By: Mitchell Felker
...have the only actual, functioning lightsaber or your very own dragon to ride?
Wait, wait, wait. Thats not what I meant.
Basketball. Spurs, Clippers.
Saturday night. Staples Arena, Los Angeles, CA.
Lob City and the last(?) ride of Tim Duncan and his Immortals.
All for the chance to play our Houston Rockets in the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs.
So, who will you be rooting for?
I mean it has to be dragon, right? Imagine showing up to work on that bad boy. Or a first date? Game. Over.
But, then again, how can you turn down a lightsaber?? Even Han Solo wishes he had a lightsaber and he had an almost-dragon.
Okay, okay. Seriously. Who should Rockets fans be rooting for tomorrow?
There is a thread dedicated to this very question in Red94's forum, and it certainly leans "go Clippers", but not as much as I expected going in. There's concerns about the never-dead Spurs, met with fears of what CP3 might do. The Clippers short bench, matched with the Spurs tired legs. You could really go round-and-round looking at the pros and cons.
To me, it basically boils down to one question: After a grueling seven game series, with six days of rest for the home team and only two for the survivor, would you rather the Rockets face the Spurs aging depth, or the Clippers athletic trio and short bench?
The case for the Clippers
It all starts with what the Clippers don't have, and I mean more than just an NBA-level bench:
Kawhi. Anthony. Leonard.
Kawhi Leonard was basically put on Earth to stop James Harden from getting buckets. He's long, strong and wildly athletic, with hands like a shortstop and the reach of a red-zone wide receiver. If Harden is the puppeteer to the Rockets' marionette, Leonard is a giant rusty pair of scissors that wants to give him tetanus. Harden was a mixed bag against Leonard this season, but in their final matchup of the season with so much on the line, and in the second game of a home-and-home to boot (similar to what things will be like in the playoffs, where teams have more time to scout and prepare), Leonard held Harden to just 16 points on 5-19 shooting, and did so without fouling (Harden shot only six free throws).
And then, there's also that bench. That dreadful, eyesore of a Clippers bench. The bench that can't stay on the court, over-extends the starters and leads to tweets like this:
Thru 6 gms, LAC mins per game: Blake Griffin: 41.2; Chris Paul: 39.7; JJ Redick: 38.7; DeAndre Jordan, 36.3. And now Davis might be out
— Adam Wexler (@awexler) May 1, 2015
The bench that had been leaning awfully hard on Glen Davis, and may have just ended his season. It's being called a sprained ankle, but my first reaction - and everything I've seen since - was that he hurt his achilles. I could be wrong, but either way, chances are he won't be 100% anytime soon.
So what does that leave the Clippers' frontcourt? A whole lot of Hedo Turkoglu and Spencer Hawes, who has played only eight minutes in the playoffs. How sweet is it going to be watching Josh Smith come off that Dwight Howard screen and Hedo Turkoglu is scrambling to get back to him? Doc Rivers is going to wish he had Dirk's lead feet on defense. And if the Clips don't find minutes somewhere else, how long can Griffin and Jordan stay productive with all that wear and tear?
And then there's Austin Rivers. How effective is that sputtery high-dribble going to be with Corey Brewer lurking? Good luck getting to the rim, Austin.
But probably the biggest advantage to avoiding San Antonio: No Hack-a-Shaq.
(And for the record, it is called Hack-a-Shaq. We don't rename the "Bird Rule" every time it's used on another player, it's simply "Team Y exercised the Bird Rights on player X". Same with with Hack-a-Shaq. That is the first and last time I will ever agree with Reggie Miller).
There's no way Doc Rivers can play DeAndre Jordan 36.3 minutes per game and try to employ Hack-a-Shaq on Dwight or J-Smoove. The level of hypocrisy required can't possibly exist in this, or any, universe. Gregg Popovich, however, has mastered his most sinister of game plans and wields it like a Jedi with his lightsaber. He could take a shining moment in recent-Rockets history and turn it into a three hour perversion.
The Case for the Spurs
I still haven't completely figured out how the Spurs are hanging with LA in their series (OK, yes I have). Tony Parker looks like 32 year old who has played 1200 games (plus international) with nary a rest for 13 straight years. Tiago Splitter has barely played all series before last night and, while he was decent, is still limping around with a bum-calf. Danny Green is slumping badly, and as for Manu Ginobili, well, see: Tony Parker.
And while we're on the subject of age and health, when was the last time Dwight Howard looked this good? Would you rather see him bang against DeAndre Jordan for 40 minutes and (possibly) wear him out, or feast on a 39 year old and a 240-pound stiff with a bad calf? Dwight has had big games against the Spurs in the past, when their only option was to "unleash" Aaron Baynes against him, and is primed to do so again.
Also, remember what JJ Barea did to the Rockets defense in the first round? Well, Rajon Rondo isn't walking through that door, but Chris Paul very well could be. The Rockets had no answer for a 5'9, 180 pound microwave and now we're supposed to be looking forward to matching-up with the best point guard since Isaiah Thomas?
Then there's the sheer un-likability of the Clippers. Maybe this is just a personal one with me, but they have been my least favorite team since the first time CP3 found Jordan for a backdoor 'oop. Between Chris Paul's constant caterwauling and Doc Rivers' incessant, whiny stink-face, I can hardly stand to watch their games. And if Blake Griffin is so likable, why does every other NBA big man hate him? (save for Tim Duncan, apparently.) Of all people, Matt Barnes is the only one I like watching and he's the biggest ***hole of them all!
Rahat is right: the answer is N.E.V.E.R. the Spurs. I tried, for the sake of impartiality, to make a case for San Antonio and even very nearly wrote the sentence, "The Spurs may actually, finally, be running out of gas". But I refuse to be one of those. And remember that bit about Tony Parker and his 1200+ games? Well, 39 year-old Tim Duncan and his near-1600 games blocked a Blake Griffin hook shot three days ago. Let that sink in.
The fact is, after taking a few notes and lining things up side-by-side, it just has to be the Clippers. Plus, the possible joy of being the nail in the coffin for Duncan & Co. would hardly be worth the sheer terror of having to sit through a seven game series of Gregg Popovich's mind games.
Either series would be a bitch, but only one might end with more scorn from those arrogant, bombastic Spurs fans we all know (I'm looking at you, Dean). Let's go Clippers!
Dragon, it's definitely 100% dragon. Who needs a lightsaber when you can fly and breath fire?
Gotta be dragon, right?