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Game preview: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Clippers

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San Antonio continues its four games in six nights stretch in Los Angeles.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

After decades of futility, this could finally be the Los Angeles Clippers’ year.

Stop me if you’ve heard that before, since it’s been the same sentiment for the past five seasons.

To recap: Los Angeles has won an average of 56 games per season under Doc Rivers. This season the Clippers (21-8) are on pace for a franchise record 59 wins.

And they have two appearances to the second round, including a blown 3-1 lead to the Houston Rockets before it became cool to blow 3-1 leads, and a first-round exit to show for their efforts.

The Clippers’ inability to get over the hump – or, at least, reaching the Western Conference Finals – underscores an important, but often overlooked part of the championship equation: Timing. When the Clippers acquired Chris Paul in a trade before the 2011-12 season, the trajectory of the franchise skewed upward. Success was expected. A core of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan meant deep playoff runs and, maybe, championships.

During this same five-year span, Los Angeles had to contend with two LeBron James-led Heat teams, the Beautiful Game Spurs, the 67-win Warriors, the 73-win Warriors and the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers that beat the 73-win Warriors in the NBA Finals.

Each year the Clippers were a part of the championship conversation, but each season they failed to reach the pinnacle. Part of that is simply being a great basketball team in an era with several great basketball teams.

This season, however, may represent the Clippers’ best chance of making the next leap. San Antonio is vulnerable after losing Tim Duncan. Houston presents an obvious challenge, but Los Angeles has the offensive firepower to keep up with the Rockets in a playoff series. Golden State is better on both ends of the floor, and has more superstars, but they aren’t invincible.

The Clippers have even more impetus to make a deep playoff run, and not just a jaunt to the second round, because next offseason could be its most important in franchise history. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have early termination options for next season, meaning they can both enter the unrestricted free agent market a year early. DeAndre Jordan has one more guaranteed year for the 2017-18 season, then he’ll have the opportunity to enter free agency.

The clock is ticking.

San Antonio Spurs (23-5) at Los Angeles Clippers (21-8)

Dec. 22, 2016 | 9:30 CST

Watch: KENS, TNT; Listen: 1200 AM WOAI

Spurs injuries: Manu Ginobili (rest)

Clippers injuries: Blake Griffin (knee), Brice Johnson (back)

Blake Griffin out

Griffin, a five-time All-Star, will miss 4-6 weeks after his arthroscopic knee surgery Tuesday.

His absence — Los Angeles was outscoring its opponents by 14.3 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor this season — means the much-maligned defensive duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol can relax a little. Griffin is the Clippers’ toughest interior big to defend, because of the utility of his game and his elite athleticism. Jordan is a beast, but 63 percent of his field goals this season have been dunks according to Basketball Reference. He’s far easier to defend, especially when Griffin isn’t on the floor to open up his angles for alley-oop dunks and dives to the rim.

***

Vegas line: Spurs by 1.

Game prediction: Spurs by 4.

For the Clippers fans perspective, visit Clips Nation.

As always Tony must dominate Fisher.

PtR's Gamethread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR's Twitter feed.