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Clippers-Spurs preview: No favors from the schedule

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To close out January the Clippers face their old nemesis, the San Antonio Spurs on the second night of a back to back. This one has schedule loss all over it.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

2014/2015 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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32-15

30-17
January 31, 2015, 6:00 PM
AT&T Center
ESPN, Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
13-8 East 12-4
19-7 West 18-13
20-7 Home 18-6
12-8 Road 12-11
11-12 .500+ 13-12
21-3 .500- 17-5
7-3 L10 8-2
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Tony Parker
J.J. Redick SG Danny Green
Matt Barnes SF Kawhi Leonard
Blake Griffin PF Tim Duncan
DeAndre Jordan C Tiago Splitter
Advanced Stats (2013-2014)
96.18 (15th of 30) Pace 95.47 (22nd of 30)
110.9 (1st of 30) ORtg 104.1 (12th of 30)
103.8 (17th of 30) DRtg 99.7 (4th of 30)
Injuries/Other
None
Marco Belinelli (groin) questionable

The Back Story (The Spurs lead the season series 2-0):

Date Venue Final
11/10/2014 Los Angeles Spurs 89, Clippers 85 Recap Box
12/22/2014 San Antonio Spurs 125, Clippers 118 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The last time the Clippers traveled to San Antonio to face the Spurs, they were in the third game of a four in five stretch that had them in four different time zones. This time they're on the second night of a back-to-back in game three of an eight game road trip. In other words, the schedule is not doing them any favors where the Spurs are concerned. To make matters worse, the Cilppers had a late lead in their first meeting with the Spurs this season, but missed all their shots late to give the game away. They scored well enough to win in the second game (the one in San Antonio) but the Spurs just played out of their minds, shooting .636 from the field, their best shooting night and third best in the NBA this season. So even though the Clippers have played relatively well against the Spurs this season, they find themselves winless in two games. Then there's what happened in New Orleans last night. Against a Pelicans team playing without Anthony Davis, the Clippers lost a game they should have won, at the start of a trip with a lot of tough games.

The Antagonist:

It's funny how everyone was so quick to write off the Clippers when they played inconsistently this season, but while the Clippers were mired in sixth place in the West, they were still ahead of the Spurs. But no one asks the same kind of questions about the Spurs. Of course, that's as it should -- they're the Spurs, they've earned the benefit of the doubt over the years, and so the assumption is that they can coast a little during the regular season, even play poorly, but still turn it on an be a force in the playoffs. Some day that will no longer be the case, but for now, you just assume the Spurs are a contender, regardless of the record. As it happens, both the Spurs and the Clippers have begun to play better lately and are beginning to move up the conference standings. San Antonio has the legitimate excuse of injuries have limited their success this season, as both Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker have missed significant amounts of time. Those guys are back now, along with key reserve Patty Mills, making the Spurs as healthy as they've been all season. So yeah, beware of the Spurs, as always.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers recently took over the top spot in offensive efficiency on the season, as we always assumed they would. Dallas had been number one, but the Mavs have fallen on hard times and it looks like the Clippers should be able to keep the top spot. Defense on the other hand is a different story, and the Clippers are below league average at this point. The Spurs have been playing great defense, and their offense is starting to come around with everyone healthy.
  • The Grammy trip. As brutal as this back-to-back is, the Clippers' Grammy trip only gets worse from here. They close the trip with what must surely be the most difficult four games in five night stretch that any NBA team faces this season -- games against Cleveland, Toronto, Oklahoma City and Dallas. That's the pre-season favorites to meet in the NBA Finals (Cavs and Thunder) plus two of the big surprises of the season (Raptors and Mavs). All at the end of two weeks on the road. That's the kind of schedule that leads to four game losing streaks.
  • The standings. The Clippers are currently tied for fourth with Portland, chasing Houston (one game ahead) and Memphis (2.5 games) with their sights on second and maybe beyond. But don't look back, because here come the Spurs. A San Antonio win tonight would have them within a game of the Clippers, who are not so far out of seventh in the very crowded, very crazy Western Conference standings.
  • 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 five in the Alamo City, but it's never going to be easy for the Clippers in San Antonio.
  • Record against the West. The Clippers started the season struggling against good teams, but at this point they actually have a very good record against the West (20-6), and a stellar record against the top of the West. The LAC are 5-2 against the Warriors, Grizzlies, Blazers, Rockets and Mavs, and 11-4 against the West teams with winning records. The exception of course is that they are 0-2 against the Spurs. And the strange thing is how bad the Clippers have been against the good Eastern Conference teams. Despite the fact that the West is universally known to be the better conference, the Clippers are 0-6 against the top five East teams.
  • 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. During another busy stretch earlier this season, Clippers coach Doc Rivers hinted strongly that he might take a page from Pop's book and rest some starters somewhere along the line. He never did -- but this trip would be another chance to employ such a tactic.
  • The Rivulet. Austin Rivers, who as a little Rivers might be considered a creek or a stream, has played a bit better in recent games. He didn't make a shot in his first two games with the Clippers, but he has scored in double figures two straight now and is certainly looking more comfortable. Jordan Farmar scored in double figures just six times in 36 games this season by way of comparison.
  • Parker. Tony Parker has scored 20 or more points in a game only once in over two months. He missed 14 games in that stretch and was hurting in others, but it's worth asking if he's slowing down a bit. Ultra quick point guards don't always age well, and Parker is 32 now. You may however remember the one time in the last two months that he scored 20 or more -- he went for 26 the last time the Spurs played the Clippers.
  • 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 when Doc was there. Hedo Turkoglu was a Spur for one season between longer stints in Sacramento and Orlando early in his career.
  • Wikipedia entry: Spur Corporation (doing business as Spur Steak Ranches) (JSESUR) is a steakhouse franchise restaurant chain originating from South Africa. Its menu mainly features beef burgerssteaks and ribs, but also includes saladschickenseafood and vegetarian options. The restaurants also sell a range of sauces and other condiments under its own brand. The head office of Spur Corporation is in Century CityCape Town.