10:35 PM EST, TNT – Line: Spurs -3.5, Over/Under: 205.5
As the league gets set to reconvene after the All-Star Break, a pair of contenders clash out West as the Los Angeles Clippers host the San Antonio Spurs tonight at STAPLES Center. While the Golden State Warriors have garnered the vast majority of the national headlines and with good reason), the Spurs (45-8, 1st in Southwest) have ominously been lurking n the background, having quietly put together a tremendous first half of the campaign that has seen them make a bit of history of their own. At their current rate, San Antonio has outscored their opponents by an average margin of 13.2 points per game, which is not only the top mark in the NBA this season, but an all-time record through the first fifty-three games of a season. They’ve also enjoyed the comfort of home cooking; you see, Gregg Popovich’s charges are a perfect 28-0 at the friendly confines of the AT&T Center, and (dating back to last season) in the midst of a lengthy thirty-seven game home winning streak, which is currently good for third all-time. However, tonight’s tilt, will take place on the road in a venue that left a very sour taste in their collective mouths last May; after hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy a year before, the Spurs were unceremoniously discharged in the opening round of the Western Conference Playoffs against the Clippers, in an epic seven-game series that was ripe with tension and drama. In fact, their final game of the 2014-2015 term was a 111-109 defeat on their enemy’s turf. Now in the midst of their annual famed Rodeo Road Trip, in which the Texas Rodeo expels them for the better part of two weeks, giving Popovich and Co. an eight-game road trip to build some fine tune their machine en route to a playoff run. Wins over Miami (119-101) and Orlando (98-96) before the All-Star Break set the tone, now their meeting with the Clippers provides the opportunity to make a statement. Of course, in their only previous meeting this season, it was San Antonio that gained a measure of revenge against their nemesis; back on December 18th, they hosted Los Angeles in a spirited 115-107 victory at AT&T Center in Southern Texas, thanks in large part to a huge Fourth Quarter in which they outscored the visitors 30-19. In an offensive show in which both teams shot at or near 50.0% from the field, the Spurs took advantage of the Clippers’ many mistakes, turning eighteen turnovers into a multitude of opportunities in transition; the home side attempted fifteen more field goals, helping mitigate the damage that the visitors were able to inflict form the charity stripe (25-of-40, plus-6). In typically balanced fashion, all five starters scored in double-figures for San Antonio, led by new arrival LaMarcus Aldridge, who logged twenty-six points on 11-of-18 shooting from the field (61.1%), along with thirteen rebounds, three assists, and a block. The ageless Tim Duncan added another fourteen points on 5-of-8 shooting from the floor (62.5%), with five boards, four assists, and a steal to his credit. Speaking of the 39-year old veteran, he’s expected to start tonight after missing nine out of the past eleven games with a lingering foot issue. Indeed the eight-day layoff has done the future Hall of Famer wonders.
Meanwhile, the always entertaining Clippers (35-18, 2nd in Pacific) have made plenty of headlines on and off the court for a variety of reasons, ranging from their stellar play since Christmas (19-5), to the bizarre story of All-Star Forward Blake Griffin suffering a ridiculous hand injury after striking the team’s Strength and Conditioning Coach at a local restaurant. Now, we’ll give you a minute to process that information… Thanks to a completely boneheaded decision made a player that is absolutely vital to the team’s postseason fortunes, Doc Rivers and his charges will be without the services of Griffin for the foreseeable future as their has been no timetable for his return after undergoing surgery weeks ago. Though it’s clearly hyperbole, this guy is a rather important piece of the puzzle, folks; the five-time All-Star is a bonafide stat-stuffer, averaging 23.2 points on 50.8% shooting from the field, including 8.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 23.4, but has been absent for the past twenty-three games, rehabbing from a partially torn quadriceps even before the saga emerged with his hand. Understood, Rivers and his Staff are quite unhappy with this turn of events, with many in the Basketball World going so far to prognosticate that the 26-year old could be on his way out of the City of Angels. Reports of a multi-player trade that would have sent him to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for a cache of players emerged last week, and with the Trade Deadline arriving shortly before tonight’s contest, there is a chance that Griffin could very well no longer be a member of the Clippers by tipoff. However, Rivers has since gone on the record stating that Griffin WILL indeed remain with the team, with the sense that Management has tabled the discussion until the Offseason. Either way, it’s safe bet to say that Los Angeles will miss him considerably tonight, for he was a huge proponent in eliminating the defending champions a year ago; Griffin averaged a robust 24.1 points on 46.7% shooting from the field, including 13.1 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks against the Spurs, while leading his team in free-throws made (41) and attempted (54) in the seven-game series. Furthermore, in their lone meeting with them back in December, he came up huge with twenty-five points on 10-of-19 shooting (52.6%), along with five rebounds, five assists, and a steal in a losing effort. In his absence, Rivers has had to resort to a much smaller lineup, featuring either Paul Pierce (5.7 points, 2.8 rebounds) or Luc Mbah a Moute (2.9 points, 2.4 rebounds) at the Four, with the former providing spacing with his shooting (31.4%) and the latter strictly defense. With that said, neither player can match Griffin’s athleticism or prowess in transition, not to mention his criminally underrated playmaking ability at the Elbow or top of the Key. This could prove trouble tonight, as the Spurs’ Twin Towers featuring Duncan and Aldridge will have a decisive advantage in the painted area.