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Clippers-Spurs Preview: Bad time to see these guys

The Spurs swept the Clippers out of the Western Conference playoffs when last these teams met, looking more or less unbeatable along the way. They've looked almost that good in their 4-0 start which means the Clippers could be staring at a three game losing streak a week into the season.

Harry How
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

November 7th, 2012, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 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 Nov. 6
96.9 (2nd of 30) Pace 91.3 (14th of 30)
107.6 (9th of 30) ORtg 108.1 (8th of 30)
105.5 (19th of 30) DRtg 97.7 (4th of 30)
Chauncey Billups (Achilles surgery) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out

Grant Hill (knee) out

The Back Story:

The teams have yet to meet this season. San Antonio won the regular season series last year two games to one and swept their four game playoff series.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are 2-2, and their high level numbers don't look too terrible. They're scoring pretty efficiently but but in the second half of the league defensively, just as they were last season. But home losses to Golden State and Cleveland are bad losses, and back-to-back bad losses are double plus bad. The team's problems in the two losses can more or less be boiled down to two main areas: turnovers and offensive rebounds. Sure, the defense has been poor especially on the perimeter and Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul have not played their best ball, but had the team simply taken care of the ball and their defensive glass they'd be 4-0 right now. San Antonio is not traditionally the team to force a bunch of turnovers or crash the offensive glass, but they will slice and dice a subpar defense, so unfortunately it won't be enough to keep turnovers down and rebound better tonight. The Clippers will have to play better in basically every aspect of the game to compete with a Spurs team that has been a juggernaut since February (save for four playoff games against the Thunder).

The Antagonist:

Every year the roster gets another year older, and the other teams in the Western Conference wonder to themselves "Is this the year that the Spurs make a little room at the top for someone else?" And so far, every year the answer is "No". The Spurs had the best record in the West last season and have started 4-0 this year, with four starters and two key reserves in their thirties. Tim Duncan is the oldest of the bunch at 36, but he's started out the season scoring and rebounding at per minute levels above his Hall-of-Fame career averages. Sheesh. Meanwhile, this is almost EXACTLY the same team that went an astounding 31-2 from at the end of last season and into the playoffs. The trade deadline additions of Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw fit right in last year, and are even better now that they've been with the team awhile and through a training camp. This team is skilled and deep and above all else they execute the crap out of their offense. When they are clicking, as they are right now, they will always find a good shot, and they usually make it.

The Subplots

  • The Questionable Blogger Live with Pounding the Rock. Yesterday I got a chance to chat with J.R. Wilco from SB Nation's amazing Spurs blog Pounding the Rock. If you haven't seen it yet, be sure to check out our discussion.
  • Comparison of key metrics. On the season last year, the Clippers were 27th in pace. Through four games this year they are fourth. Now obviously that's a very small sample size, but the Clippers said that they were going to run more this year and so far they have indeed. Running or not running, the Clippers continue to be an above average offensive team and a below average defensive team. The Spurs are just good at everything.
  • Three game losing streak? The Clippers had only one losing streak of three games all last season, and that one didn't happen until the 47th game. They could experience a three game slide this year in game 5.
  • Getting up for good teams. The one potential silver lining in this game is that the Clippers are 2-0 against playoff teams from last year (Grizzlies and Lakers) and 0-2 against lottery teams (Golden State and Cleveland). If it's a matter of getting up for the good teams, the Clippers definitely have something to shoot for against the Spurs. But they may be too good.
  • Shooting the lights out. The Spurs have a slew of players sporting shooting percentages that are not to be believed. Matt Bonner, Danny Green, Gary Neal and Boris Diaw all have effective field goal percentages over 60 on the young season. Sure it's early, and Caron Butler and Jamal Crawford are shooting about as well for the Clippers, but when the auxiliary guys for the Spurs are making shots, it makes it very difficult, since you still have to deal with the Big Three.
  • Duncan. I haven't seen him yet, but according to J.R. Wilco, Tim Duncan dropped 15 pounds or so and came into camp leaner and more ripped than ever. Through four games he's around 22 points and 12 rebounds per 36 minutes which is unbelievable for a 36 year old.
  • Griffin's elbow. We found out after the Cavs game that Blake Griffin has been dealing with a burst bursa sac in his elbow that is causing him discomfort. It's an injury he's played through before but apparently it's bothering him more this time than it has in the past. It's strictly a pain management issue, and there's no way to know how much it's affecting his play, but he has had a slow start to the season, averaging 16 points and eight rebounds and shooting just 45 percent from the field.
  • Lamar Odom. A bigger concern for Clips Nation than Griffin's elbow is Lamar Odom's head -- or maybe his gut. Odom played just 4 minutes against Cleveland on Monday -- he didn't appear at all in the second half. It was a pretty clear vote of no confidence from head coach Vinny Del Negro, who is clearly not pleased with Odom's progress toward getting into shape. Odom should look across at Duncan to see how a veteran big prepares for an NBA season.
  • Crawford. The Clippers leading scorer so far, and indeed the fourth leading scorer in the NBA at 24 points per game, is sixth man Jamal Crawford. He's been absolutely incredible so far, which makes the losses to Golden State and Cleveland that much tougher to take as the Clippers squandered his excellent play in those game.
  • Three point shooting and free throw shooting. The conventional wisdom heading into the season was that the Clippers had two big weaknesses -- three point shooting and free throw shooting. But so far the team is above the league average in both categories, hitting .386 from behind the arc and .766 from the line. Sure we're dealing with a small sample size, but you can't blame either loss on these expected issues. Of course neither Griffin nor Jordan have been particularly effective on offense, and they're not getting to the line much, which is a big part of the reason that the free throw percentage is as good as it is.
  • Hack-a-Jordan. I think we can assume that Gregg "the Brain" 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:

    The Raconteurs -- The Switch and the Spur

    Slow in motion and shadow-less
    The switch and the spurs
    Every living thing, with a fatal sting
    Bark and rattle this curse

    If you're familiar with Jack White from The White Stripes, you may also be interested in his side project The Raconteurs, a band that allows him to stretch his musical legs beyond the confines of guitar and drum.