Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas
When: 5:30 PM PT
How to watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups:
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Avery Bradley – Tobias Harris – Danilo Gallinari – Marcin Gortat
Spurs: Derrick White – Bryn Forbes – DeMar DeRozan – Rudy Gay – LaMarcus Aldridge
Clippers: Lou Williams Out (hamstring), Jerome Robinson Out (ankle), Luc Mbah a Moute Out (knee)
Spurs: Dejounte Murray Out (knee), Lonnie Walker Out (knee), Pau Gasol Out (foot)
The Big Picture:
The Clippers’ fall down the standings has continued, as they’re now tied for 4th in the Western Conference after their loss on Tuesday to the Raptors. Their net rating, too, has dropped, now placing 10th in the NBA. The Clippers’ offense remains strong at 7th, but their defense is now 18th, far from the “Clamp City” defense that was professed before the season. Perhaps the worst part of their recent slide is that it’s been a team-wide affair. Nobody has consistently played well over the past two weeks, outside of maybe Ty Wallace, and the entire team looks out of sorts. The Clippers are still a long way from real trouble in terms of standings, but their play has looked more along the lines of what pessimistic fans expected before the season, and that’s not a good thing.
The Spurs have won three games in a row, pulling themselves back to a .500 record. Still, this is not the same methodical Spurs team of yore. They’re one of the worst teams in the NBA defensively, a far cry from the stalwart defenses led by Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs offense is in the top 10 despite being focused on post-ups and midrange jumpers, a testament both to the Spurs’ execution and the talent of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs are a solid team and will certainly be in contention for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. But they are now beatable in San Antonio, a team that survives more on playing hard and together than talent.
- Can Clippers win without Lou: While Lou Williams hasn’t been all that great this season, his playmaking and shot-creation is still vital for a Clippers’ team that sometimes lacks both of those elements. He probably wouldn’t have helped in that Raptors’ game just because the Clippers’ defense was the true culprit there, but when the offense stagnated in the 3rd quarter he might have helped kickstart it. The Clippers’ win over the Spurs on November 15th was also one of his best games of the season, as he had 23 points on 20 shots and only 2 turnovers.
- Getting Montrezl going: Montrezl Harrell is in his first extended slump this season, scoring in single digits in three of the last four games. He hasn’t been getting to the free throw line as much, his rebounding is down, and his defense hasn’t quite seemed to be as effective. Really, the drop-off has been massive, and while it could just be a slump, the Clippers desperately need Trez to get going again soon. He has been their third best player for much of this season, and they aren’t going to win many games if he keeps playing at the level he’s been at for the past few games. Without Lou Williams as his pick and roll partner, it will be interesting to see if the Clippers utilize different methods of getting Trez the ball. Whatever they do, let’s hope it works.
- Switching rotations up: We had two pieces yesterday about how Doc Rivers could change up his lineups and strategies with the current ones seemingly not working. Let’s see if he goes small more frequently in this game, or gives Johnathan Motley minutes, or limits the amount of time Avery Bradley sees the court (unlikely). It also might be a good idea to give Ty Wallace more minutes, as Ty is perhaps the only Clipper who’s maintained his usual level of play during their slide. Whatever Doc does, I just hope it’s something a bit different.
- Better defense: Above all, the Clippers’ defense needs to tighten up. By design they give up a lot of midrange jumpers, but that strategy plays right into the Spurs’ hands, as DeRozan and Aldridge are two of the best shot-makers from that region in their generation. If the Clippers concede open looks to those two regardless of distance, it will probably be a long night.
Check out Pounding the Rock for the Spurs’ perspective, and be sure to check back in at 5:00 for the game thread.