THE series in the first round of the NBA playoffs, as the defending NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs, try to deal with no home court advantage against the willing underdogs, the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers, as mentioned above, are embracing the underdog role. Doc Rivers probably prefers to shake up his players that way, and tell them that they’re going to be fighting the odds and the hatred of other people in order to finally do something, which means getting past the conference semifinals, which would be a first in franchise history. Too bad that the first round seems almost impossibly difficult.
The Spurs had their problems in February, but have been scorching over the last six weeks, something that almost earned them the second spot in the West. However, a final day loss to the Pelicans caused them to fall four spots and play on the road as they open the postseason, with a more difficult route ahead of them to try and repeat for the first time compared to last season’s path.
There are no secrets at this point. The Clippers have been playing excellent basketball to close out the season, especially since Blake Griffin got back. The always improving power forward is becoming a more and more complete player, although his and DeAndre Jordan’s defense remains a question mark and something of a weakness for a team that always struggles putting in a complete and focused effort defensively.
The Spurs have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili along for another ride. But Duncan is usually dominant early on before letting others take the lead. Tony Parker has been hit and miss this season, and Manu Ginobili is closer to retirement than ever. Even more than in last season’s NBA finals, the present and future have a lot to do with how good Kawhi Leonard will be.
And if the NBA leader in steals and someone who seemed to wipe out any defensive assignment Popovich gave him since the beginning of March is going to play in the same kind of intensity and focus, it’s going to be mighty difficult for the Clippers in this series, especially when they don’t have the home court support other teams have from their fans.