The NBA’s Western Conference was so wild that everything changed on the final day of the regular season. And it affected the Clippers tremendously.
One loss dropped the San Antonio Spurs from second to sixth. Most teams were rejoicing, but not the Clippers, the unlucky team must now host the defending champions.
While the Clips would have preferred another opponent, they did go 2-2 against the Spurs in the regular season. However, these are not the same Spurs the Clippers last saw back in mid-February.
The Spurs went on quite the run to end the regular season, going 21-4 in their last 25 games.
Those 21 wins included victories over the Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, and Houston Rockets twice. For those keeping score at home that’s the best team in each conference and the second and fifth seeds in the West.
The Spurs mean business and are peaking at the perfect time.
The Spurs may be scorching hot, but the Clippers are right there with them. Doc Rivers’ squad ended the season with two seven game win streaks, sandwiched around a loss to Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
So despite the regular season result in favor of LA, how do these two Western Conference powerhouses, who many regard as the biggest threats to Golden State, stack up?
Offensively they’re explosive, each boding a top six efficiency and a top five true shooting percentage. In both categories however, the Clippers ranked higher.
One red flag for the Clippers will be if the Spurs opt to intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan, an abysmal free throw shooter. The tactic has cost LA a few games during the regular season.
These two will be nearly impossible to stop on the offensive end, so this series is likely to come down to which team’s defense can get more stops.
During the regular season the Spurs had the third most efficient defense in the league, while the Clippers were middle of the pack at 15th.
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green provide the Spurs an advantage guarding the wings. Most feel J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes could hurt the Clippers on the defensive end. The lack of perimeter defending will likely hurt LA.
One way the Clippers have circumvented their defensive mediocrity, aside from the rim protection provided by DeAndre Jordan, is the strength of their starting five. The Clippers fielded the league’s best starting lineup in terms of scoring and point differential.
The Clippers have an edge with their starting lineup, but the same cannot be said for their bench.
LA’s bench was one of the worst in the league, while the Spurs were first or second in bench scoring and bench efficiency on both ends of the court. Coach Doc Rivers will play Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan around 40 minutes per night, but the Spurs’ bench is so superior that they’ll take advantage when Paul and company rest.
Besides the guys who will be on the court deciding this series, the coaches have a big role to play.
Doc Rivers is a fine coach, but Gregg Popovich is on the Mount Rushmore of coaching, not just in the NBA, but in all sports.
A coach won’t win you a series, but he’ll likely make a key decision to sway a game or two.
Tim Duncan versus Blake Griffin, Tony Parker versus Chris Paul, Pop versus Doc, this series has it all.
Team basketball clashes against individual talent. A storied franchise faces one on the rise.
The Clippers will need the best postseason performances to date from their big three of Paul, Griffin and Jordan to have any chance to advance.
Either way it should be a fascinating and high scoring series, likely to go six or seven games.
Game 1 is Sunday night at Staples Center.