We are past the All-Star break, which to me is the spiritual midpoint of the season. With the trade deadline approaching, teams have to decide whether they’re in position to make a run or whether to pack it in for the rest of the season.
The two teams playing in the late game Thursday are in the former category. The Spurs are the winningest team in the league, but the Clippers have had the upper hand each time they’ve played.
Tony Parker is the engine of the San Antonio offense. He assists on 40%, and shoots on 28% of the Spurs’ possessions when he’s on the floor. And he’s doing both very well. His TS% and AST% would represent career highs if the season ended today. His improvement in shooting has been drastic, especially from three. He’s shooting 39%, a mark he hasn’t reached since the 2006-07 season, and he’s taking twice as many threes as he did in that campaign. As usual, he’s been one of the most frequent foul shooters in the league. If it weren’t for the man playing across from him Thursday, Parker would have a good claim to the title of best point guard in the league.
Eric Bledsoe is a solid backup and is rightfully the subject of a lot of trade interest, but there’s no replacing Chris Paul, who joins Tony Parker in the ‘Nutmeg Chris Bosh on an Immense National Stage’ club. The Clippers are wondering whether Paul will leave in free agency this summer. You can see why they’re anxious. While he is just as efficient, Paul doesn’t shoulder as much of a scoring burden as Parker. But he is a more prolific distributor and a much more dependable defender. DeAndre Jordan is fine, but Paul doesn’t have Tim Duncan mopping up his mistakes. He’s the unquestioned best passer in the league with Rajon Rondo out and has the highest steal % in the league—talk about good hands. Only historically great seasons by LeBron James and Kevin Durant are keeping Paul from being a front runner in the MVP discussion.
What to Watch For
The Spurs have been one of the best defensive teams in the league. There’s no single reason for their success—they do a lot of things well. First, they don’t foul. Second, they contest every shot, especially behind the arc. Teams shoot just 33% from three against the Spurs. They also finish defensive possessions, posting one of the best defensive rebounding rates in the league. Tim Duncan deserves a great deal of the credit. Incredibly for a 36-year-old man who has played 1,345 games, he is posting career highes in DRB% and BLK%. We tend to think of Tim Duncan as a living statue, but he’s still very much alive, and he’s anchoring one of the best defenses in the league.
Chris Paul is a surgeon with the ball, and he and his team happen to be very good at getting him plenty of possessions to play with. Paul and Eric Bledsoe are the very best in the league at forcing turnovers, and they helm a league-leading larceny effort in Los Angeles. Getting Chauncey Billups back only makes them more dangerous. Tony Parker takes pretty good care of the ball, but he’s running the gauntlet against the Clippers.
Why Else to Watch
The All Star game is fun and all, but it’s nice to return to real basketball that matters.
How to Watch
TNT, Thursday, 10:30 p.m. eastern
League Pass Bonus Game
New York Knicks at Indiana Pacers, Wednesday, 7 p.m. eastern. The East is wide open behind Miami. All these games will matter.