The Back Story (The Spurs won last year's season series 2-1):
|12/16/2013||Los Angeles||Clippers 115, Spurs 92||Recap||Box|
|1/4/2014||San Antonio||Spurs 116, Clippers 92||Recap||Box|
|2/18/2014||Los Angeles||Spurs 113, Clippers 103||Recap||Box|
The Big Picture:
The Clippers are coming off of a Saturday filled with finally. Finally, they beat a quality opponent. Finally, they played 24 minutes with sustained focus and effort. Finally, the defense looked sharp. Finally, DeAndre Jordan asserted himself as a force of destruction. Finally, J.J. Redick found his shooting form. Finally, Clips Nation let out a (brief) sigh of relief. The Clippers played up to our weighty expectations. Tonight, can they do it again?
Coincidentally, the defending champs' season carries the same question: can they do it again? Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich have won five titles together, none consecutively. For the first time in several seasons, the Spurs seem to have quieted rumors of their inevitable age-related demise, ironic when considering the team is off to its worst five-game start since 2009-2010. Popovich, as worried as Alfred E. Neuman, has continued to value extra rest for his core players, benching them for whole games, even with important role players like Tiago Splitter and Patty Mills out for extended periods due to injury. As always, he will plug new names into his lineup and the Spurs machine should roll on. San Antonio enters tonight like no ordinary 10th seed. Just a few months removed from their league-shaking obliteration of the Miami Heat, the Spurs remain the class of the league, and their clinical pass-and-shoot game will pose another stiff challenge to a Clipper defense looking to build momentum.
- Comparison of key metrics. Last season, the Clippers entered elite territory by earning top-10 rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. This season, the offense remains in the top-10 but the defense has fallen to 23rd. San Antonio enters tonight's contest as tied for 24th in offensive efficiency with the punchless Pacers, a far cry from their 6th-place finish last season. Which unit will find some traction tonight?
- The Questionable Blogger. I swapped emails with J.R. Wilco from Pounding the Rock. We talked about both teams' scuffling starts and our respective levels of concern. You can find it here.
- The schedule. The Clippers are in the middle of a nasty five-game test against quality opponents. Having flunked their first game against the Warriors, the Clippers recovered against the Blazers on Saturday. After tonight's game with the Spurs, the Clippers have four days off before facing the Suns next Saturday and the Bulls two nights after that.
- Crawford vs. Barnes. On Saturday, Doc Rivers shook things up and inserted Jamal Crawford into the starting lineup for struggling small forward Matt Barnes. One oft-repeated basketball trope says that it's not who starts that matters, it's who finishes, and Crawford has regularly been on the floor at the end of halves this season, so perhaps this change isn't as drastic as it first seems. But Barnes' inability to shoot so far has hampered the Clipper offense to the extent that Doc feels more comfortable playing a 6'5" defensive sieve alongside his diminutive backcourt. The Spurs could be just the team to take advantage. However...
- Kawhi Leonard's vision. According to the San Antonio Express News, Kawhi's right eye is still blurry following a preseason infection. He is shooting just 30.8% from the field this season and has made just one of his nine 3-point attempts. On paper, Kawhi should dominate Crawford (or Redick, depending on Doc's choice), but if he can't see, he can't shoot.
- Battle for the boards. San Antonio enters the night 3rd in the NBA in rebound rate. The Clippers are dead-last, behind even the woeful 76ers. The Spurs aren't the most prodigious offensive-rebounding team, but Tim Duncan has grabbed 3.5 offensive boards per game this season, exceeding his career mark of 2.9. He'll be a handful for the Clippers if they don't box out conscientiously.
- Size vs. spacing. Steve wrote about this yesterday, but with Glen Davis returning from injury and Hedo Turkoglu excelling in limited minutes, Doc may choose to play big for short stretches, likely with Blake Griffin guarding the opposing 3.
- Blake Griffin vs. his jumper. According the NBA's play-by-play data, 14 of Blake's 24 attempts on Saturday were jump shots. In this OC Register piece from Friday, he admitted that he needs to attack more. We'll give him a pass for Saturday, when he battled a stomach bug. But for the Clippers to return to their lofty offensive heights, Blake must realize that his jumper is best-used as a change-up to his inside game. We understand you've fallen in love with it, Blake, we just want you to make it your side fling, not your main squeeze.
- Becky Hammon. Former WNBA star Becky Hammon was hired by the Spurs in August to serve as the NBA's first full-time female assistant coach.
- Connections. Not many -- I had to really reach for some of these. Spurs Assistant Coach Chip Engelland (who is 114 years old according to his SB Nation page -- seriously, click the link) is a Los Angeles native, having served as ball boy for John Wooden at UCLA and playing at Palisades High School. Spurs rookie forward Kyle Anderson played his college ball at UCLA, obviously post-Wooden. Another Spurs Assistant Coach, famed Italian coach Ettore Messina, served as consultant to the Lakers during the 2011-2012, Matt Barnes' second season with the club. If I missed an obvious one, please light me up in the comments.
- Wikipedia entry: "Spur is a city in Dickens County, Texas, United States. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 1,088. On October 9, 2009, Spur celebrated its centennial with the dedication of a Giant Spur sculpture. The Giant Spur was built by local welder John Grusendorf." Wikipedia also says that Bud Davis, John Travolta's character from Urban Cowboy, is from Spur. Spur is approximately 356 miles from San Antonio.