Complete Guide to San Antonio Spurs vs. LA Clippers and Monday's NBA Action

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2013

Complete Guide to San Antonio Spurs vs. LA Clippers and Monday's NBA Action

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    Oh yes, the weather outside is frightful, but Monday's NBA schedule is beyond delightful.

    Sorry, couldn't resist

    Cold-weather climates can warm themselves up with a hot dose of NBA action tonight. For warm-weather inhabitants, be sure to put some sunscreen on, lest you get burned. That's how hot Monday's docket is.

    We have the Indiana Pacers seeking to remain undefeated at home against the painfully mediocre Detroit Pistons. Kobe Bryant continues to play point guard for a Los Angeles Lakers team that has none against the Atlanta Hawks. Then there are the Brooklyn Nets, winners of three of their last four, looking to get back on track against the finally tanking Philadelphia 76ers.

    Only fools will sleep on the Washington Wizards and New York Knicks matchup as well. Both teams need a win. The same must be said of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are looking to climb above .500 against the Boston Celtics.

    Finally, there's the San Antonio Spurs, who are traveling to Hollywood for a dance with the Los Angeles Clippers. Two Western Conference powerhouses in the same arena? Count all of us in.

    Mondays, when they feel like an early version of Christmas, are simply the best.


    Monday Night's Schedule

    Detroit Pistons vs. Indiana Pacers, 7 p.m. ET

    Los Angeles Lakers vs. Atlanta Hawks, 7:30 p.m. ET

    Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Boston Celtics, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBATV)

    Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets, 7:30 p.m. ET

    Utah Jazz vs. Miami Heat, 7:30 p.m. ET

    Washington Wizards vs. New York Knicks, 7:30 p.m. ET

    Orlando Magic vs. Chicago Bulls, 8 p.m. ET

    San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 10:30 p.m. ET


    *All stats used courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

Best Matchup of the Night: San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Keeping pace with the surging Portland Trail Blazers is rough work, but someone has to do it. That someone has been the Spurs, but the Clippers are hoping they can become that someone soon.

    San Antonio has won its last four contests, continuing its unapologetic onslaught of just about every team it faces. Once again, coach Gregg Popovich has his squad playing like a timeless machine. The Spurs rank in the top five of offensive and defensive efficiency, leaving them to stand alone.

    Los Angeles, meanwhile, is finally playing some defense. Doc Rivers has his Clippers ranked 10th in defensive efficiency after beginning 2013-14 as a pushover on that end of the floor.

    These two teams split their series last year, winning two games apiece. This is their first meeting of the season, an early chance for either team to gain some ground.

    The Clippers, while tied for the fourth-best record in the West, find themselves four games behind Popovich's Spurs. Win, and they'll shrink that deficit down to a very manageable three games. Lose, and they're suddenly five off second place.

    Luckily, that's what the Clippers do at home—win. They're 8-2 at Staples Center on the season and just finished up a seven-game road trip. Chris Paul and friends will be itching for some hometown dominance.

    But the Spurs have proved a tough beat anywhere they play. Their 10-2 road record is second only to Portland, further evidence these Spurs just won't go away. Ever.

    When a pair of two-way powers square off in a jam-packed Western Conference, you watch. And when that contest allows you to see Blake Griffin and Tim Duncan battle on the glass, you DVR it, so you can watch twice.

    So, you know, watch. 


Must-See Individual Matchup: Tony Parker vs. Chris Paul

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    Facing Paul isn't fair, not even if you're Tony Parker.

    Los Angeles' point guard is having another MVP-caliber season, notching nightly double-doubles with 19.7 points and 11.5 assists per game. More impressively, he's doing so in under 35 minutes of action each night.

    Whenever Paul plays another elite point guard, there's a certain edge about him. A different level of attack mode, if you will. Once he flips that switch, there's no going back. You can only hope to contain him, and most of the time, that's even unrealistic.

    Parker is no deer in the headlights, though. He's putting together a fine season of his own, averaging a modest 18 points and 6.4 assists in barely 30 minutes of action per game. 

    While older than Paul, Parker is light on his feet, more so than most opposing floor generals. Not known for his defense, he's not the type of player to have his ankles broken, a la Deron Williams. Chasing Chris Paul from end-to-end isn't an impossible task for someone as spry as him.

    Still, the thought of Parker going up against the league's best point guard gives me pause. Not because I don't believe in him or think he's mostly incapable, but because this is Paul we're talking about. A gamer. The NBA's best point guard, who senses his Clippers need a victory over an above-.500 team for the first time since November. 

