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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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The Spurs face off against the Clippers for the first time since their first-round loss to them in last year's playoffs.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Clippers

AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
December 18, 2015, 7:00 p.m. Spurs Time
TV: ESPN Radio: 1200 AM WOAI

The sports fan experience, like that of a moviegoer, is first and foremost a passive one. Things go in through the opaque lens of expectation and, more often than not (even for Spurs fans), the darn thing shatters before it can turn to a kaleidoscope of candy-colored euphoria. There can be only one (champ), after all.

The powerless spectator must live with the events that transpire before them, be it a beloved team's Game 7 elimination or the on-screen demise of a protagonist in an 80s masterpiece.

Everyone's a hero in their own story, but from an outside perspective the Clippers have been as close to a group of villains as the NBA has had over the years. They're the dark side to the Warriors' light in one of the league's best rivalries; perennial leaders in technical fouls, and they possess one of the more polemic, player-coddling coaches in Glenn 'Doc' Rivers.

Last year's Western Conference quarterfinals ended up as one of the best series of the postseason, with the Highlander Tim Duncan (née Timothy Theodore of House Duncan) putting up another performance for the ages (18 and 11, 59% shooting), while making plays like this:

In the end it wasn't enough, though, as San Antonio succumbed to its own fatigue and injury issues, sub-par execution from key players, and, more importantly, transcendent play from Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Paul's runner off the glass is the image that's likely been burned into the minds of Spurs fans -- along with Steve Ballmer's courtside convulsions -- but there was no shortage of clutch plays by the guy, even when he appeared to only have one working leg.

Thanks to DeAndre Jordan's de-defection (refection?) from Dallas over the summer, this year's Clips are constitutionally similar to last year's -- for better or worse. They still have two dominant players, a Kurgan in the middle, a three-point specialist, and a whole lot of questions at small forward and the bench.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has stepped into the starting lineup as the fifth Beatle, although it hasn't really mattered who that complementary piece is alongside Paul, Griffin, Jordan and Redick: the starting five has performed well on most nights, regardless of who's playing small-forward cowbell.

Blake Griffin is having another banner year, and he's a big reason this team remains a tough out on most nights. He keeps his game in between the elbows and in the paint, which allows him to get to the basket and take advantage of his excellent vision. Teams are often forced to choose between forfeiting the 17-footer or giving him the window to get to the hoop. His shot chart from NBA Savant speaks to the success of choosing the former (or just the difficulty in defending the latter):

Last year's team boasted one of the most intimidating attacks in the NBA. At its best, the offense seemed capable of producing an open look or alley-oop on any possession. That execution isn't quite there this year, as Los Angeles' 106 Off Rtg is good for ninth in the league.

Doc Rivers seems bent on playing Griffin and Jordan at the same time. It's their most-used twosome and, with Cole Aldrich the only other option at center, he's forced to go to a small-ball bench lineup. The results (two of their five most-used lineups have included Josh Smith at the five and either Wes Johnson or Lance Stephenson at the three) have not been pretty. Small ball, it turns out, relies on good shooting and willing passers -- attributes decidedly lacking in that second unit.

With LaMarcus Aldridge's combination of length and mobility, I like the matchup in the frontcourt a lot more than last year (especially with a rested Timmy) and expect the Spurs bench to thoroughly out-execute LA's. Redick has had another sublime year, but Danny Green has already shown in two matchups against Kyle Korver that he should be able to stay with him for most of the game.

Catharsis is subjective -- and thicker-skinned fans may already be over last year -- but a few of us may find some ablution with a Spurs win. And even if your sensibilities aren't as frivolous as mine, this should serve as a solid test against a team San Antonio might see (again) in the playoffs and it should be an entertaining game from beginning to end.

Matchup to watch: Parker vs. Paul. The Clippers series may have been the low point of Tony Parker's career (especially when juxtaposed with Chris Paul's otherwordly performance), but he's bounced back this year, shooting well from all over and getting into the paint again. I don't think there's another player on this team for whom this game represents as much a benchmark as the Frenchman, and I'm really interested to see how he holds up -- especially since Paul traditionally relishes matchups against better teams.

San Antonio Spurs (22-5)

Los Angeles Clippers (16-10)

December 18, 2015

AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX

7:00 PM CST

TV: ESPN

Starters

Tony Parker

PG

Chris Paul

Danny Green

SG

J.J. Redick

Kawhi Leonard

SF

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

LaMarcus Aldridge

PF

Blake Griffin

Tim Duncan

C

DeAndre Jordan


Game prediction: Spurs by 9 (missed DeAndre Jordan free throws).

For the Clippers fans' perspective, visit Clips Nation.

As always Tony must dominate Fisher.