Clippers-Spurs preview: Back to business

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The All Star Game is history and the Clippers have work to do to move up in the Western Conference. That work begins tonight, against the team directly above them in the standings, the Spurs.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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37-18

38-15
February 18th, 2014, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, NBA-TV, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
17-9 East 16-6
20-9 West 22-9
23-4 Home 18-8
14-14 Road 20-7
13-11 .500+ 12-12
24-7 .500- 26-3
7-3 L10 5-5
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Tony Parker Cory Joseph
Jamal Crawford SG Marco Belinelli
Matt Barnes SF Danny Green
Blake Griffin PF Tim Duncan
DeAndre Jordan C Tiago Splitter
Advanced Stats
97.92 (8th of 30) Pace 96.28 (15th of 30)
108.8 (2nd of 30) ORtg 107.4 (7th of 30)
102.0 (8th of 30) DRtg 100.4 (5th of 30)
Injuries/Other
J.J. Redick (hip) out
Manu Ginobili (hamstring) Limited
Willie Green (hip) questionable
Tony Parker (various) out


Tiago Splitter (calf) GTD


Kawhi Leonard (broken finger) GTD

The Back Story (The season series is tied, 1-1):

Date Venue Final

12/16/13 Los Angeles Clippers 115, Spurs 92 Recap Box
01/04/14 San Antonio Spurs 116, Clippers 92 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers reengage the NBA season post All Star break with plenty of optimism. The team weathered what was supposed to be a very difficult time while All NBA point guard Chris Paul was injured, and didn't just survive but thrived. Now that Paul is back he joins a new and improved Blake Griffin, who took the proverbial next step during Paul's absence. In fact, although he cemented his gains while Paul was out, Griffin actually started his current tear before Paul was hurt, and the real start can be traced back to the mid-December meeting with the Spurs when he scored 27 points on just 14 shots. The Clippers still won't be at full strength for this game, as J.J. Redick will miss his fourth straight game. But the offense has been absolutely unstoppable lately, even without Redick, and the defense was good against Portland when it needed to be. Mid-February games don't get a lot bigger than this: a win moves the Clippers into sole possession of third place in the Western Conference and within a game of the Spurs in second; a loss drops them three back of the Spurs and into fifth place. As if that weren't enough, this is the final meeting of the season between these two teams, and after splitting the first two, the winner tonight will claim the season series. Head-to-head is the first tie-breaker in playoff seedings, so a win tonight is worth an extra game in the standings should the Clippers and Spurs finished tied at season's end. So yeah, big game.

The Antagonist:

