Sunday, May 13, 2012
First Look: San Antonio Spurs
By Pedro Moura
LOS ANGELES -- It's been more than a month since the San Antonio Spurs have lost a game.
In that 32-day span, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan & Co. have gone 14-0, beating opponents by an average of more than 17 points per game. They've won as many games by more than 25 points -- three -- as they have by single digits.
Suffice it to say, San Antonio has been hot. And now the Los Angeles Clippers, having snuck by the Memphis Grizzlies in Sunday's Game 7 at the FedEx Forum, will play them in the Western Conference semifinals, beginning Tuesday in Texas.
It'll be a challenge, one that will go a long way toward shaping the public perception of Chris Paul's first season in Clipperland. If the Clippers somehow get by the Spurs, the year will be anointed a success, regardless of what happens in the next round(s).
But if they don't -- and, worse, if they get swept -- opinions will likely be somewhat split. Some will say coach Vinny Del Negro did enough to keep his job, considering the injuries and fast-paced schedule his team had to deal with over the past five months. Others will say he didn't, considering the two stars he had at his disposal and the bevy of other talent assembled for him during the 2011-12 season.
So, while we wait for that question to be answered, can the Clippers actually win this series?
It's going to be exceedingly difficult. The Spurs are hot, and they're also well-rested. That's not a good combination against a Clippers team dealing with injuries to Paul and Blake Griffin, one that struggled significantly to get by the star-less Grizzlies in the first round.
The first time the Clippers and Spurs played this season was telling, although it's important to note that the Clippers' construction has changed quite a bit since then. In that game, a 115-90 blowout Spurs home win on Dec. 28, Parker neutralized Paul and three Spurs scored at least 19 points.
In the second game, a 103-100 overtime San Antonio win in L.A. on Feb. 18, Parker outplayed Paul again and five other Spurs scored in double digits.
The third time the teams played, the Clippers won 120-108 in San Antonio in mid-March. But Parker didn't play in that game with a quad strain and Paul went off for 36 points and 11 assists.
As those games attest, one of the most troubling things about the Spurs matchup is that San Antonio has one of the only players in the NBA who can match Paul offensively and defensively on a night-to-night basis. And the Spurs have a host of other talent that can supplant Parker on any given night.
It's a nasty combination, and it's why the Spurs have been so tough to beat of late, with the addition of Patrick Mills in late March making it even more difficult.
The other most troubling thing? The coaching matchup -- or mismatch, rather. Del Negro deserves credit for out-coaching Memphis' Lionel Hollins in Sunday's Game 7, but it's doubtful he'll be able to do the same against San Antonio's Gregg Popovich.
Game 1 begins Tuesday in San Antonio, and the Spurs will be highly favored. For the Clippers, getting one of the first two in Texas will be their biggest challenge yet.