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Clippers vs. San Antonio - Game Preview

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
19-9 21-9
February 18th, 2012, 12:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul PG Tony Parker
Randy Foye SG Danny Green
Caron Butler SF Richard Jefferson
Blake Griffin PF Tim Duncan
DeAndre Jordan C DeJuan Blair

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers played one of the ugliest games you'll ever want to see -- or to be fair, you probably wouldn't want to see it, that's how ugly it was -- Thursday night in Portland, and came away with a win. To their credit, on a night when basically nothing went right for three quarters, the team kept working and Chris Paul put them on his back in the fourth. One decent quarter was enough to beat a Portland team playing without their leading scorer and on the third game of a B2B2B -- that won't be nearly enough against the hottest team in the league, coming off of two days rest. The Clippers had better hope that their legs have recovered after their day off yesterday, because if they are as lifeless against the Spurs, they'll be blown out. Paul was scoreless through three quarters, and then scored 13 in the fourth, but again, he'd best not wait in this game. The Clippers remain 12-0 in games where Paul scores at least 17 points. The home crowd should help -- but it's a 12:30 tip off and the crowd for those can sometimes be low energy. Actually, it will be interesting to see the crowd -- Clippers leading the division, they've sold out every game this season, playing the mighty Spurs -- it will be a sell out, but will it have the energy to pump up the team?

The Antagonist:

The Spurs are once again defying their age and the expectations of many, and remain at the top of the Western Conference. Even as Manu Ginobili, one of their vaunted Big Three, and some might say the most important one at that, missed 22 games with a broken hand, the Spurs just kept right on clicking, going 15-7 without him. They're currently on a nine game winning streak, the longest in the NBA this season, and impressively the last five wins have all been on the road. That's particularly impressive given that the Spurs had been almost completely unable to win on the road during the first month of the season. San Antonio still has three more road games after today on the nine game "rodeo" trip -- and we thought the Grammy trip was rough! Tim Duncan's minutes are at a career low, but he's still productive on a per minute basis. Tony Parker is playing great, and will be a teammate of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul in Orlando next week at the All Star game.

The Subplots:

  • First, you might want to check out my latest conversation with SpursFanSteve at Pounding The Rock. It covers the key questions on these two teams as we near the midpoint of the season.
  • First meeting. The Spurs destroyed the Clippers way back in December, 115-90. But there are a few reasons I think you can discount that performance. For one, it was just the second game of the season, and the Clippers had a major overhaul of the roster just weeks before. The team may not be 100% gelled at this point, but it's miles ahead of where it was in December. For another, there have been some additions to the roster since them. Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin are major upgrades for LA in the front court. Yes, Chauncey Billups is gone, but the backcourt was deeper to begin with. The Clippers were outrebounded 43-30 in that first game -- I don't see that happening with Evans and Martin around.
  • Hottest team in the league. The Spurs have won nine straight, including five straight on the road. Sure, the last three have come against New Jersey, Detroit and Toronto, but it's hard to win five straight on the road, I don't care who you're playing. They face a tougher task today against the Clippers.
  • Beating good teams. The Spurs are an impressive 14-5 against teams at or over .500 this season. The Clippers are 12-7, which is quite good as well. One of them is going to get another win against a good team today.
  • Key game. The season is less than a week away from the All Star break, if you can believe that. Now, the ASB is often called the midpoint of the season, but the truth is that in a normal 82 game season it is actually way beyond halfway. This year it really is the midpoint (more or less). Going into this game, the Spurs have the second best record in the West and the Clippers are third -- but the Clippers can leap frog their opponent with a win today. It may seem early to be thinking about this stuff, but the Clippers only get four games against the Spurs, and it's important to hang a loss on a key opponent when you can.
  • Ginobili getting into game shape. Manu Ginobili is still rounding into game shape after being out for 22 games. He's been back for three games, and has played 17, 25 and 20 minutes in those games. Popovich has said that he wants to keep Manu's minutes down for now.
  • Great offense, middling defense. The Clippers and Spurs are both top five in the NBA in offensive efficiency -- Clippers 4th at 107.8 points scored per 100 possession, Spurs 5th at 107. But they're both in the middle of the pack in defensive efficiency (Spurs 14th at 101.8 points allowed per 100 possessions, Clippers 19th at 104.5). Both teams play at a similar pace, a little below the league average.
  • Three pointers. The Clippers and Spurs both use the three ball as a big part of their offense. The Clippers are fourth in the league in three pointers made per game, and the Spurs are fifth -- theClippers make almost 7.7 threes each game, the Spurs make 7.6. The Spurs shoot a better percentage from deep. Given the relative similarity of the teams here, I have a feeling that whichever team has a better day from deep will win the game.
  • 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.
  • Duncan not an All Star Game. For the first time in his 14 year career, Tim Duncan is not an All Star. Duncan has played in 13 All Star Games, and has started in the last 12 in a row (although he wasn't voted a starter last year, he replaced Yao in the starting lineup). During Duncan's second season in the league, the game was canceled because of the lockout, but every year they've had one, he's been there. In fact, Duncan was the last rookie to be chosen by the coaches as a reserve before Blake Griffin last year. Although he's playing a career-low 27 minutes per game, he's still productive on a per minute basis. His True Shooting Percentage is also at a career low, which is more of a concern.
  • Losing streak. The Clippers snapped an 18 game losing streak against these guys when they beat them in Staples last December. But make no mistake, the Spurs have had LAC's number for many years, and it would be nice to get another win here against a team that has been such a tormentor of the Clippers for so long.
  • All Star Point Guards. Chris Paul and Tony Parker are both on the Western Conference All Star team this year. They'll be teammates in a week, but today they're going at each other. 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 like determine the game, since both teams are very dependent on their floor leader.
  • Jefferson and Butler. Shortly after the lockout ended, word spread that Richard Jefferson was going to be placed on amnesty waivers by the Spurs. They were hoping to upgrade the small forward position, and were willing to eat RJ's $9M contract to do so. The Spurs were apparently interested in Caron Butler, but could only offer him the mid-level exception, starting at $5M per year. Instead, Butler took 3/$24M from the Clippers, leaving the Spurs to make do with the forward they wanted to amnesty. So which one has been more productive? See for yourself. Butler is scoring 15 points per game to Jefferson's 10, but Jefferson is hitting 43% of his threes.
  • Contrasting power forwards. As I pointed out in an earlier Q&A with SpursfanSteve, Tim Duncan and Blake Griffin, while both power forwards and both great, are very different players. Duncan is very big and very long (in fact, the folly of this particular comparison may be to call Duncan a four - he's really a five, and has been most of his career, but insists that everyone call him a four). Griffin is plenty big, but has a relatively pedestrian wing span. Griffin is ultra athletic; Duncan isn't exactly unathletic, but he's not an uberathlete by any means. Duncan is all fundamentals. Griffin is all skills. You'd never see Duncan facing up his defender, dribbling through his legs, crossing over; he just uses impeccable footwork and technique to score the basketball. To the extent that Griffin can incorporate some of those Duncan fundamentals into his skillfully athletic game, he'll become that much better as a player.
  • Now we know. When the Clippers and Spurs met last December 1st, Tony Parker left the game early in the third quarter and didn't return. He didn't hurt himself or anything, he just wasn't in the game. At the time, it seemed very strange. In retrospect, we know that Parker was going through a divorce from his wife Eva Longoria at the time, and had had lunch with her earlier that day. It seems the emotions of that situation had left him too upset to be effective that night.
  • 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:


    n. tweak, meth, piso,
    hey guys wheres the spur
  • Get the Spurs perspective at Pounding the Rock.