    Paul is coming off a 38-point, 12-assist effort over the Wizards and has the ability to overpower Parker. It's going to take an otherworldly performance from San Antonio's point man, along with superb help defense from his teammates, to offset the damage Paul figures to inflict.

Who Has the Most on the Line?

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    Brooklyn is saved. Possibly.

    Deron Williams has injected life into a defunct Nets team, sparking talk of a long-awaited turnaround.

    "We are playing better, we're a working group," Kevin Garnett said, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst. "We put ourselves in this hole, but we're committed toward, obviously, getting ourselves out of it. The changes are evident."

    Indeed they are. The Nets have won three of their last four, including a riveting win over a tired Clippers faction. But let's not get carried away.

    Two of Brooklyn's three wins came against a tanking Milwaukee Bucks and a tank job gone wrong in the Celtics. The Nets also followed their win over Los Angeles with a loss to the Pistons. Detroit took advantage of a Nets team playing the second night of a back-to-back, but let's be realistic, if Brooklyn had really arrived, we would be talking about a victory.

    The Nets are still seven games under .500. They're still ranked in the bottom 10 of points scored and allowed, rebounds and assists per game. They're still a team with plenty to prove, and with a payroll exceeding $100 million, even more to lose.

    "It looks like we're having fun out there, and I think that's the difference," Williams said, via Windhorst.

    Before the Nets place festively-colored party hats atop their head, let's see if they can continue their long trek toward salvation.



Injury Report

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    Injury reports are like fast-food Thanksgivings—they hurt you to do, but you have to do them anyway.

    Prepare your stomach for the worst, as there are plenty of injuries ailing some of your favorite NBA teams.


    Boston Celtics

    Rajon Rondo (knee)

    Head coach Brad Stevens says Rondo has been cleared to practice without limitations, according to The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes. Hooray! But Stevens also admits he doesn't expect Rondo back this month. Exclamation point following "hooray" withdrawn.


    Brooklyn Nets

    Joe Johnson (illness)

    Newsday's Roderick Boone reports that Johnson didn't participate in practice Sunday due to an illness. Head coach Jason Kidd is unsure of his availability for Monday's game, potentially depriving the Nets of their most clutch scorer.


    Andrei Kirilenko (back)

    Remember that time AK47 played? Yeah, me neither.


    Brook Lopez (ankle)

    According to Boone, Kidd doesn't know if Brolo will be ready to go against Philly. 

    "You always go with safety first," he said, via Boone. "So if he can't go, we'll go with the next guys up, and I think we've become accustomed to that. So it's not anything new.''

    Playing without key players certainly isn't anything new, but the 8-15 Nets can ill afford to carry this tradition any further.


    Chicago Bulls

    Kirk Hinrich (back)

    Hinrich missed Chicago's last game against the Toronto Raptors with a sore back, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley, and he could miss Monday's game against the Magic.

    "Next guy get in there, get the job done,’" coach Tom Thibodeau said in typical fashion, per Cowley.

    Just so you know, I read that as "All D.J. Augustin everything."


    Derrick Rose (knee)

    Healthy point guards, unlike good deep-dish pizza, are hard to come by in the Windy City.


    Indiana Pacers

    Danny Granger (calf)

    Indy was originally targeting last Friday as a potential return date for Granger. Now, according to the Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner, he's prepared to return this coming Friday.

    We think.


    Los Angeles Clippers

    Matt Barnes (eye)

    Amazing that the Clippers are still defending so well without Mr. Barnes.


    J.J. Redick (wrist)

    ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne says Redick is ahead of schedule in his recovery and is now targeting Jan. 15 as a return date. Somewhere, Paul is on his knees, hands held high, thanking the basketball Gods.


    Los Angeles Lakers

    Steve Blake (elbow)

    Really not fair that Blake went down. He was dishing out over seven assists a night before he injured his elbow.


    Jordan Farmar (hamstring)

    Point guards in Los Angeles are as scant as they are in Chicago these days.


    Steve Nash (back)

    Lakers Nation's Serena Winters said Nash didn't even travel with the Lakers on their current road trip. More assists for Kobe Bryant I guess, right?


    New York Knicks

    Tyson Chandler (leg)

    The Knicks recently announced Chandler returned to practice, which is great news for a team that cannot defend without him.


    Raymond Felton (hamstring)

    No Felton is a good thing for the Knicks. It means more minutes for Pablo Prigioni. And more minutes for Prig means more wins for New York.


    Kenyon Martin (abdominal)

    Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News says K-Mart is out indefinitely. Figures. It's been that kind of season for New York.


