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Clippers vs. Spurs Preview: Reeling and depleted LA heads on a road trip

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NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information:

Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX

When: 4:00 PST

How to watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570

Projected Starting Lineups:

LA Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, Marcin Gortat

San Antonio Spurs: Derrick White, Bryn Forbes, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge

Injuries:

Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute (sore left knee) - OUT, Lou Williams (sore right hamstring) - OUT, Danilo Gallinari (back spasms) - DOUBTFUL

Spurs: Dejounte Murray (right knee) - OUT, DeMar DeRozan (left ankle) - PROBABLE

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have lost five games in a row, and things are getting worse. Lou Williams re-aggravated a hamstring injury Wednesday against the Utah Jazz, and Danilo Gallinari experienced back spasms Friday against the Golden State Warriors, with both players missing the majority of the game. Now, LA is facing some real depth questions. Williams and Gallinari are two of the team’s three leading scorers and two of the better playmakers, which is reflected in the fact that they have the highest offensive ratings among LA’s regular rotation players.

The last time the Clippers were without Gallinari, when he was ill on a road trip, they turned to a three-guard starting lineup of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Avery Bradley, and Pat Beverley. Without Williams on the bench, however, Doc Rivers may be loath to expend so much of his guard depth in the starting unit. Other than Mike Scott, Ty Wallace might be a potential starter, as he has the requisite size to guard DeMar DeRozan. However, whichever way the Clippers go, they are starting behind the eight-ball against one of the best offenses in the league. That’s especially troubling since LA has struggled so much on the defensive end in the last six weeks.

The Antagonist:

The Spurs play the Clippers for the fourth time this season, having won the last two matchups handily after losing a close contest in LA in November. San Antonio presents the worst possible challenge for the Clippers because the Spurs have a big man who can score efficiently, and LaMarcus Aldridge ate up the LA bigs back in the teams’ last meeting. After the Dec. 29 game, Doc Rivers said, “I didn’t think we played well the entire game. I honestly felt like they had more energy. They were far more physical than us. I think the last two times we’ve played them, they’ve been the far more physical team.”

The Clippers mostly single-covered Aldridge in that matchup, but then started to mix up their coverages as they faced a series of offensively potent big men, including Joel Embiid, Nikola Vucevic, and Blake Griffin. Doubling hasn’t gone as well for LA as the team would like, but without Gallinari to start on Aldridge, the Clippers may be forced to concede that one-on-one defense will benefit the San Antonio All-Star.

Montrezl Harrell had a particularly difficult time against Aldridge back in December, mainly due to the size disparity between the two players. “[Aldridge] is a very skilled player, but you gotta make him uncomfortable, simple as that,” Harrell said after the Dec. 29 loss. “He’s like four inches over me, at the same time I’m contesting the shot, but you’re contesting a guy who shoots a spin-around jump shot and he shoots from behind his head, so it’s not really having an effect on him.”

Clip Notes:

  • Gilgeous-Alexander had his best game in some time against the Warriors, and he figures to have free reign of the offense once more with Williams sidelined. The Clippers will need him to continue to be aggressive attacking the paint so that he can play-make for his teammates off of his drives.
  • Boban Marjanovic started the last time these teams played, but he really doesn’t belong in this game unless he’s guarding Pau Gasol.
  • Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley finished a combined 3-of-17 against Golden State, including missing all six of their threes. LA desperately needs more offensive production to beat the Spurs, starting with its veteran backcourt.
  • That scoring could come from Jerome Robinson and Johnathan Motley, who played real rotation minutes Friday and both looked capable of getting buckets. Whether they can compete on the other end is an open question, but their offense was a good start.

Check out Pounding the Rock for the opposing perspective, and enjoy the game. Go Clippers!