|They're different sizes, but Tim Duncan and Chris Paul carry their teams all the same. (Getty Images)|
Previewing the Western Conference Semifinals series between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers.
San Antonio Spurs: It's a little bit too easy to say "experience," or "savvy," or "wisdom," or "smarts," or "leadership," or "veterans" or "knowledge," or "know-how." So here's what I'd say San Antonio's greatest strength is: They're damn good. Consider this: Counting the regular season, the Spurs have won 14 straight. Only three of those wins were within single digits. The know how to play, they move the ball wonderfully and everyone understands exactly what their role is within the system. Nobody ever steps out of line, ever tries to go maverick and take over. It's all mechincal for the Spurs, and it works.
Los Angeles Clippers: Athleticism. And Chris Paul. Where the Clippers have an advantage over a lot of teams is that they have a lot of versatility in their athleticism. As they proved in the Memphis series, they can match up with bigs, or they can go small and speedy. They can be tough, but they can also play a little finesse. Then add in the fact that CP3 is there to close games, get good shots for himself or others and make sure things run somewhat smoothly and the Clippers quietly have a nice little structure to function in. It's not perfect, their rotations get weird and they look bad sometimes, but it's their way, and it's worked thus far.
San Antonio Spurs: Size. The Spurs likely sighed a bit of relief in seeing the Clippers finish the Grizzlies, just because of the issues San Antonio has had with big men in the past. But it's not like the Clippers are small. Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans provide a quality rotation of front court players. The Spurs have Tim Duncan, of course, but in Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner. The Clippers aren't a post dominant team like Memphis, but they do carry around a lot of length and will surely punish the offensive glass.
Los Angeles Clippers: Inconsistent offense. There's a reason the Clippers haven't been able to shake the Lob City thing and become known as just a good team. Because at times, those easy baskets are all they lives on. Outside of Paul, they just don't have places to go for points. Nick Young is inconsistent. Blake Griffin isn't a reliable post scorer. Caron Butler is solid, but unhealthy. Randy Foye, inconsistent. Mo Williams, same. Often times, as illustrated against the Grizzlies, finding baskets is a chore for the Clippers. They're something else when they're running the floor and shooting
San Antonio Spurs: The bench. There isn't a team deeper than the Spurs. Virtually anyone they bring in seems to be ready to produce. Danny Green, Bonner, Blair, Gary Neal, and down the line you go. Thing is, Gregg Popovich isn't afraid to use them either. He trusts his second unit and with the Clippers being rather thing on the bench, the Spurs could take major advantage of those stretches when it's bench versus bench.
Los Angeles Clippers: Nick Young. The Clippers have to find a guy not afraid to shoot and ready to score. He might crash and burn wildly, but if they're to hang with San Antonio, it can't exclusively be the CP3 and Blake show. There has to be some extraneous help. Caron Butler has stepped up well and Randy Foye's hit some shots, but Young is someone that can get his own looks and heat up in a hurry.
San Antonio Spurs: Gregg Popovich. It's Pop against Vinny Del Negro. What's there to be said? I do think Del Negro's gotten a bit of an unfair rap as some media have piled on top of him all season long, but facts are facts -- he's not in the same ballpark at Pop in terms of game management. Pop utilizes his bench better than anyone, understands game flow and is a master tactician to go with it. There could be a game or two decided simply on smart coaching, and those would almost certainly lean San Antonio.
Los Angeles Clippers: Versatility. The Clippers have the ability to go both small and big and make either work well. Why? Because Chris Paul is brilliant at running any show. He prefers slow, grinding games where each halfcourt possession is a treasure, but he also runs Lob City wonderfully. The Clippers could force the Spurs hand quite a bit with different matchups, causing the Spurs to react to them instead of the other way around.
Will Win If...
San Antonio Spurs: Win the rebounding margin. The Clippers are going to need to find a lot of their points on the offensive glass. Putbacks and second chances could be the life blood of the series for the Clippers. The Clips need easy baskets in transition, high ball security and great rebounding work. The Spurs have Duncan, and Blair is a quality rebounder, but don't have the brute strength inside that the Clippers do. Win the boards and win them well, and this thing could be over quickly.
Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin plays the best four games of his career. The Spurs are better. Plain and simple. But the Clippers have immense talent and that scary little thing: Guys poised to break out in a big way. Griffin was a bit up and down against the Grizzlies, but he was also battling against Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The Spurs don't really have anything like that to throw at him. He should have a solid advantage inside, especially on the block with his first step, and if Griffin can get things rolling, the Spurs might not have an answer. He has to play four incredible games and if so, the Clippers might just steal enough to take this thing.
Prediction: Spurs in six.