The Lakers looked tired and got absolutely manhandled by the Thunder on Monday night.
If that game was any indication, the Clippers may be in for a long night in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal vs. the Spurs.
After just one day of rest since eliminating the Grizzlies on Sunday, the Clippers will go head to head against the well-rested San Antonio Spurs. We just saw what happens when a team with one day of rest goes up against a team with eight days of rest, on their home floor.
Make that nine days of rest for the Spurs, who have yet to lose in the postseason.
Game 1 is set for tonight, while the Heat take on the Pacers in Game 2 without Chris Bosh.
The Clippers go into the semifinals with a bad recipe to beat the best team in the West. Not only are they nowhere near as well-rested as their counterparts, they also are still hobbling with injuries.
Blake Griffin, who could not move properly in Game 7 and was forced to sit for much of the final period, has a sprained knee. He believes he is at about 75-80 percent. Chris Paul still doesn’t have his usual full range of motion as he deals with a sore groin, but as he did in Game 7, he will be ready to go. And then, of course, there is “Tough Juice” Caron Butler, who is playing despite a fractured hand.
Coach Vinny Del Negro will be in familiar territory as he visits San Antonio, the team he once played for under Gregg Popovich.
From Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles: “It has been almost 15 years since Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro last played for the San Antonio Spurs, but he’s still far more synonymous with the Silver and Black than any of the other eight teams he has either played or coached for during his basketball career. In fact, when the Spurs played the Clippers earlier this season, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich admitted that Del Negro’s name is still uttered in practices all the time, but maybe not for reasons Del Negro would like to hear. “Some of the stuff we do on defense, we actually have one thing we call on the pin downs, we say we’re going to ‘Del Negro it’ and that’s in his honor and we’ve done that for 15 years,” Popovich said. “We have a Del Negro defense out there because he couldn’t play a lick of D. At times we had to invent something just to hide him, so we call it ‘Del Negro’ and you do certain things on the court and everybody has to make up for that guy who’s the ‘Del Negro.’” Popovich doesn’t really consider Del Negro a protégé the same way he does former Spurs assistant coach and current Lakers head coach Mike Brown. “He’s not a protégé,” Popovich said. “We never coached together but I was able to coach him.”
The Clippers lost two of the three games against the Spurs in the regular season, but it is moot to point to it as a disadvantage. The circumstances and personnel were simply different in all of the games.
More from Markazi: “Normally when two teams meet in the playoffs, especially for the first time, the easy thing to do is go back to the season series between the teams to get an indication of how the playoff series might play out. Doing so for this series would be a complete waste of time. The Clippers and Spurs first met this season in San Antonio on Dec. 28 in a game the Spurs would win 115-90. How long ago was that? Well, you know the Clippers’ much-talked about second unit of Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans, Nick Young, Mo Williams and Eric Bledsoe? Only Williams played in that game and Martin and Young were months from even joining the Clippers at that point. Both teams would meet again at Staples Center on Feb. 18 in a game the Spurs won 103-100 in overtime. This was the game in which the Clippers held a 95-92 lead with 9.5 seconds left and were in-bounding the ball. Ryan Gomes made a bad pass to Chris Paul, who made an even worse pass to San Antonio’s Gary Neal, who tied the game and won it in overtime. Gomes hasn’t left the bench since. The Clippers finally won the last meeting of the season in San Antonio, 120-108, on March 9. Tony Parker did not play in that game but Williams did hit seven three-pointers and scored 33 points for the Clippers.”
Here are some factors to consider heading into the series.
From Jeff McDonald of San Antonio Express News: “Uncork the Rust-Oleum: The Spurs earned an eight-day break by sweeping Utah, probably more time than they needed to shake off any residual bumps and bruises. Players are resigned to opening the second round with a measure of rust. How quickly the Spurs can shake it off will help determine their fortunes against the Clippers. Slow down, speed up: The Clippers are a team that thrives in transition, with Chris Paul throwing lob dunks to Blake Griffin and a stable of shooters knocking down 3-pointers. Get them in a halfcourt game, however, and their offense bogs down. The Spurs, who have averaged better than 111 points during their 14-game winning streak, don’t want the game to plod along, either. Keeping their own tempo up while keeping the Clippers from running will be vital. Hit back: The fact that the Clippers survived a 7-game series with Memphis — a team the Spurs know from experience is playoff-tough — should have everyone’s attention. Following the lead of noted tough guys Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans, L.A.’s second unit has displayed no fear of landing a proverbial punch. The Spurs must be willing to push back or risk being pushed around.”
No one will underestimate the Clippers heading into the series, including Manu Ginobili, who watched them play in the first round and came away impressed.
From Tim Griffin of San Antonio Express News: “Ginobili was raving about the Clippers’ resiliency in their Game 1 comeback at Memphis, where they overcame a 27-point deficit late in the third quarter to earn a 99-98 triumph that set the tone for the series. “That was a fantastic effort. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that,” Ginobili said. “A 27-point (comeback) in the playoffs on the road is really hard to accomplish.” And because of that grittiness, Ginobili said the Spurs will have to be cognizant of that comeback ability in tonight’s Game 1 against the Clippers. “They are warriors. They know to come back,” Ginobili said about the Clippers, who also won Game 7 on the road. ”They’ve done it a lot in the regular season, too. We’ve got to understand that the game won’t be over ’til it’s actually over. We have to fight to the end.”
Rookie Kawhi Leonard, who finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting, will play a key role in the series as he is set to face Butler in the starting lineup.
If Bosh misses an extended period of time due to the injury, a small part of him may wish the Heat don’t win without him, according to writer Chris Perkins.
Miami has been mostly lucky up until now in terms of injuries, and the team will have to step up collectively as it faces real adversity for the first time this season. Of course, as it did in Game 1, it will have to start with James and Wade.
From Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: “You get the sense Miami can survive Bosh’s absence, at least for now, although for sure the Heat’s postseason just got a lot more interesting, addition (of drama) by subtraction (of a key player). “Our margin for error no question is less,” as coach Erik Spoelstra put it Monday. “But this team is built with a great deal of versatility. It is one of our great strengths. We feel we have enough [even without Bosh] right now.” Ever notice that challenge and opportunity are nearly synonymous in the context of sports? They certainly are for the Heat at the moment. Pacers coach Frank Vogel downplayed the absence of Bosh, deadpanning, “It doesn’t allow you to play 5-on-4.” Yet Indiana’s advantage will be great unless Miami can compensate. Spoelstra has the chance to earn some coaching chops now with ingenuity and creativity in how he putties the sizable hole Bosh leaves. James and Wade have the opportunity to do the seemingly impossible: To be at the very highest level, and yet step up even higher. It was what we saw in Sunday’s Game 1 win, when the two combined for 42 points in a Bosh-less second half.
Udonis Haslem may now have to do a lot more than what he has done throughout much of the season, if capable, instead of disappearing in key situations.