defense and seventh in offense. Given some of the Clippers still outstanding metrics, it's interesting how quickly they've been dismissed by most pundits.
  • The trip. The Clippers split the first two games on their all-important four game trip, and are a couple of bad breaks from being 2-0. Too bad they lost in Dallas, because getting a win in San Antonio is going to be very tough, at which point they'll have to beat Houston just to salvage a .500 trip.
  • The race. Wednesday was a good night for the Clippers in the race for third place in the West. L.A. won in New Orleans, while Denver and Memphis both loss, vaulting the Clippers back into third. They lead Denver by a half game, Memphis by a game and a half, and hold a one game advantage in the loss column. But things could bunch up again tonight, with the Clippers in San Antonio and their rivals both playing at home, Denver versus the Nets and Memphis against the Rockets.
  • Parker. Parker just returned from three weeks out of the lineup with a sprained ankle. He's averaged 21 points in his three games back, so he seems to be fine, though he did sprain his finger against Denver Wednesday. He'll play tonight, and how he plays may determine the game. The Clippers beat the Spurs twice early in the season, and Parker was a non-factor, scoring a total of 15 points. Then in the first game after the All Star break, the Spurs blew the Clippers out in L.A. with Parker scoring 31 and completely dominating the game.
  • Parker and Paul. That last Clippers-Spurs game was on TNT, and the talk immediately after the game was of how Parker was the best point guard in the league, surpassing Paul. You know, because one game is irrefutable proof. Paul is ridiculously competitive, and he remembers this kinds of talk. Parker thoroughly outplayed him in February, there's no question about that. I don't expect it to happen again.
  • Disappearing Paul. When Paul plays poorly, the Clippers almost always lose, certainly against the best teams in the league. Unfortunately, Paul has had some of his worst games against some of the best teams, including a four point, three assist, three turnover disaster in the last Spurs game. He's also had terrible games in losses to Miami and Oklahoma City. Is there a pattern here? Probably not. The idea that Paul is folding under the pressure of these big games goes against a ton of evidence from the rest of his career. Maybe these top teams have figured out how to take Paul out of the game, but that seems unlikely also. Probably this is just random noise in the data, and Paul just happened to have some terrible games against some very good teams. But it goes without saying that it can't happen tonight (or in the playoffs) if the Clippers want to compete.
  • Three point shooting. The Spurs are third in the NBA in three point percentage, and sixth in both attempts and makes. The Clippers have been vulnerable from beyond the arc this season. San Antonio is capable of beating you in lots of different ways, but three point shooting is definitely one of them.
  • Season series. The Clippers won't catch the Spurs so it doesn't matter for anything other than bragging rights, but a win tonight will give the Clippers the 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 they actually swept the Spurs 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.
  • 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.
  • AT&T Center. The Clippers have won two straight in AT&T Center, but prior to that it had never happened. The Spurs are a great home team, they are 31-4 this season, and they've dominated the Clippers in the Alamo City over the years.
  • Overlooking the Clippers? The Spurs faced the red-hot Nuggets on Wednesday, and they have the mighty Heat coming to town on Sunday. Is it possible that they'll overlook the Clippers today, at least a little? Probably not. If the Miami streak were still alive, it might be more likely, since the Spurs-Heat game would loom large as the last chance to end the streak. But Popovich's teams don't tend to let down, and the Clippers are an important game as well, so I doubt there will be any overlooking going on.
  • Milestones. The Clippers win in New Orleans established their franchise record for road wins and also tied the franchise record for overall wins. For the rest of the season, each road win sets a new record, and each win sets a new record as well. The team's next win will give them the first 50 win season in franchise history.
  • Connections. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro played six seasons for the Spurs and was the point guard for the team during Gregg Popovich's first season as coach. Ronny Turiaf, Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Nando De Colo all played for France's Olympic team in London last year.
  • Get the Spurs perspective at Pounding the Rock.
  • Lyrical reference:

    (I got spurs that) Jingle Jangle Jingle -- Tex Ritter

    Oh, Lily Bell, oh, Lily Bell,
    Though I may have done some foolin, this is why I never fell

    I got spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle
    As I go ridin' merrily along
    And they sing, 'Oh ain't ya glad you're single'
    And that song ain't so very far from wrong


    OK, sure, it's a hokey old Text Ritter song. But it is also the definitive Spurs song.
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