The Back Story (The Spurs lead the season series 1-0):
|Spurs 89, Clippers 85
The Big Picture:
The Clippers continue to build a reasonably impressive win-loss record in unimpressive fashion. They're coming off a win over Milwaukee, but the game was in doubt until the final seconds and the Clippers allowed the Bucks to shoot 54% from the field. The team is one game better than they were after 27 games last season -- but the fact that so many other Western Conference teams are playing so well makes it feel like the Clippers are behind where they were a year ago, even if perhaps they are not. Shooting continues to be a significant barometer for the team -- if they're hitting threes, they almost always win, if they aren't, they don't. They lost in Denver on Friday night, making just 3 of 18 three pointers. And in fact, in the first meeting against the Spurs, the Clippers were pretty much in control of the game when they went ice cold in the fourth quarter. They got great shots down the stretch -- they just missed them. Given the Clippers' lackluster record against good teams this season, they could really use this win over the Spurs.
If the Clippers seem disappointing in sixth place in the West this season, then what should one think of the defending champion Spurs sitting in seventh and riding a three game losing streak? Of course, the Spurs get the benefit of the doubt on everything -- a right they have clearly earned over the years -- so there's not a lot of "What's wrong with the Spurs?" panic floating around. San Antonio has had myriad injuries, and both Tony Parker and Kwahi Leonard will probably be out tonight. Not to mention that the Spurs are famously nonchalant about the regular season, sitting starters for rest purposes periodically, so a few regular season losses are not something they worry a lot about. This losing streak has been particularly brutal -- they lost in triple overtime two games in a row before dropping the third game to Dallas -- and one presumes that they are motivated to avoid a fourth straight loss.
- Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers are the third rated offense in the league, but only average on defense. The Spurs are the mirror image -- fourth rated defense, average offense.
- The schedule. The Clippers are in the middle of a series of four games in four time zones in five nights -- yuck. They already looked tired in Denver and against Milwaukee -- which doesn't bode well for tonight in San Antonio and tomorrow night in Atlanta.
- Tough town. There was a time when the Clippers NEVER won in San Antonio. At one point they lost 26 out of 27 there. They've actually won two of the last four in the Alamo City, but it's never going to be easy for the Clippers in San Antonio.
- Record against winning teams. The Clippers have clearly been padding their record against bad teams this season. If you're looking for a reason to doubt them as a contender, their lack of success against the likes of Golden State and Memphis and Chicago is exhibit A. All of which means that tonight's game against the Spurs will be over-analyzed, either way. If the Clippers win, some will say it's a great sign that they can beat a good team on the road. If they lose, it will reinforce the idea that they can't compete with the best. In reality, it's just one game.
- Resting starters? Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has always been bold in his coaching strategies, and he has pioneered the practice of resting starters with his aging roster. Pop has always held his starters minutes down and played his bench extensively -- but he is pretty much the only NBA coach who will also go so far as to simply rest his starters and not play them at all in a game. In fact, after two straight triple OT games, he sat Tim Duncan, Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and Manu Ginobili against the Mavs -- that was in addition to Leonard and Parker who were sitting due to injury. That's six regulars -- amazing. With the Clippers in a ridiculous stretch of games, including four in five, Doc Rivers has hinted strongly that he will take a page from Pop's book and rest some starters somewhere along the line. Could that be tonight? Or tomorrow night in Atlanta? We'll see.
- Bench production. The Clippers' bench has been problematic to say the least this season. The Clippers (any team really) would love to follow the "Spurs" model, and part of that is getting consistent bench production. The Spurs have always been able to execute and run their system, almost no matter who they put on the floor. The Clippers are clearly not able to do that right now. So far this season, the second unit has been dependent on having Jamal Crawford carry them, or hopefully making some three pointers, and it's not really working. The team has frequently built leads with starters, only to see the bench give the lead away.
- Spurs injuries. The Spurs have been hurt all season. Emerging star Kawhi Leonard began the season with an eye injury, and now has a torn ligament in his hand. He has missed six games and counting. Tony Parker is dealing with a hamstring injury and has missed nine games. In fact, between various injuries and rest days, only Boris Diaw has appeared in all 28 Spurs games this season.
- Connections. Doc Rivers played for the Spurs towards the end of his career and as a coach is considered a protege of Gregg Popovich, who was an assistant coach Doc was there. Hedo Turkoglu was a Spur for one season between longer stints in Sacramento and Orlando early in his career.
- Wikipedia entry: A spur is a lateral ridge or tongue of land descending from a hill, mountain or main crest of a ridge. Sometimes the term is used in sense of subpeak.