    Philadelphia 76ers

    Michael Carter-Williams (knee)

    Carter-Williams has missed the last six games for Philly and according to the Delaware County Daily Times' Christopher A. Vito, the Sixers have no plans to rush him back. Pays to be overly cautious in Philly, where mounting losses can actually be construed as a good thing.


    Nerlens Noel (knee)

    Move along. Nothing to see here.


    San Antonio Spurs

    Tiago Splitter (calf) reported (via USA Today) that Splitter wouldn't be with the Spurs on their current road trip. Coach Pop isn't known for flying players in—he's notorious for just the opposite—so don't expect to see Splitter until San Antonio returns home.


    Washington Wizards

    Bradley Beal (leg)

    Despite being cleared to resume basketball activities, The Washington Post's Michael Lee says Beal will take his time returning to the Wizards. Makes sense, since Beal is young and there's no use jeopardizing his future health. Plus, the Eastern Conference is terrible anyway.


    Nene (foot)

    Washington is 0-6 without Nene this season. 'Nuff said.


    *Injury information obtained via CBS Sports unless otherwise noted.

Pop-in Potential

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    Fun will be had by all who watch the Celtics host the Timberwolves. 

    Minny is looking to climb above .500 for the first time since November, which seems like forever ago. The Timberwolves have gone 5-8 since beginning the season 7-4, and a win ties them with the Golden State Warriors for ninth place in the Western Conference.

    Boston is simply amazing to watch. Stevens has the Celtics playing inspired basketball. Best way to put it: They rank eighth in defensive efficiency—without a true center.

    Yeah, that kind of inspired.

    This game also boasts one of those guilty-pleasure matchups. I'm anxious to see Jordan Crawford defend Ricky Rubio. Avery Bradley will probably see some time on the crafty floor general as well, but the Celtics cannot leave Kevin Martin unattended for long stretches at a time.

    Crawford isn't known for his defense. Nor is he one to play defense. But Stevens reaches his players in ways that can only be described as profound. Additional Rubio dimes aren't exactly a bad thing for the folks watching at home either, are they?

    Jared Sullinger and Kevin Love are another two players to watch. Sully, while undersized, enters beast mode whenever he hits the glass. Going up against one of the league's best rebounders in Love should bring out the Monsters, Inc. Sully in him.

    Beard vs. Undersized Monster. You won't want to miss that. 

Fantasy Stockwatch

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    Stupidly, I agreed to become a part of four fantasy football leagues this season.

    Consumed by NBA happenings (as I always am), I consistently neglected to set my lineups from mid-October on (like I always do). As a result, there are no fantasy playoff appearances in yours truly's immediate future.

    But don't cry for me. I still have my bread and butter, my meat and potatoes and my bacon-wrapped everything—the NBA.

    With fantasy football season mercifully out of the way, I'm free to focus on hoops, an aspect of life I can improve for all us. 


    The Big Guns

    Paul George

    Pistons fans beware: George is going to torch your team.

    Detroit is the most middling outfit there is. The Pistons rank 15th in offensive efficiency and 20th in defensive efficiency. Nothing about them really stands out. They're like last season's version of the Hawks, so much so, I've decided they're suffering from Josh Smith Syndrome.

    Anyway, these are the types of teams George swallows whole. On offense, on defense—everywhere. Just so happens the Pacers are playing at home too, where they're a perfect 11-0.

    I can't say for sure he'll register something like 25 points, six or seven rebounds and five assists. Well, actually, I can. And I will.

    Be afraid Detroit. Be very, I-just-saw-Josh-Smith-shoot-a-three-pointer afraid.


    LeBron James

    LeBron is playing the Jazz. 

    No amount of additional analysis I can provide will do you any good. LeBron is playing the Jazz. Repeat it, over and over again. LeBron is playing the Jazz.

    This has the makings of a game where LeBron sits the entire fourth quarter and still flirts with a triple-double.

    Because LeBron is playing the Jazz.


    The Sleeper

    Pablo Prigioni

    Funny thing about Prigioni: He's discovering that when you shoot, you score.

    Prig ranks 11th in true shooting percentage and the more he plays, the better a dismal Knicks team looks. With Felton injured and Beno Udrih incapable of stringing together consecutive solid outings, head coach Mike Woodson has no choice but to play him 30-plus minutes.

    Don't expect a 20-point, 10-assist assault, but Prig is a guy who could fill up a few of your stat lines tonight, even when going up against John Wall. Something like 12 points, seven or eight assists, four rebounds and a couple of steals is not out of the question.

    Which means Prig should not be out of your lineup.