2012-13 NBA Preseason Rankings

With the new NBA season starting in just six days, here’s a look at my preseason rankings for the 2012-13 season. Here’s the article covering the lower half of the NBA and here’s the article on the league’s top 15 teams.

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Spurs Rally From 24 Point Deficit, Build 3-0 Lead On Clippers

The Clippers were already down 2-0 and needed to play desperate. They had been dominated on their opponent’s court but now had the chance to play at home to try and gain some momentum back. For awhile, it looked like Los Angeles was going to shorten the series deficit to 2-1 after they jumped out to an immediate 33-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. They even built their lead up to 24 in the second. But even with all of that going their way, the Clippers still couldn’t overcome the resilient and offensively charged San Antonio Spurs, who used a 24-0 run in the third quarter to battle back and snag a 3-0 series lead with a 96-86 victory in Game 3.

Tony Parker led the Spurs with 23 points and 10 assists and Tim Duncan finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks after a prolific third quarter. Kawhi Leonard had 14 and Manu Ginobili added 13 off the bench. Despite San Antonio’s incredibly slow start, Greg Popovich’s squad picked it up after a dreadful first quarter and outscored the Clippers in each of the following three. The Spurs cut Los Angeles’ lead to 10 at halftime and then took a commanding lead in the third by outscoring Lob City 26-8 in the period. The Clippers’ awful shooting and numerous turnovers gave San Antonio the edge in the third and facing an eight point deficit entering the final period, LAC wasn’t able to regroup and challenge the Spurs’ lead the rest of the way.

Blake Griffin had a fantastic game, but the Clippers are still waiting for Chris Paul to show up in this series.

Blake Griffin had a phenomenal game for Los Angeles, finishing with 28 points, 16 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Unfortunately, he received little help from his teammates other than Mo Williams, who had 19. Caron Butler failed to score, Randy Foye only put up seven and Nick Young couldn’t make up for either of them with just nine. But the biggest disappointment, once again, was Chris Paul. Paul has a reputation for his indomitable will and his ability to turn any team into a contender during the playoffs. Against the San Antonio Spurs, however, he has been completely and unequivocally outplayed by Tony Parker. Paul finished with 12 points and 10 assists, which isn’t a shameful stat line by any means, but for CP3? That’s nowhere near enough. The Clippers have only had one consistent scorer in this series (Griffin) while their role player/bench guards alternate having good games (Foye, Williams and Young). Without Chris Paul scoring 20+ a game, it’s amazing Lob City has been within reach in a few of these games. The Spurs are certainly looking like the toughest team in the Western Conference and, based on what I’ve seen from around the league in the past few days, are my heavy favorites to win the NBA Finals at the moment. However, they’ve definitely benefitted from Paul’s disappearance during this series.

There really is no hope for the Clippers this season any more. On the one hand, it’s impressive they were able to make it this far in their first year together after some major roster improvements and upheavals. Lob City should be commended for entertaining us all year long with YouTube highlights, for reaching the second round with such a terrible coach as Vinny Del Negro and for doing all of this without Chauncey Billups or a quality offensive center (sorry, DeAndre Jordan, you just haven’t panned out like we hoped). It will be interesting to see how good this team can be with Billups back, especially if LAC can find a way to improve at the small forward and center positions. We should all definitely keep an eye on this team next year. But in the end, losing Game 3 was pretty much the nail in the coffin and after such a monumental/demoralizing comeback/collapse, I’m predicting a sweep. Tony Parker has continued his postseason dominance, outplaying one of the best point guards in NBA history. Tim Duncan has found a way through stellar technique and perseverance to outplay younger and more athletic power forwards and centers. And the Spurs’ bench is just too much for any defense to handle right now. So at the end of the day, the outcome of Game 4 doesn’t really matter. The Spurs would certainly like to win and get more rest, but even if Chris Paul finally does show up and the Clippers get a W at home, San Antonio has this series in the bag already.

The Clippers have had a great year, but Tony Parker and the Spurs will advance convincingly.

