The NBA Playoffs are finally here, and along with them come opportunities for some players to repeat some of the magic that they’ve generated in the past that ultimately allowed for them to win an NBA Title. For other players, it’s an opportunity for them to clean the slate and try it all over again, as they continue to pursue that elusive title. In no other first round matchup is this more apparent than in the series between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers. The Spurs of course, are the defending champs, and know all about what it takes to hoist the trophy in June. On the other hand, the only thing the Clippers have known about are early exits from the playoffs. Chris Paul, has taken a lot of the blame in recent years for those early exits. In last year’s second round playoff matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Paul’s overall numbers were ok, but whether it was a turnover or a missed shot in a key situation, his performance was looked as a failure. That has to change this time around, as the opponent is the defending champion Spurs. The Spurs route to this years NBA Playoffs was a lot different than the route they’ve taken the last couple of years. Instead of resting their mainstays like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, head coach Greg Popovich saw the need to play them in order to secure a top two or three seed. It didn’t work. The Spurs were only able to secure the sixth seed. Which means in order for them to reach their third consecutive NBA Finals, the Spurs will not only have to do so without home court advantage in any series, but it may also be a challenge for them due to tired legs. The only team to make the NBA Finals from the sixth seed was the 1995 Houston Rockets led by Hakeem Olajuwon. Tough task to say the least.
Keys to the Series: The two teams split their four meetings this season. Despite an injury to Jamal Crawford, the Clippers were one of the hottest teams near the end of the regular season. To have success against the Spurs and have any shot of making a deep run, Crawford has to play well. Blake Griffin, is also vitally important. The Clips have to have consistent scoring from Griffin, and it should work out that way for him. Popovich, may have a tough time finding someone to match up with him. For the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard should have a distinct advantage against anyone Doc Rivers can throw at him. Whomever, takes advantage the best will have the inside track to winning this series. Oh yeah. Did I mention Chris Paul? He has to better than Parker. Tall order, but Paul has quietly had one of his best seasons ever. If, that continues, the Clippers would be in really good shape.
X-Factors: DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers center has the athleticism to give Duncan fits inside. However, can he stay on the floor if Pop decides to go Hack-a-Jordan? Spurs Bench. Biggest weakness for Clippers? Bench. Strength for Spurs? Bench. Nuff said.
Prediction: Spurs in 6.