Spurs at Clippers Give and Go Preview

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As we’ve learned, the Spurs are 4-0 for the first time in franchise history. Will they get greedy and go for 5-0 against the Los Angeles Clippers tonight? Well, probably, that’s kind of what people expect of them.

After facing both the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio continues its 2012 playoff tour at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. To preview the game, I chatted with Charlie Widdoes of ESPN TrueHoop Network’s ClipperBlog.

[Update: I did a little 3-on-3 preview action with our friends over at ClipperBlog, so make sure to check that out as well.]

Charlie Widdoes, ClipperBlog: I feel like it’s last year all over again.

Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: How so?

CW: Well as you know, the Spurs are just the Spurs again. And after some change in the offseason and some promise in the preseason, the Clippers are the same “good offense,” bad defensive team. Basically, the Spurs still have Pop and the Clippers still have Vinny.

AM: Is there anything different about the Clippers this year? Are they at least playing Eric Bledsoe more?

CW: The roster has some different faces. Gone are three of their best 3-point shooters from a year ago in Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Nick Young. So are both of their backup bigs, Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans.

AM: Oh yes, we’re familiar with Mo Williams around these parts.

CW: What’d he have, like 30? The guy can shoot, man.

AM: Pretty sure he had a personal 13-0 or 15-0 run in the third quarter against the Spurs on Saturday night.

CW: As Clipper broadcaster Mike Smith called him: “Instant Mo.”

So far, Jamal Crawford has been about as good as you’d hope, scoring over 20 each game, I believe. But Jamal Crawford is a career 40% shooter, so you get that feeling that his hot start might not be sustainable.

By the way, I’m pretty sure I skipped past your Bledsoe question involuntarily because it has become so difficult to talk about. The guy was the star of the preseason (which is something, compared to what we saw from DeAndre Jordan), and yet his minutes so far have gone: 17, 14, 15, 26, and Willie Green has started every game.

AM: Ugh.

I did see one stretch of basketball where Bledsoe played alongside Chris Paul, which was nice to see.

CW: I haven’t checked on the lineup data yet — because the sample has been so small that I am keeping a running tally in my head — but the biggest crime about not playing Bledsoe, is that the minutes he does play tend to come with the Lamar Odoms and Ryan Hollinses of the world. I would guess he’s spent a combine 15 minutes on the floor with at least one of CP, Blake or DeAndre — and that number is skewed by the 26 on Monday against Cleveland, after Dion Waiters put up 12 points in 5 minutes against Green.

For a supreme, if sometimes reckless, playmaker like Bledsoe, there is such an enormous benefit to pairing him with finishers such as Blake and DJ.

AM: Yeah he raised hell when he was one the floor against the Spurs last year’s playoffs.

CW: I can only imagine that opposing coaches dread having to face a guy like hat. He’s the Clippers’ best defender, by far. He’s capable of slowing an offense singlehandedly by pressuring for most of the court. He rebounds for a wing. He converts mistakes into points. The problem is, offensively, he doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional shooting guard, so Vinny is reluctant to tie his future (because his contract expires at the end of the season) to a player he considers so risky. The Spurs are one of a growing number of teams that have seen how disruptive he can be and must be scratching their heads, watching him sit in favor of Willie freaking Green.

AM: Because Vinny was a traditional shooting guard?

CW: Is it traditional for shooting guards not to play a lick of defense?

AM: I would say so. They’re not defending guards, amirite?

CW: Well then yeah, probably. Bledsoe isn’t a “shooter” — yet. But he’s 22 and the stroke looks fine, even if it’s just a set shot. Like most coaches, Vinny likes his roles. Crawford, even though he’s leading the team in scoring, probably has a worse shot at starting than Bledsoe, if you can figure that out.

Keep in mind, the Clippers continue to frame this discussion in terms of “when Chauncey Billups comes back.” For all we know, he might be healthy and contribute, which would be a blessing and a curse. It’s always nice to add good players to a rotation, but they are already searching for minutes in the backcourt.

I believe you and I could help them at the 4 and 5 off the bench.

AM: I’m on record as saying I’ll sign with anyone for the minimum.

CW: I’m pretty sure I’m still draft-eligible.

AM: My checking account knows no loyalty. Nor do my student loans or truck payment.