Spurs Take Commanding 2-0 Lead

Credit the Los Angeles Clippers for withstanding a few runs from San Antonio and a frenzied home crowd, but the Spurs would not be denied and, like they have for the majority of the postseason, eventually overpowered their opponent. The Spurs didn’t have a breakout quarter to extend the lead, but outscored the Clippers in three quarters by at least six points and steadily built a sizable lead that LAC couldn’t overcome, resulting in a convincing 105-88 victory.

Tony Parker led San Antonio with 22 points, five rebounds and five assists on his 30th birthday and Tim Duncan followed up with 18 points and five rebounds. The Spurs’ depth and balanced scoring was also on full display in Game 2: Boris Diaw had 16 points, Daniel Green had 13 off of four 4-pointers, Manu Ginobili chipped in 10 and Tiago Splitter added nine. Meanwhile, Chris Paul’s offensive struggles continued as CP3 only managed 10 points and five assists on 4-of-9 shooting. Blake Griffin led LA with 20 points and Randy Foye had 11, but no one else reached double digits for the Clippers. Mo Williams, Nick Young and Caron Butler had nine apiece, but it wasn’t enough to provide a legitimate threat to San Antonio.

Tony Parker and the Spurs took a commanding 2-0 lead and the end result was never in doubt.

The Spurs controlled the tempo and flow of the game and the outcome was never really in doubt. The Clippers have done an excellent job of weathering the storm and haven’t crumbled under the pressure of some of San Antonio’s most impressive scoring sprees, but they also haven’t been able to provide a real challenge yet. That might have something to do with the Spurs’ home court advantage, but the Clippers haven’t been able to take a lead and sustain it in this series so far. So event though they aren’t getting completely demolished like the Utah Jazz were in the first round, unless the Clippers can find some way to even the series back in Los Angeles, the Spurs will be too offensively dominant to beat.

Chris Paul absolutely has to pick up his game with back-to-back games coming up at Staples Center. Paul has been virtually nonexistent and the Clippers can’t afford for Tony Parker to outplay him, which has been the case for this series so far. Blake Griffin improved in Game 2, but no one else was able to contribute enough to keep this one close. It will take a concentrated defensive effort, a few more missed shots from San Antonio and a collectively improved offensive night from LAC to make Games 3 and 4 competitive. But at this point, the Spurs are on fire and have a wide array of scorers that can catch fire at any time. They pass the ball well and have all the pieces of a championship team that everyone in the West should be wary of.

The Clippers have no chance unless Chris Paul regroups and gets something going offensively against these San Antonio Spurs.

Second Round Preview: San Antonio Spurs Vs. Los Angeles Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers showed great resilience and determination in their big road win against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 7 just a few days ago, but it doesn’t get any easier for them from here. Chris Paul and the Clips now face the offensive juggernaut that is the San Antonio Spurs in the second round, and you can be guarantees they will provide a much more difficult challenge for this talented team in its first year together.

Unfortunately for fans of Lob City, the Spurs will present numerous matchup problems for LAC. Chris Paul has an advantage over Tony Parker, but San Antonio’s depth will not be easy for the Clippers to overcome. Blake Griffin would normally be a challenge for the aging Tim Duncan to handle, but it’s still unclear how healthy Griffin will be for this series. The Spurs’ biggest weakness is talented post players, but Griffin’s post play is limited to his athleticism and high-flying dunks, which will be pretty limited if he’s not 100 percent. And because Duncan will still produce on offense, Griffin doesn’t constitute enough of a challenge from the Clippers in the paint, especially considering how offensively inept DeAndre Jordan, Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin have been at times during the postseason.

Will Blake Griffin be healthy enough to give the Clippers an advantage over Tim Duncan?

To be competitive in this series, the Clippers will need to play stellar defense and find a way to slow down this well-oiled offensive machine. That requires a strong defensive effort from the entire roster, because San Antonio’s offense doesn’t ever slow down with their starters on the bench. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Tony Parker and the other big names of this series have excelled in the three meetings between these two teams during the regular season (San Antonio went 2-1), so this series will come down to which role players and supporting cast outplays the other. Everyone knows Manu Ginobili is a threat, but guys like Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter and Daniel Green can all put points on the board. The Spurs’ bench is fully capable of extending leads against opposing teams’ supporting casts with a barrage of 3-pointers and good ball movement. So if the Clippers’ bench can’t keep up or gain a clear advantage from their starting lineup, they will have rough time competing in the series.

