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Clippers-Spurs preview: No Paul, big problem

The Clippers head to San Antonio to play the Spurs in the second game of a road back-to-back in a building where they almost never win, without their best player. So no, things don't look great for this one.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
2013/2014 NBA Regular Season

January 4th, 2014, 6:30 PM
AT&T Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Darren Collison PG Tony Parker
Jamal Crawford SG Marco Belinelli
Jared Dudley SF Kawhi Leonard
Blake Griffin PF Tim Duncan
DeAndre Jordan C Tiago Splitter
Advanced Stats
97.77 (9th of 30) Pace 96.99 (12th of 30)
106.5 (6th of 30) ORtg 107.1 (4th of 30)
100.6 (8th of 30) DRtg 99.3 (5th of 30)
Chris Paul (separated shoulder) out
J.J. Redick (wrist) out

Reggie Bullock (sprained ankle) out

The Back Story (Clippers lead the season series 1-0):

Date Venue Final

12/16/13 Los Angeles Clippers 115, Spurs 92 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers got a very nice win last night in the American Airlines Center in Dallas, a place where they almost never win. Tonight they're in the AT&T Center in San Antonio, where they win even less, only this time they'll be without their team leader and best player, Chris Paul, who will miss the game after suffering a separated shoulder midway through the third quarter against the Mavs. The Clippers beat the Spurs last month in L.A. by the widest margin in the history of the matchup -- but in that game Tony Parker left with an injury and did not return, while this time out it will be the Clippers playing without their point guard, and from the opening tip. A win may be too much to ask. If it's going to happen, it will requite a whole cast of characters to step up. Blake Griffin is the lone superstar on the team now, and while he's been playing some of the best basketball of his career for the last three weeks, he hasn't had to carry the load by himself in the past. Darren Collison of course will have a huge additional burden, stepping into the starting point guard role and likely playing huge minutes for a team that doesn't have a proven backup for the position. Jamal Crawford, who has been in a terrible shooting slump, moves from third scorer to second scorer, and clearly the Clippers can't afford for him to continue shooting 30% -- if he doesn't snap out of his funk, the Clippers are in big trouble, not just in this game, but in general. And the list goes on and on. Someone who may be completely ready for a bigger role is DeAndre Jordan, who scored a career high 25 points last night, and who was given more post up opportunities in that one game than he had had the entire season leading up to it. Jordan's not going to average 20 points per game, but given the size and strength of the Clipper starting bigs, he will frequently have an advantage against his defender, and if the Clippers can get good results giving him the ball even three of four times a game, it will make a difference for a team that just lost one of their top options on offense.

The Antagonist:

The Clippers are weakened by the absence of Paul, not to mention injuries to J.J. Redick and Reggie Bullock. Meanwhile, the Spurs will be seeking revenge for the loss in Los Angeles, and they'll probably be more than a little pissed off about losing to New York at home on Thursday. So bottom line is, this has Spurs win written all over it for a whole lot of reasons. Since we last saw the Spurs, they've replaced Danny Green in the starting lineup with Marco Belinelli -- presumably so they can have five starters from five different countries. Belinelli is shooting .496 from beyond the three point arc this season, and has made 8-12 in the last two games. The rest of the cast of characters is all too familiar, and all playing well. One strange note though is that the Spurs have actually been better on the road (13-3) than they have been at home (12-5) this season.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers have been climbing up the defensive ranks since the last meeting with the Spurs, while the Spurs have been dropping.
  • No D in Spurs? Pasting from the preview of the first game, I couldn't help notice that the Spurs have gone from allowing an average of 95.6 points per 100 possessions at the time of the first meeting on December 16th, up to 99.3 -- that's a big jump in 10 games and it implies that the Spurs defense has been bad -- really bad -- in that time. Sure enough, since mid-December the Spurs are 26th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, though it should be noted that they've played the Clippers, the Thunder, the Warriors, the Rockets and the Suns among their opponents in that time.
  • The starters. I'm penciling in Collison and Crawford as the starting guards for the Clippers in the absence of better information. Collison is clearly going to start at the point guard -- there's little other choice there, even for the backup minutes. At the two though, Doc Rivers does at least have some options. He may decide to try Willie Green as a starter again, and move Crawford back to the bench to be the primary scorer for the second unit. We'll see.
  • The rotation. Rivers had already shortened his rotation quite a bit in the absence of Redick and as a reaction of the general ineffectiveness of the reserve bigs. As such, Doc was more or less down to playing a seven man rotation provided the opponent allowed him to play small ball -- the starters, Collison and Matt Barnes. He can't really play a six man rotation, but you can certainly expect big minutes from his preferred six -- Griffin, Jordan, Jared Dudley, Barnes, Crawford and Collison.
  • Wayns. Maalik Wayns is on the active list at this point, but he hasn't played an NBA game since last season, and hasn't played a competitive game of any sort since he tore his meniscus in pre-season. Wayns is ostensibly the backup to Collison at point guard now, but Rivers may try to get by with Crawford and/or Green running the team when Collison rests (which likely won't be very often). Wayns is on an unguaranteed contract, and must be waived within a matter of days if the Clippers want to save his salary and his roster spot going forward.
  • AT&T Center. The Clippers won in the American Airlines Center last night, a rare occurrence indeed. But they are 2-18 all time in the AT&T Center during the regular season, 2-20 when you include playoff games. Having said that, the two wins have come on their last three trips to San Antonio, and their last loss came down to a non-call on a last second shot by Chris Paul, so they've been right there on their last three trips. Of course, all three of those were with Paul, so, yeah.
  • Hack-a-Jordan. 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, and few NBA players shoot free throws worse than Jordan (.394). 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 is certainly a possibility given the circumstances) Jordan will receive an intentional foul at some point.
  • Spurs for life. The Clippers faced Mav for life Dirk Nowitzki last night, in his 16th season in Dallas. Laker for life Kobe Bryant is in his 18th season with the purple and gold and just 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!
  • Duncan. Last season, at the age of 36, Tim Duncan had one of the most productive individual seasons of his Hall of Fame career. He achieved his career high for a season in blocked shots per 36, and was near his career high in rebounding. He exceeded his career averages in scoring and assists. All of which is unheard of for a 36 year old. He began this season ice-cold -- but has again been terrific lately. He averaged 16 points, 12 rebounds and three assists while shooting 53% in December.
  • Connections. Newest Clipper Stephen Jackson played for the Spurs on two separate occasions, starting all 24 playoff games in the 2003 championship run. He was also on the Spurs last season, but was waived just before the beginning of the playoffs, so it could be awkward between Jack and Pop tonight. 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:

    All's Well That Ends Well -- Act II, Scene 5 -- Lafeu

    You have made shift to run into 't, boots and spurs
    and all, like him that leaped into the custard; and
    out of it you'll run again, rather than suffer
    question for your residence.