Thursday nights are always big news in the NBA, but this one for a different reason. While we are being treated to two quality contests, the real big news is the forthcoming trade deadline. We’re expecting Josh Smith to move somewhere, and there’s always those deals that come from out-of-nowhere that make for interesting chatter the next day. However, to distract us from the trade gossip, the NBA has given two brilliant match-ups, the second being between the intelligent San Antonio Spurs and Lob City’s Los Angeles Clippers.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Past, Meet Future: Popovich’s Veterans meet the new kids on the block
The San Antonio Spurs represent everything the old-time fans love about basketball – a true team game, quiet demeanour, a professional organisation and of course, an extremely high level of play. The Clippers are the definitive team of the SportsCenter generation. There’s the endless highlight reels from Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford, and the characters of the second unit. There are the bright lights of Los Angeles and the chip on the shoulder of each Clipper when they play in a city that still worships a team that sits on the other side of the playoffs line. Both are extremely good teams, and a lot of fun to watch.
Sitting 4 ½ games behind the Spurs, the Clippers have probably given up on any hopes of taking top seed in the West, but are still in the hunt for the second seed. After the Thunder’s loss to Houston today, the Clippers are a mere game behind them. For the top tier of the West, the difference between the second and third seed is enormous. It’s the difference between facing a team like Utah, Houston or Golden State (if their slide continues) instead of Denver and Memphis.
The Big Question: Who’s Got Next?
The biggest story of Thursday night isn’t going to be about who’s on the court, but more about whether or not anyone isn’t. The Clippers have been linked to Kevin Garnett, and with the deadline passing hours before tipoff, there’s a chance they could be down an Eric Bledsoe or two coming into this one if they’re dealt.
The Spurs aren’t a team known for any major shake-ups on their roster and that’s set to stay the same. In one of the more zany Josh Smith trade scenarios, Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports linked them to the bouncy Hawk. Any deal of that magnitude for the Spurs would completely change the complexion of this match-up, though it’s extremely unlikely Smith goes to San Antonio. The only potential deal that has some legs to it is something involving DeJuan Blair, who could be on his way out before the deadline.
The Clippers are sending mixed messages through rumors, some indicating they’re ready to aggressively pursue a final piece to get them a championship and others believing the Clippers feel well equipped now they have a full, healthy roster together. Eric Bledsoe’s departure could be better for both parties in the long run if he is dealt, although the Clippers would certainly miss his vertical explosiveness and pace against Tony Parker and the Spurs. Speaking of Tony Parker…
Proving Their Points: Tony Parker vs. Chris Paul
In one of the marquee point guard clashes of the season, Chris Paul and Tony Parker will do battle less than a week after sharing the same locker room at All-Star Weekend. Both guards are in phenomenal touch this season, and both are in a rare vein of form.
In his last three clashes, Paul has recorded double-doubles while collecting 10 steals over the stretch. He’s got the better of Jrue Holiday, Jeremy Lin and Steve Nash and is looking to add Tony Parker to his list of casualties. Parker is one of the most perennially underrated players in the league, and he doesn’t get nearly as much credit as he deserves for his defence. He traditionally plays well on Paul and forces him to dish, playing him aggressively and making the most of his extra 2 inches while being quick enough to stay in front of him.
Parker’s also been quietly having an MVP level month for the Spurs while his fellow veterans have tempered with their health. TP’s put in 27.3 points and 9.5 assists per games in the month of February; doing of that while shooting over 50% from the field.
In the Spurs’ recent outing against the Cavaliers, Parker led the Spurs with 24 points and 7 assists but more importantly, completely shut down All-Star Kyrie Irving. He kept Irving to 6 points on 2-15 shooting which was essential in the narrow one point win. Irving is, in my opinion, a better scorer than Paul, and Parker should be able to account for him.
Who’s best in the West?
The Spurs are a team never to be bet against, but the Clippers are in a prime position to pull off the victory. Playing at home gives the Clippers an enormous advantage, having only dropped 5 games all season at Staples.
The Clippers are a team built to prey on the fundamental flaw of San Antonio – their athleticism. Gregg Popovich, however, has built this team around that weakness brilliantly, and will convincingly out-coach the less experienced Vinny Del Negro. The Spurs’ spacing of the floor is their key to success, and the Clippers will use the full depth of their long roster to suppress that and play as a team.
Of course, these points could very well change if we find out Kevin Garnett is Clippers-bound, or about any other crazy eleventh hour deal that robs either side of key role players before tip-off. However, if all goes to plan, we’re going to have a fun clash of cultures, styles and quality basketball when the Spurs and Clippers meet this Thursday night.