What to watch: Clippers-Spurs

February, 18, 2012
2/18/12
9:44
AM PT

Clippers (19-9) vs. San Antonio Spurs (21-9) at Staples Center, 12:30 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

1. Measuring stick: For The past 15 years the Spurs and Clippers have been on opposite ends of the spectrum in the NBA, and their head-to-head record certainly reflects that. The Clippers have only one win against the Spurs in their past 20 meetings and suffered through an 18-game losing streak to San Antonio from 2006-10. The Clippers have also only won once in San Antonio since 1997. The Clippers suffered one of their worst losses of the season against San Antonio at the beginning of the season when the Spurs beat them 115-90 on Dec. 28. The Spurs are currently on a 10-game winning streak, the longest current run in the NBA, and a win Saturday would move them a step closer to the best record in the West. A Clippers win, however, would move the Clippers past the Spurs for the second-best record in the conference.

2. Comeback kids: The Clippers came back from an 18-point deficit Thursday to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 74-71. It was the Clippers’ biggest comeback win of the season and their largest comeback victory in three years. One of the biggest differences between this year’s team and those that have faded in the past has been the Clippers’ ability to close out games on the road. The Clippers’ rally in Portland is the team’s fifth road win since Jan. 29 in which they have come back from a deficit of 10 or more points. This season, the Clippers have battled back from double-figure deficits six times. Before this season, the Clippers' past four road wins in which they overcame a double-digit deficit came in four different years.

3. Spurs influence: No other franchise in the NBA has had a greater influence over the Clippers recently than the San Antonio Spurs. They are the team the Clippers have tried to model themselves after culturally and philosophically after Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro was hired two years ago. Del Negro played with the Spurs from 1992-98, helping lead the Spurs to the playoffs on five occasions. Two of Del Negro’s assistants, Marc Iavaroni and Howard Eisley also played for the Spurs. Del Negro credits Spurs coach Gregg Popovich with helping mold his coaching philosophy and says he always wants them to win, except when they play the Clippers.

4. Board game: Last month around this time, the Clippers were dead last in the league in rebounding. Since then Reggie Evans has returned from an offseason injury, Kenyon Martin was signed as a free agent and the Clippers now find themselves 15th in the league in rebounding. The Clippers have dominated the glass in their past five contests, outrebounding their opponents 242 to 179. The Clippers are 4-1 in that span and have outrebounded their opponents in eight straight games and have had more offensive rebounds in six straight games. That advantage should continue against the Spurs, who are 19th in the league in rebounding.

5. Foye not feeling it: When Chauncey Billups was lost for the season, Randy Foye was inserted into the starting lineup so only one position would be altered by the loss. Del Negro did not want to move Mo Williams, who is in the running for Sixth Man of the Year honors, from the bench to the starting lineup, and has no one to provide a scoring punch off the bench. The problem, however, has been that Foye has not embraced the role of being a starter, at least statistically. In his past three games Foye is 5-of-26 from the field (19.2 percent) despite being a career 41.2 percent shooter. His streaky play has forced Del Negro to lean more heavily on Williams, who is averaging 13.7 points and 3.4 assists. Williams has accounted for 51.7 percent of the Clippers’ bench scoring this season and is shooting 45.6 percent from the field.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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