San Antonio at L.A. Clippers
Time: 9:30 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: SAS -4
Odds c/o 5dimes
The San Antonio Spurs are 24-7 on the road this season and travel to face the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, where L.A. has gone 18-8 thus far this season. The Spurs are 4-point favorites according to NBA oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes, and the over/under is set at 210 points. The game will be the second-half of an ESPN double-header Friday night.
San Antonio has won seven of its past 10 games, even with Pau Gasol unavailable and Dewayne Dedmon starting in his place. Dedmon has filled in brilliantly, averaging 7.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks/steals per game in 23.3 minutes a night. The Spurs have also gotten strong play from Davis Bertans, Jonathon Simmons and Dejounte Murray. It seems no matter where head coach Gregg Popovich turns, he is able to make another productive NBA player. Gasol will start at center tonight against the Clippers, it was reported by Paul Garcia of Project Spurs. That will inject back 11.7 points and 7.9 rebounds into the Spurs rotation and relegate Dedmon more to spot minutes, but with how well he played it would be unsurprising to see San Antonio take its time working Gasol back into heavy minutes.
Just because he starts tonight does not mean he will see 30-plus minutes on the court. The Spurs have the depth and luxury in standings to rest guys, and Popovich will curtail the minutes of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and his veteran players as the season winds down. San Antonio currently trails Golden State by 4.5 games, and that gap may be insurmountable. The Spurs hold a 3.5 game edge over No. 3 Houston, which should be a lead it can retain while even giving rest to its prominent players. LaMarcus Aldridge may be saving his best for the playoffs.
The veteran forward is averaging 17.5 points per game and 7.3 rebounds, but he is shooting 47.9 percent from the floor and 42.1 percent from three, while posting 1.228 points per possession. Of course, that pales in comparison to Kawhi Leonard’s 1.464 points per possession, as Leonard leads the team at 25.9 points per game with a PER of 28.3. He is the MVP candidate that is being ignored due to James Harden and Russell Westbrook’s respective gaudy statistics, but Leonard is quietly having a perfect season. He is a defensive game changer, and his 2.55 blocks/steals per game only tell part of the story of the disruptive influence he has defensively, not to mention consistently negating major scorers at his position on a near-nightly basis. The two-way brilliance of Leonard should get his name in those MVP discussions, but it just does not seem to be, even with the Spurs posting the second-best record in the West.
The Clippers are on the verge of welcoming back Chris Paul to its lineup. That will shake things up, as Austin Rivers had emerged as a major threat in his stead. Ray Felton also had shifted to the small forward position, but with Paul returning, it is unclear what direction the Clippers will head. Several guards proved a lot in his absence, and the three-guard approach has worked well with J.J. Redick floating as a shooter, and Jamal Crawford doing much the same when he subs in. The Clippers are still a team with a powerful frontcourt of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but so much of its focus had shifted to its guards with Paul odd which is an irresolvable oddity in its own right.
The Clippers have gone 5-5 over their past 10 games SU, and the team is coming off a 123-113 loss to the Golden State Warriors. Prior to that, the Clips had won four straight with victories over the Atlanta Hawks, Utah Jazz, Charlotte Hornets and New York Knicks.
Griffin is averaging 23.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists in 33 minutes per game over the Clippers past 10 games, and he is averaging 24 points per game in the month of February. Griffin struggled against Golden State though, as Draymond Green held him to 3 of 13 shooting and just 12 points, five rebounds and eight assists.
Griffin has averaged 7.2 assists per game over his past five contests, and is a playmaker while Paul is on the court, for that matter too. He creates so much in transition and is an adept passer in the high post, and Griffin’s game seems somewhat underrated. He clearly is going to garner a max contract this offseason, but which team is going to make Griffin the focus of its build? Is he a franchise player or simply a very good power forward? His playmaking suggests more of the former, that he can be used as a primary focus in an offense of a contending team.
The Clippers have been just that, but without Paul, Griffin goes on to start his own dynasty and the guy is just 27 years old. Where will Paul go? Where is Griffin headed? The Clippers future all but hangs in the balance, as it closes out another strong season in which it reasonably does not actually contend in the true sense of the word.