The Spurs have gone 7-7 in their last 14 games as they've dealt with a series of injuries. However, there's a possibility that all of the injured Spurs will be back in uniform tonight against the Clippers. Oh, yay! If the likes of Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard do play tonight, there's no guarantee that they'll be sharp after missing three and four weeks of action respectively -- but the Spurs would certainly prefer to have them back. Even Tony Parker has been banged up, but he'll definitely play, and as always he'll be the key to the San Antonio attack. The Spurs have always had a way of exploited the weaknesses in the Clippers' defense (they do it to everyone, but we notice it more when they do it to the Clippers). We may learn something about where this team is defensively as they enter the stretch based on just how they handle the San Antonio attack. In the Alamo City back in early January, it looked like a layup line for the Spurs as they picked the Clippers apart -- but that was the first game after Paul's injury and the Clippers were almost bound to have a letdown. Neither of the first two games were close, with the home game winning easily both times. Hopefully that trend continues tonight, but I have a feeling this one is going to be close.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. There is not a team in the league that is top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency at this point. The Clippers (2nd in offense, 8th in defense), Spurs (7th and 5th), Thunder (6th and 3rd) and Rockets (5th and 9th) are the only four teams that are top ten in both.
  • Lucky Clippers, Spurs getting healthy. The Spurs have seen four of their top eight rotation players miss significant time in the last few weeks. Lucky for the Clippers, the Spurs were fully healthy when they drubbed LA in Texas back at the beginning of January, and they could be fully healthy again tonight for the first time since then. Danny Green is already back, Tiago Splitter is likely to be back tonight, and both Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard are potentially back tonight as well.
  • On the other hand. A fully healthy roster remains incredibly elusive for the Clippers. They have not had their top eight rotation players healthy at the same time since November 11th, fully three months ago. The hope was that J.J. Redick would be healthy after the All Star break, but apparently he's still out, and the frustrating weight for a roster with all of its weapons available goes on a least a few more days.
  • Bye bye Sasha. The Sasha Vujacic experience lasted 10 days for the Clippers, the length of one 10 day contract. Doc Rivers said today that he expects to bring someone else in on another 10 day (and that someone could be Sasha again) but with the trade deadline looming on Thursday and the Clippers next game after tonight on Friday, they'll keep a roster spot open for now, just in case.
  • Trade targets? Whether Doc is simply playing it close to the vest or sincerely has nothing in the works, he has said he doesn't expect the Clippers to make a move before Thursday's deadline. The Clippers are one of the few teams in the league that are over the luxury tax threshold, but close enough to it to consider trying to make a move to get under. However, there's nothing obvious they could do. Dumping Green's salary wouldn't get them there, and they couldn't dump two players without adding someone back on since they have to carry a minimum of 13 contracts. So short of dumping Jared Dudley or Matt Barnes (or participating in a more complex trade in which they send out more salary than they receive back) it seems like they are destined to pay the luxury tax this season for the first time in franchise history.
  • No Odom. If indeed the Clippers do not add a player via trade, they could yet add a free agent (hopefully a defensive-minded big) to a minimum deal. But whether they intend to do that or not, one thing we know is that they won't be adding former Clipper Lamar Odom, who is apparently signing in Spain for the remainder of the ACB season. The Clippers have considered signing Odom at several points this season, and whether they got spooked by his personal struggles this year or Lamar just got tired of waiting, it no longer appears to be a possibility.
  • Tale of two games. These teams are meeting for the third time this season. Way back in December in Los Angeles, the Clippers beat the Spurs 115-92. Then in January, the Spurs turned the tables and won 116-92. That's an aggregate score of 208-207 Spurs -- but two complete blowouts to get there. Why do I have a feeling that this game is going to be a bit more competitive?
  • Spurs tough trip. The Spurs are in game seven of a nine game road trip, though coming directly after the All Star break as it does, the Spurs shouldn't exactly be worn out for this game. The final three games of the trip are at the Clippers, at Portland and at Phoenix -- three tough Western Conference opponents. If things break right for the Clippers, they could actually pass the Spurs in the standings this week, but of course they have to start that process with a win tonight.
  • Clippers' tough trip. The Spurs are at the end of a tough road trip -- the Clippers depart on a tough one after this game. Playing the Spurs isn't exactly a picnic, even at home, but it's not as demanding as games at Memphis and at Oklahoma City, which is what comes next for LA. It's a very tough way to get back to work after the break.
  • Hack-the-DJ. We can be almost certain that if the game tonight is close at all, then Gregg Popovich will have his team intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan at some point. No NBA coach employs the hack strategy more than Pop. Pop is one of many who will foul at the end of quarter for an extra possession (smart) and he's perhaps they only one that will foul when he has the lead (dumb). Unless this game is a complete and total blow out (which the first two meetings were) Jordan will receive an intentional foul at some point. Now, as it happens, Jordan has been much better from the line recently. He has made 36 of his last 60 foul shots, a decent percentage in a not insignificant sample size. And he was downright good down the stretch of two recent close games. So perhaps DJ can change Pop's mind, or at least make him regret the decision, with a few makes.
  • Spurs for life. There a just a handful of players in the NBA who stay with the same franchise for the entirety of extended careers. Dirk Nowitzki in his 16th season in Dallas, is a Mav for life. Laker for life Kobe Bryant is in his 18th season with the purple and gold and has signed on for two more (though we'll see if he's healthy enough to play them). And the big three Spurs -- Duncan (17), Parker (13) and Ginobili (12) are the only other players in the league who have a dozen or more years with the only NBA team they've played for. That's just crazy. They've managed to keep those guys together for 12 years! And there are only five guys in the league who've even been with a single team that long!
  • Connections. Chris Paul and Tim Duncan are far and away the two greatest players to ever come out of Wake Forest University. Clippers coach Doc Rivers spent the final two seasons of his playing career in San Antonio, where Gregg Popovich was an assistant coach at the time.
  • Get the Spurs perspective at Pounding the Rock.
  • Shakespearean reference:
    Sonnet L (50)
    How heavy do I journey on the way,
    When what I seek, my weary travel's end,
    Doth teach that ease and that repose to say
    'Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend!'
    The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,
    Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,
    As if by some instinct the wretch did know
    His rider loved not speed, being made from thee:
    The bloody spur cannot provoke him on
    That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide;
    Which heavily he answers with a groan,
    More sharp to me than spurring to his side;
    . For that same groan doth put this in my mind;
    . My grief lies onward and my joy behind.
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