You can never count out Chris Paul in the playoffs, but if Blake Griffin is anything less than 100 percent, the Clippers are going to struggle against the Spurs’ balance scoring and depth. Los Angeles will be able to do a better job of keeping Tony Parker from penetrating than Utah did, but he will still find a way to facilitate and with so many perimeter and post options to choose from, the Spurs are extremely difficult to guard. Los Angeles needs a constant high level of production from guys like Caron Butler, Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Nick Young, who have all had big nights in the playoffs but haven’t been able to consistently do so. The Clippers have a promising future and will hopefully receive a huge boost next year when Chauncey Billups returns to the floor, but they don’t match up well with the Spurs and will likely not be able to overcome San Antonio’s depth.

Prediction: San Antonio over Los Angeles in 5 games

Chris Paul has to keep Tony Parker out of the lane and outplay him on the offensive end.

Chris Paul And LA Bench Provide Biggest Win In Clippers’ History

Chris Paul led the way as the Clippers’ got their biggest win in franchise history with an 82-72 Game 7 victory on the road against the Memphis Grizzlies earlier today. With the win, LAC won their third playoff series in 41 years and will advance to take on the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the second round.

Chris Paul had 19 points and nine rebounds in Los Angeles’ impressive road win, but it was the Clippers’ bench that provided the biggest spark to win the series. Kenyon Martin had 11 points (seven in the fourth quarter) and 10 rebounds, Nick Young had 13 and Mo Williams pitched in nine. Eric Bledsoe also added in eight points as the Clippers’ bench scored half of LA’s points and outscored the Grizzlies’ bench 41-11. In fact, the bench played so well that Coach Vinny Del Negro opted to keep Blake Griffin out late in the game and leave Martin and a few other bench players in. The Clippers trailed by one after three quarters, but they opened the fourth quarter with a 16-5 run that silenced Memphis’ home crowd and sent the Grizzlies home disappointed.

Mike Conley and the Grizzlies couldn’t get the job done at home in Game 7.

Rudy Gay led the Grizzlies with 19 points and nine rebounds while Marc Gasol also had 19. Zach Randolph led Memphis with 12 rebounds but only had nine points. And Mike Conley, who had been playing pretty even with Chris Paul throughout the series, was only able to muster seven points on 2-of-13 shooting. The Grizzlies really wasted their postseason opportunities this year. Memphis was probably the better overall team because of their frontcourt advantage, but they didn’t start putting it to use until Game 5 when they faced a 3-1 deficit. They played great defense in the first few games (one of which was a monumental fourth quarter collapse) but struggled with turnovers and because of it, weren’t able to gain much of an advantage from their steals. The Grizzlies surrendered two double digit fourth quarter leads in this series that translated into wins for the Clippers. O.J. Mayo and Marreese Speights disappeared completely, pretty much decimating the Grizzlies’ bench production. And when it mattered most, Gasol and Z-Bo weren’t able to dominate in the paint like they needed to. You can’t give a guy like Chris Paul that many opportunities to capitalize, injured hip flexor or not. Credit Reggie Evans, Blake Griffin and Kenyon Martin for their physical defense, but it was a truly disappointing effort from the Grizzlies. Considering they were expected to take momentum from winning two straight into their home arena and blow out an injured CP3 and Griffin to take the series, it was a very underwhelming elimination game for Memphis.

Fortunately, the Clippers’ bench took Memphis’ mistakes and capitalized. They played stellar defense on Memphis’ bigs while the Grizzlies’ perimeter guards struggled to put up points. So even though Blake Griffin ended up with just eight points and four rebounds off of 3-for-11 shooting, the Clippers shocked the world with a huge road win to send them to the second round. The Clippers will need much better performances from their starters and the same type of effort from their bench to have even the slightest chance against the Spurs in the next round. Randy Foye will need to put up more than six points. Caron Butler will need to do better than eight. And DeAndre Jordan has to actually score. The Spurs are one of the highest-scoring teams in the NBA, so the Clippers need point production from guys other than Paul and Griffin if they want to contend.

