The 21-8 Los Angeles Clippers host the 23-5 San Antonio Spurs tonight in a battle between two of the Western Conference’s top teams (10:30 p.m. ET Thursday on TNT). The Golden State Warriors have gotten most of the early-season buzz, but the two powers facing other here have enjoyed solid starts to the campaign as well.
Los Angeles won the first game of the season series in San Antonio by a score of 116-92. However, Blake Griffin (28 points in that contest) is out recovering from knee surgery and will need a month or more before he returns to action. The Clippers likely won’t have as easy of a contest this time, even as the venue shifts to their home floor.
This preview analyzes the chief influences in this NBA game and culminates with our betting predictions and picks.
How Will Gregg Popovich Use Kawhi Leonard on Defense?
Opponents have learned to neutralize Kawhi Leonard’s (pictured) defensive excellence by placing their star player in the corner and essentially letting everyone else play 4-on-4.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has several ways he can use Leonard against the Clippers. Probably the worst decision would be placing him on J.J. Redick, who is a deadeye spot-up shooter and could enact the aforementioned corner strategy well. Leonard would have to stay glued to Redick, which means the rest of the Clippers could probably carve up the rest of the Spurs.
The best options for Popovich would probably be placing Kawhi on Chris Paul or Luc Mbah a Moute for most of the game. Paul is vital as an initiator of the offense, and playing him away from the action would be a foolish move by the Clippers, so this means Leonard would probably stay closer to the ball. If Leonard guards Mbah a Moute, a weak offensive player, he could freelance more and come up with some key steals, blocks and rebounds.
Regardless of what happens, the Clippers have a wide variety of players Leonard could conceivably guard. They’ll have to make the right decisions before and throughout the games in order to maximize his wingspan, athleticism and defensive instincts.
With Blake Griffin Out, Which Clipper Steps Up As a Scorer?
Griffin being out is a very big deal. He’s exploded against the Spurs in the past few years, and he’s also been successful in recent matchups versus LaMarcus Aldridge. Griffin has averaged 27.0 points per contest on 51.4 percent shooting in his last seven games against Aldridge. Paul is going to miss the athletic power forward helping him as a reliable offensive option.
Therefore, it’s going to be important for another Clipper (or Clippers) to have big scoring nights. The most logical choice is J.J. Redick, but his reliance on the three-point shoot makes him streaky. Other options include Jamal Crawford, DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers and Marreese Speights, all of whom can go for 20 points in a game if they’re on.
Los Angeles has a stellar record of 10-2 when a Clipper besides Paul scores 25 points, but is just a decent 11-6 when that doesn’t happen. With a team as solid as the Spurs, you can’t beat them with just one person. Chris Paul will need help.
Can the Spurs Keep Moving the Ball?
The Spurs are currently on a five-game winning streak, and a lot of it can be attributed to improved ball movement. San Antonio has averaged 28.4 assists per game in the streak, compared to 22.7 assists throughout the rest of the season.
For the season, the Spurs have accumulated 24.5 helpers per contest in wins, as opposed to just 20.0 dimes in losses. On the other side, the Clippers’ opponents are at 20.4 assists when the Clippers win, and 23.6 assists when they beat Los Angeles.
San Antonio has very good three-point shooting personnel, it’s just that the team sometimes gets bogged down into too many post-ups and other isolation sets that it doesn’t take enough deep attempts. Faster ball movement will create more (and better) three-point looks.
Not surprisingly, the Spurs are 6-0 when they total 28 assists or more, making 11.2 threes per game on 43.2 percent shooting in those games. When they have fewer than 20 assists, they make only 7.2 threes per game on 35.8 percent shooting.
Los Angeles has several great positional defenders, but the Spurs can neutralize those skills by keeping the ball moving.
Our Preview’s San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Clippers Betting Picks & Predictions
The lack of Griffin will be monumental in this game. The Clippers are usually a difficult matchup for the Spurs, but Griffin being out could change that, especially with someone like Paul Pierce taking his place in the starting lineup.
Los Angeles has already lost some of its early-season dominance, while the Spurs keep on trucking to the tune of a 67-win pace. Don’t expect the Clippers’ home-court advantage to play much of a factor here. Los Angeles is 10-4 at home, while San Antonio is 15-1 on the road.
Most USA betting sites have the Spurs favored by one point and I think they will win by five to 10 points and cover that spread. So to summarize, here are this preview’s betting predictions and picks:
- Bet on San Antonio Spurs -1pt @ -110 with 5Dimes. It is -115 for that spread with Bovada, while BetOnline go -1.5pts for -110.
- The over-under for this contest is around 205 total points to be scored, which seems a bit low with the way the Spurs’ offense has improved and the Clippers’ defense has regressed since the beginning of the season. This preview’s pick is to go over 204.5pts @ -110 with BetOnline. It is over 205 for the same odds with 5Dimes, while Bovada have yet to post their betting on the total points.