After opening the 2011-2012 season with a 13-point win against the Memphis Grizzlies, the San Antonio Spurs (1-0) return to action tonight, as they’ll be hosting the “Lob City” Los Angeles Clippers (1-0).
The Clippers are the central buzz around the league after acquiring All-Star point guard Chris Paul in a trade that sent numerous pieces back to New Orleans. Before Monday’s Spurs-Grizzlies game, even Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins mentioned the Clippers, “The new super team is the Clippers,” Hollins said. Hollins went on to say that it didn’t matter which players were brought into Los Angeles but their success would be measured on how they played as a unit on the court.
A “super team” might be the case for the Clippers as they feature five current and former All-Stars in Chauncey Billups (5 times), Chris Paul (4 times), Caron Butler (2 times), Mo Williams (1 time), and Blake Griffin (1 time).
The Clippers will definitely be one of the most entertaining teams outside of the Miami Heat as they feature the dunking duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan who each finished second and third last season in dunking behind only Orlando’s Dwight Howard. Adding a passing point guard like Chris Paul to the mix will only increase both of their chances at finishing alley-oops in the air.
Here are the projected starting lineups for tonight’s matchups along with the injuries and bench depth for each team.
San Antonio Spurs
|PG Tony Parker||James Anderson||Tiago Splitter||Gary Neal|
|SG Manu Ginobili||T.J. Ford||Kawhi Leonard|
|SF Richard Jefferson||Cory Joseph||Matt Bonner|
|PF Tim Duncan||Danny Green|
|C DeJuan Blair|
Los Angeles Clippers
|PG Chris Paul||Mo Williams||Brian Cook||Eric Bledsoe|
|SG Chauncey Billups||Randy Foye||Ryan Gomes||Reggie Evans|
|SF Caron Butler||Travis Leslie||Trey Thompkins|
|PF Blake Griffin|
|C DeAndre Jordan|
Analyzing the Chess Board
Backcourt: Parker versus Paul should be an entertaining matchup as Parker can use his speed from north to south against Paul while Paul can use his defense in deflecting passes on the perimeter to setup transition opportunities. Parker must look to have a big night because the more he makes Paul work on defense, the less of an impact Paul will be making on offense. Using advanced metrics from the NBA Stats Cube, Paul is only a +1.8 in efficiency when Parker is defending him.
After playing just 1:16 seconds in garbage time in Monday’s win, rookie Cory Joseph could possibly see some action tonight if head coach Gregg Popovich is ready to let the young guard get his feet wet on the defensive end in guarding one of the league’s most elite point guards.
Manu Ginobili shouldn’t have any trouble where he left off on Monday night as Billups has decreased in speed with age and Ginobili can still use a wide range of his skills on the offensive and defensive end of the floor. Ginobili will need to pay particular attention to Billups on the defensive end as Billups took a team high 19 shots for the Clippers in their win on Sunday against Golden State. When Billups defends him, Ginobili averages a +1.7 in efficiency.
Richard Jefferson looked much more comfortable on offense Monday night as the pressure seems to be off of his shoulders with the additions of rookie Kawhi Leonard and second year guard James Anderson to the lineup. Butler looks healthier after recovering from several injuries over the past few seasons with the Dallas Mavericks. If Butler gets going early on, look for Leonard and Anderson to see some time defending him as was the case with Memphis’ Rudy Gay on Monday. Butler has Jefferson’s number as he average a +8.8 when Jefferson defends him.
Mo Willams, Randy Foye, and Ryan Gomes are the Clippers’ second unit backcourt while the Spurs will use Leonard, Anderson, and point guard T.J. Ford. Anderson should be able to continue leading the second unit, as the Clippers are relatively thin off of the bench. Leonard can also add to the defense with Anderson, as most of these players outside of Williams aren’t known as offensive threats.
The Frontcourt: Duncan will see some time guarding both Griffin andJordan as will DeJuan Blair. The Clippers’ big men are young and active so Blair and Duncan will need to stay alert when the Clippers are in transition and when they fly toward the hoop off of screens and pick-and-rolls in the half court offense. If Duncan or Blair aren’t alert, there’s a good chance either of the Clippers’ big men could be in the air ready to make a new dunking poster. On the offensive end, Duncan can still use his fundamentals in the low block against the smaller Griffin. Duncan surprisingly averages a +2.8 in efficiency while Jordan has a better chance of defending Duncan as he posts a +3.8 efficiency rating when Duncan defends him. Blair shockingly has a +6.9 efficiency rating on Jordan while Griffin has a +1.9 efficiency rating on Blair.
The Spurs will be relieved to learn that they aren’t the only team lacking front court depth as the Clippers really only use Brian Cook off of the bench with Reggie Williams currently nursing a sprained right foot. Cook isn’t known as a force in the paint but like Matt Bonner, he’s deadly from three-point range. Tiago Splitter might have a better game on the offensive end of the floor, as he’ll see what he can do against the smaller Griffin and Jordan’s length. On the defensive end, Griffin and Jordan can present a problem, as they’re much quicker than Memphis’ Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Splitter will also have to improve on defending the pick-and-pop with Cook on the floor.
Behind Enemy Lines
The biggest area where the Spurs can take advantage in the game is with the play of their second unit. I watched the Clippers-Warriors game on Sunday night and noticed that the Clippers’ second unit allowed the Warriors to come back into the game and almost take the lead before the starters were reinserted. The Clippers’ second unit go-to man is Williams, while the Spurs will have Anderson and Splitter to run their second group.
As is the reason for the name “Lob City,” the Spurs must take care of the ball to prevent easy transition plays that will end up as alley-oops for Griffin and Jordan on the fast break. A slower half-court pace is the way to keep attention to detail and limiting turnovers.
Two other areas the Spurs must stay alert in are with the chance of Billups and Paul getting a hot hand and limiting fouls on Griffin and Jordan. Billups and Paul were able to put together individual runs by shooting three’s and long jumpers to easily raise their team’s lead into double digits early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game. Griffin went to the free throw line eight times against the Warriors while Jordan was there 12 times mainly due to new Warriors head coach Mark Jackson’s “hack-a-Jordan” philosophy that the got the Warriors back into the game. The Spurs fell behind to Memphis in the first quarter because Duncan and Blair got into early foul trouble and had to be sent to the bench, which forced Splitter and Bonner to see very early action. The Spurs don’t have the bodies in the frontcourt to sustain early fouls during the season.
Who do you think will win this game Spurs fans? If the Spurs can take care of the ball and their second unit can stay productive, look for them to hand “Lob City” their first loss of the season.