Chris Paul and the Clippers’ bench are moving on.

Grizzlies’ Bigs Arrive

The Los Angeles Clippers had all the momentum heading into Game 5, but the Memphis Grizzlies played their patented style of basketball and forced another game with a 92-80 win last night.  It took almost an entire series, but the Memphis Grizzlies finally returned to operating through their talented post players instead of Rudy Gay, making them a very dangerous team. Marc Gasol, who was averaging just 10.3 ppg heading into last night’s potential elimination game, finally got involved on offense and led the Grizzlies with 23 points. Zach Randolph, who has failed to live up to his heroic playoff performance last year, notched a double double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. And Rudy Gay, who had been hoisting up 17.8 shots per game, only put up 14 as Memphis seemed to remember what made them so effective in the postseason last year: operating through their skilled bigs.

When the Grizzlies’ frontcourt shows up to play, they are incredibly tough to beat. So far, Los Angeles has benefitted from a Memphis offense consisting of Rudy Gay jacking up a bunch of perimeter shots. They also have outlasted surprisingly proficient scoring nights from Mike Conley. But last night, Marc Gasol finally played well against the Clippers’ Reggie Evans, who has been a defensive nightmare for the Grizzlies up to this point. So even though Conley and Gay only scored a combined 23, Memphis still came out on top after their sizable lead dwindled down to just six points with less than a minute to play. The Grizzlies had surrendered large leads in the fourth quarter but were finally able to hang on to one and extend the series to six games. However, as helpful as it was for the Grizzlies to revert back to what makes them a dangerous playoff team, they did receive a little bit of help from Los Angeles, especially in the fourth quarter. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, who have been the two most dominant players on the court so far in the series, both missed time in the decisive fourth quarter because of injuries. Paul  strained his right hip flexor and Griffin sprained his left knee. With the Clippers’ two best players in and out, it’s no surprise the Grizzlies were able to hold off a late Los Angeles run.

Blake Griffin and Chris Paul both missed some time with injuries. Will they be healthy enough to close out Memphis at home?

With the series shifting back to LA for Game 6, the Clippers absolutely need to finish this series off at home. Which means CP3 and Griffin will have to be able to play like they are 100 percent healthy. It’s no question about whether or not these two will take the floor tomorrow night; but whether they will be effective or not is a pretty serious issue. Outside of Paul and Griffin, this Clippers team can’t hold off the Grizzlies, especially if they continue to play like they did yesterday. Mo Williams led Los Angeles with 20 points and Randy Foye pitched in 11 yesterday, but the Clippers can’t contend unless Griffin and Paul are both putting up 20-30 points every night. The Grizzlies have confidence and they’ve gone back to the style of play they’ve been missing for this entire series. If Paul and Griffin can’t do what they normally do, the Clippers are in serious danger of dropping the series.

For the Clippers to win, they need Paul and Griffin to be healthy and continue to do what they do best. But they also need continued production from guys like Mo Williams, Caron Butler and Randy Foye. And although Reggie Evans doesn’t have a knack for scoring, he should be starting over DeAndre Jordan by now, because if he can irritate Gasol and shut him down like he has for the majority of this series, the Grizzlies will come up short again. From Memphis’ perspective, they need to operate through their big men just like they did in Game 5. You’d like to see Rudy Gay and Mike Conley get a little bit more involved on offense, but Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol still need to be the main focus here. Another thing the Grizzlies will focus on doing is using their scrappy defense to force turnovers again. After leading the league in steals, Memphis needs to put pressure on Chris Paul and the rest of the Clippers’ point guards and turn defense into offense. Finally, the Grizzlies would really be in good shape if they could get anything more out of O.J. Mayo. Mayo put up 18.5 ppg in the Grizzlies’ first two playoff games but has averaged just 5.7 in the last three. So even though Quincy Pondexter has been a nice surprise off the bench, they’ll need Mayo to start contributing again if they want to be a serious contender.

Marc Gasol finally had a great game and the Grizzlies won. This is not a coincidence.

