After years of dynamic and exciting matchups, the season series between the San Antonio Spurs and L.A. Clippers just got personal.
It was well known throughout his untimely trade request from the San Antonio Spurs that superstar Kawhi Leonard wanted to make his return home to Los Angeles – but it was the Lakers that were originally seen as his primary destination.
Consecutive seasons of turmoil within Los Angeles’ most beloved franchise coincided with a revitalization within the Clippers organization. Under new ownership and the expert guidance of Jerry West, the Clips set their sights on becoming the City of Angels’ headlining act. They needed star power to counteract the Lakers’ addition of arguably the greatest player of all time in LeBron James, so West worked tirelessly to acquire LeBron’s kryptonite in Leonard.
Between this addition and the blockbuster trade to land All-NBA swingman Paul George, basketball savant and Spurs architect Gregg Popovich will have his hands full in game planning for the Clippers this season. Containing two lengthy shot creators like Kawhi and PG-13 is a tall task for any team, but the Spurs have the advantage of knowing Leonard’s game inside and out.
The Spurs host the Clippers twice this season (November 29 and December 21) and will visit them at the Staples Center twice (October 31 and February 3). Part of the reason for trading Kawhi to the East was to limit how often they’d have to see their former superstar in the regular season, but that total has doubled from last season and the importance of these games has skyrocketed.
With competitive rosters scattered through the very depths of the Western Conference, the margin of error for win totals is very thin. More so than ever, every game counts and San Antonio needs to do well in the season series in order to keep the playoff streak alive.
Next: The 2019-20 Los Angeles Clippers
The 2019-20 Los Angeles Clippers
Forming a “new-look” roster may be a hot commodity, but the Clippers built their team based on consistency. After moving on from borderline All-Star Tobias Harris near the trade deadline last season, Doc Rivers’ squad held a vacant star forward position heading into the offseason. They just so happened to fill that role with the Finals MVP and a generational defender in Leonard while adding another Top 10 talent in George.
Los Angeles is built to compete with the league’s elite, boasting depth and versatility at every position while remaining true to the gritty identity built through roster construction and team identity.
Intensity is the name of the game with the Clippers, who’ll return guards Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Landry Shamet to sling jumpers and push the envelope on defense. This kind of extended range and firepower will help L.A. to become one of the best three-point shooting teams in the game after making 38.8 percent of its threes last year. This mark made them the second most efficient three-point shooting team in the game, just 0.4 percent behind the Spurs for first place in the NBA.
Similarly to San Antonio, the Clippers didn’t shoot many threes (28th in the league last year) but were selective with their takes and ensured higher quality of jumpers as opposed to focusing on sheer volume. This should continue into next year, but the volume will likely increase considering George’s affinity for deep jumpers.
Aside from the newfound star-power, depth is the greatest asset that the Clippers will bring into the looming season. Both Williams and big man Montrezl Harrell can rotate into the lineup, offering varying levels of size, athleticism and skill along the way.
Rivers is going to have a plethora of lineups to toss at opponents. Regardless of the anticipated load management that this team will implement, the Clippers will be a deadly opponent each night out.
Next: Beating the Clippers in the season series
Beating the Clippers in the season series
On paper, the Spurs are at a disadvantage to Los Angeles this year. In terms of roster depth, these two squads are very similar, but the Clippers have superior star power. With that said, San Antonio has combatted star power constantly over the course of this 22-season playoff streak and won’t stop battling now.
The matchup between swingman DeMar DeRozan and Leonard was extremely fun in their two meetings last season with the season series split with one win a piece. Unfortunately for the Spurs, Leonard is coming back with a formidable group, potentially upgrading from his surrounding cast of his lone season in Toronto.
San Antonio’s guard tandem of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White will be crucial against this lineup. Switches through ball screens will force each of the young guards to go head-to-head with MVP-caliber opponents in Leonard and George while containing arguably the best sixth man since Manu Ginobili in Williams.
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Both Murray and White have some dog in them on the defensive end, something that the Clippers represent plentifully, and will need to counteract their opposition by playing tough, physical defense while remaining light on their feet. The less defensively-inclined guards of the group – Patty Mills, Lonnie Walker IV and Bryn Forbes – need to assert themselves on both ends to win the battle in the backcourt.
White did an excellent job of defending Leonard in last year’s meetings, keeping in his airspace and forcing the former-Spur out of his comfort zone. The same goes for George, who’ll more likely be defended by the likes of Rudy Gay and DeMarre Carroll.
This will be a crucial series for Carroll in particular, whose physicality and grittiness matchup nicely against the Clippers’ front court with the exception of center Ivica Zubac.
For the Spurs to conquer the Western Conference’s most exclusive, new group, they’ll need to stick to their wits, initiate their signature ball movement and trust in the strategy devised by Pop.
There are no guarantees but repeating last season’s split of the season series would be considered a success when taking into account the Clippers’ enhanced lineup.