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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Clippers

The Spurs face another tough challenge in LA against the Paul George and the Clippers.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Both the Spurs and Clippers hold records that belie their performance so far this season, though their positions in the relative hierarchy of the league are vastly different. The Spurs sit 13th in the West with a record of 4-9. That they have the worst win differential in the league, having won 2 fewer games than they should have already, per Cleaning the Glass, based on their -0.4 net rating outside of garbage time, is meaningless to all but the most optimistic Spurs’ fans.

The Clippers, meanwhile, are tied for 5th in the West with an 8-5 record and a net rating of +5.5, excluding garbage time. More importantly they have been on an outright tear over the last two weeks, winning seven straight games before dropping Sunday night’s matchup with the Bulls. They’ll be looking to get back on track against a Spurs’ squad with just one win over a Western Conference opponent so far this season.

San Antonio Spurs (4-9) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (8-5)

November 16, 2021 | 9:30 PM CT

Watch: CW35 | Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Zach Collins (Out — Ankle), Jakob Poeltl (Day-to-day — Conditioning), Jock Landale (Out — COVID Protocols)

Clippers Injuries: Kawhi Leonard (Out — Knee), Marcus Morris Sr. (Out — Knee), Keon Johnson (Day to Day — Ankle)

Motion is the name of the game

The Spurs offense will be facing an uphill battle against the Clippers. Producing just 107.5 points per 100 possessions, the Spurs are decidedly average on that end of the floor. While the team’s shooters have perked up recently, taking at least 30 three point attempts in each of the last 3 games and making 48% of them, that’s an unsustainable clip. They were due a little positive regression to the mean, but it’s very unlikely they’ll continue to be that hot for much longer.

Against the league’s 3rd best defense, though, hoping for a hot streak might be one of the Spurs’ best answers. The Clippers are giving up a measly 102 points per 100 possessions. Per Cleaning the Glass, the only area the Clips’ D might be vulnerable is on the glass, as they allow their opponents to grab 27% of available rebounds, though they lead the league in allowing the fewest points per play on 2nd chance opportunities.

With Jakob Poeltl reportedly not ready to return for this one, the Spurs will likely have to rely on their ability to use constant ball and player movement to open up the creases they need to get into the paint and break down the defense. If they can create penetration without turning the ball over, they should be able to score consistently.

Matching up with Paul George

George is averaging 26.5 points per game this year, the 4th highest mark in the league, and using 33.6% of the Clippers’ possessions in the process. His turnover rate is the highest of his career, at 15.0%, but so is his assist rate, at 25.9%. The Clippers ability to convert the opportunities he creates for his teammates has been especially important this season, as the Clippers are 7-1 when he has 5 or more assists, and just 1-4 when he doesn’t.

Fortunately, the Spurs have a couple of options for matching up with George. In the starting lineup, both Derrick White and Keldon Johnson should see time on the Clippers’ star, and it will be interesting to see if Devin Vassell draws the match up at any point. He has the tools to defend almost anyone, and in George he will be facing down an archetype he should be looking to emulate with his own game. How well the Spurs are able to contain George’s offensive game will go a long way towards determining whether they can stay competitive for the full 48.

Winning in transition

Getting out ahead of the defense for easy buckets is an obvious best case scenario for most offenses and a key point of focus for their opponents. Fortunately for the Spurs, their transition defense has been good so far this year, but they’ll be tested against the Clippers. The other LA team is averaging 15.6 fast break points per game this year which is the 3rd highest mark in the NBA.

They’re especially dangerous off of live rebounds, turning 36.9% of those opportunities into transition plays, per Cleaning the Glass, which leads the league. The Spurs will need to be disciplined in maintaining their floor balance and matching up on the fly, especially when the Clips’ reserves are on the floor. The teams’ highest scoring lineups in transition all include Luke Kennard and Terrance Mann, each of whom comes off the bench for 25-30 minutes and about 10 points per game.

For the Clippers fans’ perspective, head over to Clips Nation.

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.