The Los Angeles Clippers visit the San Antonio Spurs for the first meeting between the two teams this season on Saturday, November 5th, at 5:30pm Pacific. These teams have quite a history, with the Spurs sweeping the Clippers in Chris Paul’s first season with the team, and the Clippers defeating San Antonio in a hard-fought seven-game series two years ago. Both teams are coming into the game on the SEGABABA (second game of a back to back), of which the Clippers will play eighteen this season. San Antonio defeated the Utah Jazz--the only team to defeat the Spurs this season--Friday night in Salt Lake City, while Los Angeles defeated their one-time western conference nemesis Grizzlies at FedEx Arena in Memphis, TN.
The Big Picture
The Clippers offensive struggles this season have been well-documented, but besides a two point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, it has been enough for them to secure a 4-1 start. Obviously, this is in contrast to previous years in which the Clippers generally had the first or second highest rated offense at any point during the season along with a middle of the pack defense, but this new found ability to hold opponents to sub-ninety scoring is welcomed by Doc Rivers, who has been trying to install a mid-aughts Boston Celtics style of tough-guy defense in the Clippers since he took the team over in 2013. San Antonio is averaging almost 100 ppg (which, amazingly, isn’t even good enough for a top ten ranking), and although they’re the third best defense, they’re allowing approximately ten more points per game than the Clippers.
Los Angeles is leading the Pacific Division for the first time in over two years, and a win tonight would put them at first place in the Western Conference.
This is an important measuring stick game for both teams. The Spurs, having decimated the Golden State Warriors in their first game of the season, will certainly be looking to establish an upper hand over the other western conference team who can challenge them for the top seed this spring, but they’ll have to do it without Tony Parker. These teams are obviously familiar with each other, but there have been some changes on the Spurs side: Tim Duncan has retired and Boris Diaw is gone, while Pau Gasol and David Lee join the rest of San Antonio’s core.
- Clippers Have The NBA’s Best Defense: Nobody saw this one coming. Los Angeles enters the game with the top rated defense in the NBA, which they’ve earned by stingy in-your-face coverage, forcing turnovers at an amazing rate (they forced fourteen turnovers in only three quarters against Memphis), and increasing their rebounding percentages significantly from past years. This may change when Los Angeles starts facing more efficient offenses, but to the casual fan, the Clippers look to be quicker to loose balls, more obnoxious about getting in the passing lanes, and are missing fewer defensive rotations—or maybe it’s just a happy accident.
- Tony Parker out: Parker--of whom rumors of decline are greatly exaggerated--is expected to miss approximately one week with a knee injury. Patty Mills will likely start in his place.
- Pick and Roll Defense: If the Spurs struggle to defend Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on pick-and-rolls this season, it won’t be a shocking development. The Spurs already had a tough time containing these athletic big men, and now they feature Pau Gasol and David Lee, both of whom are not great defenders in space. So far, Greg Popovich has also featured Dewayne Dedmon, a lesser-known but much more mobile option down low. (Lucas Hann)
- Three-point shooting: These teams have been polar opposites from deep so far this season. The Spurs are second in the league at 40.3% from deep. The Clippers? Bottom-five, at just 28.9%. Raymond Felton is the only Clipper who is off to a hot start, while the rest of the team can’t hit a shot, especially J.J. Redick (his 30% is better than the rest of the team, but shockingly low for him) and Jamal Crawford (shooting just 12.5% from deep). For the Spurs, Patty Mills leads the way among the high-volume guys, shooting 51.5% from three-point range so far. (Lucas Hann)
- Double Schedule Loss? The Clippers played in Memphis last night before traveling to San Antonio. When I saw that back-to-back on the schedule in August, I called it a schedule loss. But the Spurs have it just as hard—they’re travelling home after playing a tough game in Utah last night. Without considering the Clippers’ travel, this might have been seen as a schedule loss for San Antonio as well. And this game is on national TV. Good job, NBA. (Lucas Hann)
- Killer Instinct: The Clippers haven’t been great down the stretch so far this season. They let Portland and Memphis each whittle away at big leads in the fourth quarter, forcing the starters to close the game, and LAC struggled severely against Oklahoma City, scoring just 17 points in the final frame and losing by two. Against the Spurs, building a lead won’t be so easy—but if the Clippers do manage to get ahead, they’ll have to execute better down the stretch to hold leads and win games. (Lucas Hann)
- Cleaning the Glass: The Clippers put a renewed interest in rebounding this year after being one of the worst teams in the league in that area last year. So far, LAC has won the battle on the boards three times in three wins. They were only outrebounded by 1 against Memphis last night—but Oklahoma City had nine more in the Clippers’ sole loss. The Spurs, of course, are one of the top rebounding teams in the league, giving the Clippers another great measuring stick with which to test their new point of emphasis. (Lucas Hann)
- Playoffs? We talkin’ about playoffs? I know, I know, it’s only November 5th. But with Golden State expected to take the 1-seed in the West, the Clippers and Spurs will likely be competing for the 2-seed and home-court advantage in an eventual second-round playoff match-up. Maybe these teams will finish with a decent gap in between their records—but maybe not. If the race for second in the West is close (or comes down to head-to-head tiebreaker), one team might look back at this early November game with some regrets. (Lucas Hann)
- Feel-Good Moment: Remember this shot? I remember. (Lucas Hann)