As the defending NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs are having trouble matching the intensity of seemingly hungrier opponents looking to make a statement early on.
Now the Los Angeles Clippers look to give the Spurs their best after opening a difficult homestand in positive fashion.
Two clubs hoping to contend for a title begin their season series Monday night when the Clippers try to send the visiting Spurs to their worst start in six years.
San Antonio (2-3) has yet to resemble the squad that won the franchise’s fifth crown in June, sitting on the verge of its worst start since opening 2-5 in 2008-09 – a season that ended with a first-round playoff loss.
They’ll try to avoid their third straight defeat after falling 100-99 at home to New Orleans on Saturday. The Pelicans’ Anthony Davis scored the winner with 6.6 seconds left after San Antonio had gone on a 15-4 run to take the lead.
"I understand a year after winning the championship you’re going to get everyone’s best shot," coach Gregg Popovich said. "I believe we’re out there playing hard and I believe things just haven’t gone out way."
Popovich’s club has been sluggish offensively, ranking in the league’s bottom third in scoring (92.8 points per game), field-goal percentage (43.2), 3-point percentage (31.5) and turnovers per game (18.2). The Spurs are already playing short-handed with Marco Belinelli (groin), Tiago Splitter (calf) and Patty Mills (shoulder) among the wounded.
The Clippers (4-2) will try to add to San Antonio’s slow start after breaking out of their own early funk Saturday with a 106-102 victory over Portland that opened a challenging four-game stay that includes visits from Chicago and Phoenix.
Los Angeles had beaten undermanned Oklahoma City, the winless Lakers and Utah by an average of 5.3 points and lost to surprising Sacramento before getting blown out at Golden State on Wednesday.
"We came out this year like we won something last year and everyone else came out like they got their heart broken," center DeAndre Jordan said. "We just needed to get back to what got us to where we were last year."
J.J. Redick broke out with 30 points Saturday after averaging 10.2 on 28.9 percent shooting in his previous five games. Blake Griffin added 23 despite playing through an illness and Chris Paul had 22 points and 11 assists for his fifth straight double-double.
Griffin has played particularly well at home against the Spurs, averaging 25.7 points and 12.0 rebounds in his last six meetings. The All-Star power forward scored 31.0 per game to help the Clippers split two meetings at Staples Center last season.
Griffin may have to spend some time going against Tim Duncan, who struggled with a season-low 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting Saturday after resting in a loss at Houston.
Tony Parker, though, bounced back from a six-point effort with a season-high 28 versus New Orleans. Kawhi Leonard looks to build on his 14-point performance after averaging 8.0 points on 26.9 percent shooting in his previous three.
"I feel like we’re in decent shape; still getting there," guard Danny Green said. "We’re not in the greatest shape. We’re just not in our normal team rhythm, our chemistry."
The Spurs have won 56 of 65 meetings with the Clippers, including a four-game sweep in the 2012 Western Conference semifinals. They took two of three in last season’s series, winning the last two by double digits.