CW: Unfortunately, the Clippers aren’t known for being overly generous, so hopefully you don’t mind performing a few other jobs around the office, too.

How badly is Tim Duncan going to destroy Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan? After some positive signs on D, neither has stayed down on a pump fake for at least two games.

AM: I’m sorry to say that there’s a good chance Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw will toy with Griffin and Jordan like a cat and its prey. I think Boris Diaw pump fakes just for the hell of it, knowing full well that he’s not going to shoot it. And Tim Duncan, well, Tim Duncan is just really smart.

CW: Yeah. Figured. What’s terrifying is that after starting 2-0 against Memphis and the Lakers, the Clippers have lost their last two to Golden State and Cleveland — and Del Negro questioned the team’s effort and preparation level after both games. Part of me wonders whether he’s right — the defensive effort has been poor — or he is just failing to recognize that by playing Lamar Odom and Willie Green, he is actively hurting his teams chances of winning. Among other, larger tactical deficiencies he brings as a coach.

AM: But Lamar Odom had five blocks!

CW: That was pretty funny. He was also second in plus/minus against Cleveland (behind Bledsoe) despite playing five of the most apathetic minutes of basketball I have ever seen.

I know you are a fellow believer in the pick-and-pop, but he is putting his stamp on the pick-and-stand. Not pretty.

AM: I fully support the pick-and-pop movement.

CW: Yeah. And right now, the Clips don’t have that. Odom can’t move. Their best pick-and-pop guy is Trey Thompkins, who has been out SINCE SUMMER LEAGUE with a bone bruise, and is in Bledsoe’s boat as it relates to playing time. Blake has been tentative with his shot, and sees to believe that he must initiate contact on every play. And that’s it. No stretch in the front court.

You have to wonder what happens to the offense if/when Crawford cools off. Caron Butler has this crazy power to score like MJ in first quarters, but then tends to disappear after that. You are always going to score because of Chris Paul, and with a defense that ranked 18th last year, that’s where the Clippers make their money. But you can see what could go wrong on offense, too.

AM: Oh Crawford will cool off. He has yet to have the Kawhi Leonard Experience this season.

Or Danny Green, one of those guys will guard him for a bit.

CW: Man, if Vinny stays with Willie Green as the starter, whoever he covers should be in for a big night. Is Gary Neal still getting minutes at the point? With Bledsoe on him, that was one of the few areas of weakness I saw from the Spurs in last year’s playoffs.

AM: Yes. Gary Neal is currently the backup point guard. I’m very conflicted about this. One the one hand, Neal can shoot and shoot in a variety of ways. On the other hand, he doesn’t create offense for others and isn’t a great defender. Now that Manu Ginobili is back in the lineup, the playmaking thing isn’t that big a deal. But I still don’t like his defense. I prefer Patty Mills in there because of how active Mills is defensively. And he can shoot pretty well from 3.

CW: Is #FreePattyMills not a thing yet?

AM: Not yet. But #PattyMillsGarbageTimeShotCount is. Maybe not the hashtag, but it’s a running game for the bloggers at the games to set an over/under for Patty Mills shots when he checks into the game.

CW: I’d imagine a team as skilled and deep as the Spurs has plenty of garbage time All-Stars (because they are plenty good enough to play in regular time). The Clips, at least in the backcourt, are pretty deep. How do you see the second units comparing?

AM: I’m actually kind of curious about this. In the first three games, the Spurs second unit was bad. Even when Manu Ginobili returned against the Jazz, they still put up something like a -22 net efficiency in their 10 minutes. The numbers were a little different last game when DeJuan Blair played instead of Tiago Splitter, but there’s still some concerns about the Spurs second unit.

CW: Yeah, I saw Blair looked good. Do they play separately from the starters, or are they mixed in?

AM: They’re mixed in during the latter stages of the first/third quarter and early second/fourth, but generally there’s a four or five minute stretch where it’s all second unit.

CW: Right. Clips have been similar, although down the stretch against Cleveland, Del Negro went with Paul-Bledsoe-Crawford-Blake-DeAndre and they looked good.

AM: That’s a lot of firepower.

CW: Yeah. Crawford at the 3 presents some pretty glaring defensive issues and you never know what you get on that end with Blake and DeAndre, but Paul and Bledsoe are so disruptive. Going with Barnes or Butler at the 3 would be better against many lineups.