Clippers Hold On, Take 2-1 Lead

The Los Angeles Clippers held off the Memphis Grizzlies and a late offensive onslaught from Rudy Gay yesterday to earn their first home playoff victory in six years. Despite missing some key free throws down the stretch, the Clippers beat the Grizzlies 87-86 in Staples Center and grabbed a 2-1 series lead. But for Memphis, a couple of bonehead plays were the biggest difference between winning and losing a game that came down to a missed shot at the buzzer.

Then again, if the Clippers had taken care of business at the free throw line, it wouldn’t have even been a close game. Los Angeles shot a paltry 43 percent from the line and missed 17 of 30 free throws, including Eric Bledsoe’s two attempts that would have given the Clips a three point lead with less than ten seconds to go. Rudy Gay had just hit two threes in a row to pull the Grizzlies within one, so missing those free throws with the game on the line was almost an extremely costly mistake and would have been one of the worst last-minute collapses I’ve ever seen if Gay’s double pump jump shot at the buzzer had gone in. That being said, even though the Clippers’ free throw shooting hurt them, the Grizzlies’ inability to finish a game out and a few poor decisions gave Los Angeles momentum and ultimately, the win.

Rudy Gay missed his second potential game-winner of the series. But that was just one of many Memphis mistakes that lost Game 3.

The first mistake that made the difference in this game (from a simple scoreboard perspective, at least) was Marreese Speights’ horrible decision to throw a soft past to half court with 2.3 seconds left in the first half. Blake Griffin easily intercepted it and slammed it home right over Speights, who offered no resistance and actually tried to get out of the way. The pass was bad enough, but Speights compounded his poor decision by not fouling Griffin and making him earn the two points that ultimately mattered in a one-point game. The second poor decision on Memphis’ part was made by Mike Conley at the very end of the game. I’ve been stressing all year how important it is to attack the basket with the game on the line, which makes Conley’s decision to pull the ball back and pass it over to Gay for a contested jumper at the buzzer questionable. In his defense, Conley isn’t a prolific scorer and Rudy Gay had just hit two incredible, contested 3-pointers to keep his team in the game. So I understand his thought process and at least he didn’t do a few crossovers before pulling up for some ridiculous fadeaway 3-pointer like we see from so many superstars today. But after Bledsoe missed that second free throw, there were about eight seconds left and the Clippers’ defense was in transition. Had Conley attacked the basket and tried to get to the rim or at least the free throw line, Memphis could have pulled off the incredible last-minute comeback. But instead, Gay had to double pump his contested jump shot with the game on the line (after already missing a game-winning attempt in Game 1) and it rimmed out.

Moving forward, both teams need to alter a few things to increase their chances of winning. On the Clippers’ side of things, they have to shoot better from the line. While it was a good sign to see Caron Butler playing despite the broken hand (he played in a splint) and the bench finally contributing, they’ll have an even bigger advantage if they make their free throws and take better care of the basketball. LAC also needs the bench to continue to produce on the offensive end to take the burden off Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Aside from Mo Williams and Nick Young putting up some points, Randy Foye dropping 16 after scoring just nine in his last two games was a very welcome sight. And despite going just 2-for-8 from the free throw line, Reggie Evans has taken over DeAndre Jordan’s minutes by outperforming him on the offensive end and grabbing rebounds, evidenced by his four points and 11 rebounds compared to Jordan’s zero points and three rebounds in Game 3. For the Grizzlies, O.J. Mayo, Marreese Speights, Tony Allen and Mike Conley all disappeared offensively, even if Quincy Pondexter had a surprisingly elevated offensive night. Zach Randolph seems to be distancing himself from Speights now that he’s moved back into the starting lineup but the Grizzlies will still need him to be productive coming off the bench. Memphis also needs to learn how to bring the same effort and energy for a full four quarters, as they’ve surrendered two fourth quarter leads and should be up 2-1 (at least) in this series. This playoff matchup is still very much up in the air, but if the Clippers improve where they need to, they’ll ultimately benefit from having home-court advantage in two of the next four potential games and have a greater chance of winning the series.

Blake Griffin and company have the 2-1 lead, but need to improve in a few areas like free throws and turnovers.