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Clippers vs. Spurs Preview: Of Course They’re Both Playoff Contenders

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The Clippers take on the always-tough Spurs after a couple days off.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information:

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

When: 7:30 PM PT

How to Watch/Listen: TNT, AM 570 Radio

Projected Starting Lineups:

Spurs: Bryn Forbes/DeMar DeRozan/Derrick White/Dante Cunningham/LaMarcus Aldridge

Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander/Patrick Beverley/Tobias Harris/Danilo Gallinari/Marcin Gortat

Injuries:

Spurs: Pau Gasol (foot), Lonnie Walker IV (knee) and Dejounte Murray (knee surgery) are out

Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute (knee) and Avery Bradley (ankle) are questionable

The Scene:

Before the season, both the Clippers and Spurs were dotted with question marks. San Antonio, to the chagrin of most pundits, was a mild favorite to miss the playoffs. The Clippers were going to be entertaining, but without a so-called “star” they’d fail to compete in the West. More than a dozen games in, those questions are appearing somewhat silly.

The Spurs, while playing somewhat inconsistently since Derrick White’s return to the lineup, have been typically Spurs-y. DeMar DeRozan has fit in perfectly and has seemingly continued his ascension as a playmaker, which has been doubly important with the season-long injury to potential breakout star Dejounte Murray. DeRozan’s usage rate through 12 games is around his previous six-season average (28.8 percent), but his assist rate of 31.3 percent is six percent better than any other year. DeRozan the playmaker is particularly dangerous when surrounded by shooters, which the Spurs boast aplenty. They are shooting 38.4 percent from 3-point range as a team with Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes and Patty Mills all shooting better than 40 percent with at least 20 makes. That’s not accounting for Marco Belinelli, who is arguably as good as anyone else on the roster at stretching the floor.

San Antonio, in the regard, can create some interesting problems for a Clippers defense, which Patrick Beverley has so eloquently pointed out is doing its best to play its “clamp city” role holding Golden State below its season average their last time out as exhibit A. The Clippers will likely start Marcin Gortat at center to account for the smallish Spurs starters with LaMarcus Aldridge at center. But expect to see a significant dose of Montrezl Harrell, who has topped double figures in scoring in five-straight games and 11 of his last 12. Harrell gives the Clippers a switchier defender on the perimeter and someone who could continue to devastate in the Lou Williams pick and roll.

The People:

1. Harrell. Suddenly, the effervescent Clippers big man has become the darling of NBA Twitter and is gaining traction in the national media, with Stephen A. Smith declaring him the closest thing to Dennis Rodman the league currently has. He’s earned every bit of the attention. The Clippers’ becoming a fun, tough, interesting team centers on two notions: they have a yeoman’s quality and have an element of underappreciated flash. Harrell embodies that and it’s likely no coincidence that the Clippers’ four wins in their last five outings have come with Harrell earning 25-plus minutes in each.

2. Forbes. The third-year guard got thrust into the spotlight (as much as there is one in San Antonio) with the Murray injury. He’s a gutty, shooter who has shown a willingness to take and make big shots. He’s another undrafted find by RC Buford and Co. and is someone that may not be a household name that’s worth paying attention.

3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Duh.

The Turning Point:

Overall, it’s Harrell, Williams and the Clippers’ league-leading bench (55.4 points per game) that will make the biggest difference. It’s why the whole “they don’t have a traditional star” thing hasn’t amounted to anything. The Spurs cannot match the depth and versatility, which coincidentally has been perhaps the biggest difference between the two teams in recent years, but in the opposite direction.

One Last Thing:

In a series that had for so long been massively one-sided, the Clippers are 11-10 against the Spurs since 2014-15, including their epic playoff series win. Thursday night is the first time they’ve met in 2018-19.