After a full slate of games over the past two days, the first weekend of the NBA Playoffs finally comes to an end with a first round series showdown between the #6 San Antonio Spurs and #3 Los Angeles Clippers, that seems wildly out of place (10:30pm ET, today, Sunday on TNT).
Just how good was the Western Conference this year? Well, 12 teams finished with at least 30 wins, nine of which finished with a .500-plus record. In the East, only six teams had such a record. Of the top 10 records of the season, seven belong to teams in the Western Conference. If the 16 playoff teams were determined by record alone and not conference affiliation, the Oklahoma City Thunder, who just missed out on the eighth seed in the West, would have made the postseason.
Why is any of this important? Because the path to reaching the NBA Finals is treacherous and filled with an incredible amount of talent. There will be good basketball to be played all around but none more than the first round series between the Clippers and Spurs.
San Antonio enters as the sixth seed in the West despite having the sixth best record in the entire league. Their 55 wins separate them from the second seeded Houston Rockets by just one game. It is for that reason that the Spurs have just the sixth seed but why they are just as dangerous if not more so than the higher seeded teams they are expected to face.
The biggest advantage the Clippers have is not so much that they are at home but rather that San Antonio isn’t. The Spurs are 33-8 at home, compared to a very pedestrian 22-19 on the road. The Clippers meanwhile are also a great home team with a 30-11 record in LA.
The Clippers have taken on an underdog role but they will have game one at home and the winner could set the tide for the rest of the series. Given that is only a slight advantage, but against the streaking Spurs, the Clippers will take anything they can get.
Too Hot for April
When last season ended with the Spurs somewhat improbably on top of the basketball world, people questioned how this team continually defied the odds. Each of its stars was aging and the rumor of retirement followed around both Tim Duncan, the 17-year veteran and Gregg Popovich, the vaunted head coach. The Spurs had quietly and carefully reached the top. They weren’t flashy or exciting but they played fundamentally sound basketball better than any other team.
This year, it’s been much of the same. The Spurs saw virtually no turnover from last year’s championship roster to this year’s team that won 55 games. Again, the buzz in the West was all about the Golden State Warriors and rightly so. Teams like the Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies also got attention, but there were the Spurs, silently winning games. The team started slow but come April, a month that historically has belonged to San Antonio, they were hot. The Spurs won 11 of their last 12 games and 21 of their last 25, turning their season from mediocre to impressive yet again. They are the hottest team in basketball right now and they picked the right time to heat up.
But unfortunately for the Spurs, the second hottest team in the NBA entering the postseason is their first round opponent who won 14 of their last 15 as well.
Needless to say, this is the most compelling first round matchup the league has seen in quite some time.
It’s not Pop, it’s not Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili – although all of these guys have been instrumental in the run of the Spurs both this year and last. No, it’s once again going to be the impact of the role players such as Danny Green, Tiago Splitter and most importantly, Kawhi Leonard (pictured).
Leonard is in the second year of a breakout NBA career. The Spurs are 46-18 with him in the lineup this year and his plus-minus is second to just Stephen Curry. Leonard, in addition to his 16.5 PPG and 7.2 RPG, led the league in steals as well. He was the spark plug of this team during its worst days and played his best basketball in the final months of the season when San Antonio needed him most.
If Leonard continues to play as big as he has and as big as everyone in the league now knows he can, The Spurs should be able to overcome the strong roster of the Clippers paired with their home field advantage, en route to winning the series.
Ever since Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have joined forces in LA, the Clippers have been one of the most dominant regular season teams in the entire league. This year, they once again proved they have what it takes to reach the playoffs. They are hoping that this is finally the chance they prove they can make it out of the first round as well.
Griffin averaged over 21 points this year and over seven rebounds to go along with Paul’s 19 points, 10 assists and just under five rebounds per game. For the Clippers, these two once again carried the team.
LA has faltered in the postseason in the past few years and they will only go as far as their top two take them. Against the Spurs, a team that has proven its success in the playoffs, the Clippers will need as much as possible out of Griffin and Paul.
San Antonio Spurs vs Los Angeles Clippers Betting Picks
The odds have the Clippers favored by nothing more than one point, which is negligible.
- Since we’re only thinking game one here and not the series, take the Clippers -1pt with Bovada Sportsbook at best odds of -110 to take this at home. The spread is -1.5pts with both BetOnline and 5Dimes for the same odds.
The Clippers have a good enough team and have been solid down the stretch. Yes, they have yet to prove playoff success but this isn’t about them winning the series. My money is still on the Spurs for that.