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3 Key areas of focus when San Antonio Spurs face LA Clippers

Feb 3, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) scores against San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan (10) and forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) in the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 3, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) scores against San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan (10) and forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) in the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Feb 3, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) scores against San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan (10) and forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) in the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The San Antonio Spurs need to right the ship against the LA Clippers

It’s still very early in the regular season and you don’t want to make too much of one loss but the defeat the Utah Jazz handed the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday is going to sting for a bit. This team needs to bounce back soon.

We knew that the month of January was going to be crucial to the Spurs’ playoff hopes but boy does it start out tough. Facing off against two of the best teams in the conference is a heck of a way to break in the new year but that’s what the Spurs have in store this week. They’ll face the LA Clippers tonight and take on their roommates, the Lakers, on Thursday.

The Clippers gave the Spurs problems last year. San Antonio went 1-3 against last year’s group, many of whom are no longer in with the team. But while the complementary players might have changed a bit, the core pieces of this team stayed the same.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are the driving forces of this Clipper group once again. But with skilled role players like Luke Kennard and Nicolas Batum, the Spurs can’t afford to focus all their energy on PG and Kawhi.

They’re going to have to lock in on defense if they want to avoid another blowout. Let’s get into exactly what they need to do on that and a few other key areas of focus in tonight’s game.

Keldon Johnson is in for one of the biggest defensive tests of his career

I’m actually not too worried about how Keldon Johnson performs on the offensive end of the floor. Leonard and George are impressive defenders but Keldon’s been getting his all season. He hasn’t been going up against slouches and he’s still finding ways to have historic outings.

Johnson has faced some talented players but few quite as talented as the Kawhi-PG tandem. The only comparison would be AD and LeBron and those matchups didn’t quite go the way the Spurs had hoped.

Johnson played with energy and did his best but he wasn’t able to stop AD and LeBron from running through the Spurs. We’re all thrilled for the gains Keldon made over the summer but on some players, LeBron just bodied through him like he wasn’t even there.

https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/01/01/0022000075/16/7ec5d3a3-e522-f613-21de-676b311ef25f_1280x720.mp4

Given Kawhi’s recent injury and George’s prolific outside shooting as of late, I don’t think they’ll be quite as physical with Johnson as LeBron was. But that doesn’t make this matchup any less intimidating.

Johnson’s going to have to do a great job of staying in front of these two, not biting on pump fakes, and trying to contest three-point shots without fouling. No one’s expecting him to totally shut the two down, few defenders in the league can do that. But if he brings that typical Mustang energy he should be just fine.

Next: Can Dejounte Murray return to form?

San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Jan 3, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Dejounte Murray (5) shoots in the second half against the Utah Jazz at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Dejounte Murray seeking comeback of his own against Clippers

Good players have off nights in the NBA. It happens to everyone, it’s nothing to be concerned about. But great players bounce back after those nights and don’t let themselves fall into a rut. Call it short term memory loss or closing the door or whatever you may, the great ones find a way to put a bad outing behind them.

It’s no question that Dejounte Murray is a good who had a poor outing against the Utah Jazz on Sunday night. His 1-13 performance from the field drew a lot of criticism from Spurs fans, some of it far and some not. But he’s got a great opportunity to return to form against the Clippers.

In the long run, the addition and extension of Luke Kennard was a good move for the Clippers. He’s a solid combo guard who should give them a great jolt of scoring and playmaking off the bench when Lou Williams inevitably hangs it up. But for now, it’s stacked the Clippers’ backcourt with subpar defenders.

Patrick Beverly is still an imposing defender but the rest of his teammates in the backcourt haven’t been at his level. Kennard (116.6 DEFRTG), Williams (119.3), and Reggie Jackson (112.8) will all give Dejounte opportunities to score. He’s got to make the most of them.

With Derrick White set to miss more time after reinjuring his foot, this is Dejounte’s backcourt now. DeMar DeRozan and Patty Mills will step in to help but make no mistake, this is Dejounte’s time to shine.

Next: Whiffs of another blowout

San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio Spurs

Jan 3, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Luka Samanic (19) shoots in the second half against the Utah Jazz at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

What happens if the San Antonio Spurs fall into another blowout?

Knock on wood, hope it doesn’t happen but what if the San Antonio Spurs get blown out again? I try to be an optimist but come on, elephant in the room here.

If they get out to a slow start, as they have done many times before, they’ll have a harder time grinding their way back to a win against this Clippers team. If Gregg Popovich decides he’s seen enough we could be in for another quarter of clearing the benches and just letting the young kids fly around.

If that comes to be, the man to watch has to be Luka Samanic. Luka checked in with just under five minutes remaining in the 4th against Utah and wasted to no time getting his shots off. He’d fire off five shots in just over three minutes, making one of them. You have to love the enthusiasm he played with.

One thing that Luka could work on if he gets in tonight would be getting his teammates involved as well. He’s not a bad passer and there were opportunities for him to kick it out to a teammate on Sunday instead of going to the rim but he didn’t take them.

https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/01/03/0022000089/615/c32b0a0f-f386-7da9-2081-6ceaa9d0e449_1280x720.mp4

Here you can see Elijah Hughes come into the paint to help, leaving Devin Vassell wide open near the top of the key. Instead of spinning baseline, what if Luka had kicked it out to Vassell? Maybe Hughes is able to close the distance and contest the shot but Vassell’s got a naturally high release and a long wingspan, he should be able to get a good shot off.

Is debating what a second-year player should do on a garbage-time possession too nitpicky? Possibly. But those are the kinds of reads that Samanic is going to have to make quickly if he’s going to be a fixture in the Spurs rotation and it’d be encouraging to see him flex those muscles in his limited minutes.

All 5 Spurs' Finals MVPs, Ranked. Next

This one’s on the West Coast (9 PM CST tip-off) so grab your beverage of choice and get ready for a long night of San Antonio Spurs basketball. This should be a good one.

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