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Clippers vs Spurs Game Preview: Kawhi Leonard Returns to San Antonio

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The Clippers are playing the Spurs tonight, marking Kawhi Leonard’s second time returning to the AT&T Center since leaving a year and a half ago.

San Antonio Spurs v LA Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Information

Where: The AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas

When: 5:30 PM PT

How to Watch/Listen: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570

Projected Starting Lineups

Clippers: Patrick BeverleyKawhi LeonardPaul GeorgeMoe HarklessIvica Zubac

Spurs: Dejounte MurrayBryn ForbesDeMar DeRozanLaMarcus AldridgeJakob Poeltl

Injuries

Clippers: Landry Shamet Out (Ankle), Rodney McGruder Out (Hamstring)

Spurs: None

The Big Picture

The Clippers have surged to third place in the Western Conference standings on the basis of a seven-game winning streak. The only reason they’re not even higher is that the two teams ahead of them, the Lakers and Nuggets, are on lengthy winning streaks of their own. The Clippers have won big, they’ve won tight, they’ve beaten very good teams, and they’ve beaten lottery squads. The full range of winning experience has been reached over the past couple weeks, and it’s been an exhilarating ride. However, there’s no reason it should come to a close any time soon. Rodney McGruder’s injury will hurt, but the Clippers have Kawhi, Paul George, and the most dynamic bench in the NBA. They’re extremely good, and there’s no telling when this winning streak might end.

The Antagonist

The Spurs are not so good. They boast the 21st ranked Net Rating in the NBA, and, incredibly for a Coach Pop team, sit at 26th in Defensive Net Rating. Their much-laughed about midrange-focused offense has not been an issue at all – they’ve been excellent on that end of the floor. The issue is defense, where a slowing LaMarcus Aldridge can’t make up for the sins of DeMar DeRozan and Bryn Forbes, or the height of Patty Mills. Pop has two excellent perimeter defenders in Derrick White and Dejounte Murray, but their lack of shooting has crimped their fit with other offensively, so Pop has had to curtail their minutes. Still, rumors of a DeRozan trade have swirled in recent weeks, and it’s quite possible this Spurs team looks very different by the trade deadline.

Notes

Kawhi Returning to San Antonio: This will only be Kawhi Leonard’s second trip to San Antonio since he was traded from the Spurs in the summer of 2018, leaving behind a legacy as the potential “next great Spur”. All the drama around his departure has receded, and there appear to be no hard feelings between Kawhi and Pop or any of the old-time Spurs that remain, such as Mills and Aldridge. However, Kawhi will likely face heavy boos tonight, and it will be interesting to see how he deals with that as a Clipper. The Clippers took out the Spurs a few weeks back in a fairly well contested game, and the Spurs, revved up by the crowd, will probably bring the fight to the Clippers tonight as well.

Who Gets McGruder’s Minutes: Rodney McGruder has been a staple in the Clippers rotation, mostly playing off the bench and getting anywhere from 13 to 25 minutes per game (average of 17.3). With his (presumably extended) absence, those minutes are up for grabs. The likely beneficiaries are Jerome Robinson and Terance Mann, each of whom has entered Doc’s rotation at points this season. The two young guards have both played in 14 games this season, and have remarkably similar counting stats. Robinson’s improvement on defense has made him far more playable this season, but outside of one scoring outburst in a blowout, he’s not scored the ball any more efficiently than last year. His confidence has clearly improved; the results, as of yet, have not. Mann has mostly looked capable in his minutes, but his complete lack of shooting is tough to work around, especially when he plays off-ball, as he would with almost all the Clippers lineups. Neither is a perfect option to replace McGruder, who’s a better defender and shooter than either, but it will be a golden opportunity for Mann and Jerome to step up and earn some of Doc (and the veteran’s) trust, especially with Shamet out. It will be interesting to see who Doc rolls with tonight.

Well, that’s it! Short preview today (still digesting all that turkey), but it will be exciting to return to the NBA after a one-day hiatus for Thanksgiving. Hope everyone had good Thanksgivings with their families, and I will see you on the game thread or on Twitter tonight!