The Clippers are coming off a good win against the Rockets, but can get they get a winning streak going against the young Spurs on the road?
Where: Frost Bank Center, San Antonio, Texas
When: 5:00 PM PT
How to Watch: Bally Sports SoCal, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: James Harden – Paul George – Kawhi Leonard – Terance Mann – Ivica Zubac
Spurs: Jeremy Sochan – Julian Champagnie – Keldon Johnson – Victor Wembanyama – Zach Collins
Clippers: Mason Plumlee Out (Knee), Brandon Boston Jr. Out (Quad), Kobe Brown Out (G-League)
Spurs: Devin Vassell Questionable (Groin)
The Big Picture
The Clippers finally won their first game of the James Harden era on a game-winner by the bearded star in a nailbiter against the Rockets. Despite being 4-7, the Clippers are still 14th in Net Rating with the 11th best defense and 15th-ranked offense. Daniel Theis showed some nice flashes as the backup center, which will help the reserve unit not bleed points, and Terance Mann is an effective connecting piece with the starters. The Clippers just need to keep building chemistry with their new starting and bench units and hopefully get into a rhythm to move back up the standings.
After starting out a frisky 3-2 and raising the possibility of being somewhere close to “good” this year, the Spurs have fallen apart, losing their last eight games. The Spurs also rank dead last in Net Rating by a massive margin at -12.9, as they boast the league’ second-worst offense and second-worst defense. Devin Vassell and Tre Jones, two of their best players, have missed some time, but the Spurs are still very bad. However, they don’t care about wins or losses this year, which is all about development. Victor Wembanyama is the prize, and he’s been as advertised, with a presence that changes everything on defense and the ability to catch fire on offense. The rest of the roster is still very young and shaky, though if Vassell plays they’re a lot more dangerous due to his shooting and overall scoring package. Outside of that, the bizarre Jeremy Sochan point guard experiment continues, and Keldon Johnson can really score.
Guarding Wemby: The Clippers’ biggest (in terms of scoring margin) win of the season so far was against these Spurs. In that game, Robert Covington guarded Wembanyama, and his strength and smarts made life a nightmare for Wemby. RoCo is no longer on the Clippers, so it will be curious to see who gets that matchup. Kawhi would be interesting, as would Paul George, but I do wonder if Terance gets it since the Spurs don’t have a traditional point guard for him to hound. If Devin Vassell plays that changes matters a bit, as it’s one more dangerous perimeter player for the Clippers to deal with. Putting Zu on Zach Collins and having him to help on Wemby seems like the smartest play no matter who takes the wunderkind Frenchman however. PJ Tucker, for all of his uselessness on offense, would also be a good bet on Wemby on defense – though Wemby can help way off him on the other end.
Getting Kawhi Going: The Clippers’ best player so far this season, by far, has been Paul George – not their actual best player, Kawhi Leonard. While Kawhi has still been good – he’s averaging 21, 5.5, and 3.5 on good efficiency – he’s rarely looked like Terminator Kawhi, especially on offense. His free throw rate is by far his lowest as a Clipper, and he’s getting to the rim significantly less as well. It’s a bit unclear whether Kawhi just needs to get revved up, whether he’s lost a step, or whether the Clippers’ cramped spacing has hindered him so far. Regardless, it would be nice to see the Clippers try to get him going early with some easy buckets, maybe with designed plays to get him to the hoop or one of his pet midrange jumpers. The three-ball has been falling and Kawhi has upped his three-point intake, which is great, now the inside game just needs to be unlocked.