Czar’s Playoff Preview: Clippers vs. Spurs Game 1

The Los Angeles Clippers come to the Alamo City tonight to take on the #1-seeded Spurs. The Spurs finished the lockout-shortened season at 50-16, tied with the Bulls for best record in the NBA. 2012 Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich’s squad is on a 14-game winning streak, and they’ve had plenty of time to rest up since sweeping the Utah Jazz in the first round on May 7th.

On the other bench, the Clippers are tired and dinged-up thanks to a knock-em-down, seven-game first round series with the physical, bruising Grizzlies. The West’s 5th seed won on Sunday 82-72 in Memphis and advanced to the second round for only the third time in franchise history.

2nd-year All-Star Blake Griffin played only two minutes in the 4th quarter in the Game 7 victory, partly because he’s been hobbled with a sprained left knee. If tonight’s 48 were a regular season game Griffin would definitely be sitting out, but it’s the do-or-die postseason and LA will need his 20.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg and athletic energy to compete against the disciplined depth of the Spurs.

5X All-Star PG Chris Paul, who finished third in the MVP balloting this year, is also less than 100% as he’s nursing a strained right hip flexor. 1st-year Clip Paul went for 19 and 9 on Sunday and was the key to the success of the Clips this season. He can dominate both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor and has the best handle in the league. The Wake Forest product has led the league in steals four times including this season. Paul’s matchup with 4X All-Star PG Tony Parker (who finished 5th in MVP voting this year) and his ability to slow down the zooming Frenchman will be critical for LA to have a chance in this series.

LA’s Vinny Del Negro had his best W-L % this year as a head coach, .606, and is in the second round for the first time. Del Negro endured loads of criticism, second-guessing and negative rumors during the year, but toughed it out and has ClipperLand giddy with their first round success. Interestingly, the pride of Springfield, MA once suited up as a Spur for Gregg Popovich in Pop’s first two years in San Antonio.

These two sides played three times this regular season, twice in Texas and once at Staples. The Spurs came out on top on December 28th at home 115-90 and on February 18th in SoCal 103-100 in OT. Their final meeting was on March 9th in San Antonio, and the Clippers prevailed 120-108. Paul had 36 points, 11 dimes and 4 steals in that win, although his lead-guard rival Parker was out with a sore thigh. Regardless, that victory should give the long-suffering Clipper fan base some hope when the Game 1 tips off.

Tune in tonight at 9:30 PM ET to watch the 4-banner Spurs take on the upstart Clippers on TNT.

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