The San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers are by no means in danger of falling out of contention in the Western Conference, but they both enter the season’s second half with plenty of ground to make up.
Set to meet for final time this season, the Spurs and Clippers try to come out of the All-Star break strong Thursday night at Staples Center.
San Antonio (34-19) is in seventh place in the highly competitive West, one-half game behind Los Angeles (35-19). While the Spurs are six games ahead of ninth-place Oklahoma City, they’ve appeared a step slower at times than last season’s 62-win squad that eventually won the NBA title.
Some of that has to due with injures which have sidelined Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, Marco Belinelli and Tiago Splitter for significant amounts of time. The Spurs, however, appear poised for a strong last two months with all their key pieces healthy.
Danny Green had 19 points and Parker added 17 as the Spurs won 104-87 at Detroit last Wednesday, their 15th victory in 20 games. Five players scored in double figures as San Antonio finished with 26 assists and 10 turnovers.
"They are a great team and they’ve been at this for a long time. They move the ball as well as anyone in the game," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. ”Every guy on that roster loves to pass, and they not only want to do it, they are skilled at it. It’s one thing to be willing, but it is tough when they are willing and skilled."
The Spurs, averaging 96.9 points on the road compared to 104.3 at home, improved to 14-12 as the visiting team.
"Great way to finish," Parker said. "We’ll enjoy the break and make sure we’re ready when we get back."
The Clippers (35-19) are hoping to keep treading water until Blake Griffin returns from a staph infection in his right elbow. The All-Star forward, among the NBA leaders with 22.5 points per game, underwent surgery last week and remains out indefinitely.
Los Angeles was blown out 131-108 at Oklahoma City on Feb. 8 in its first game without Griffin, but it rebounded to beat Dallas 115-98 the following night and Houston 110-95 last Wednesday. DeAndre Jordan came up huge with a combined 46 points and 47 rebounds in those victories and has a chance to join Kevin Willis (1991) and Kevin Love (2011) as the only players to record three straight 20-20 games in points and rebounds since the start of the 1991-92 season.
"I think it’s a travesty. I really do – a guy who’s getting 20s and 20s is not on the team," coach Doc Rivers said of Jordan’s All-Star snub. "You play both sides of the floor. Just one end of the floor keeps getting all of the credit, but the other side is more important.
"There’s never been a team that’s won a title without being a decent defensive team. But that side keeps getting forgotten about in the All-Star game. But D.J. knows that we’re playing for bigger things than All-Star games."
While Jordan wasn’t a part of Sunday’s All-Star game, Chris Paul racked up 12 points and 15 assists as the West won 163-158. Duncan was barely a factor with two points in 15 minutes.
Los Angeles had dropped four straight to San Antonio before cruising to a 105-85 road win Jan. 31 behind 31 points from Griffin. Paul scored 20 and Jordan pulled down 19 boards as the Clippers held a 56-36 edge on the glass.
Leonard has totaled 50 points in two games against Los Angeles this season, but he’s averaging 9.7 on 26.8 percent shooting over a three-game stretch overall.