Fri 17/04/2015 - 13:11 EDT

Spurs-Clippers Is Marquee Matchup In First Round Of NBA Playoffs

Spurs-Clippers Is Marquee Matchup In First Round Of NBA Playoffs

The San Antonio Spurs could  have made things so much easier on themselves. All they had to do was win their 12th straight game when visiting New Orleans on Wednesday night. Do that, and the Spurs are the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and would have opened at home against No. 7 Dallas in a very easy series. However, the desperate Pelicans pulled the upset to reach the playoffs and other results sent the Spurs all the way down to No. 6 in the West. So for only the second time in the Tim Duncan Era they will open the playoffs on the road, visiting the No. 3 seed L.A. Clippers for Game 1 on Sunday night. L.A., which has won seven straight and 14 of 15, opened as a 1-point favorite. It is truly a shame that these teams are playing so early but at least they are on the opposite side of the bracket from Golden State. The winner of this series probably faces No. 2 Houston in the West semifinals. Clippers Coach Doc Rivers has repeatedly called the Spurs the best team in the league, and Blake Griffin said recently that the Spurs were the one team that the Clippers wanted to avoid in the first round. It is far from an ideal matchup for the Clippers after finishing tied for the second-best record in the West and third-best in the league.  The Spurs have won five NBA championships. The Clippers have never made it past the second round of the playoffs. In four regular season matchups this season, the Clippers and Spurs split the series, with each team winning twice. The last time they played, on February 19, the Clippers won 119-115, behind 20 points and 16 assists from Chris Paul. Blake Griffin missed that game, recovering from an elbow infection. The Clippers won the last two games but that was before the Spurs reeled off 11 straight wins and won 14 of their last 16 games. When the Spurs and Clippers played in February, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was not afraid to send DeAndre Jordan to the charity stripe, making the free throw-challenged Jordan shoot 28 free throws (he made 10) as the Clippers won, 119-115. It kept the Spurs in the game. Jordan's 39.7 percent free throw shooting could end up being one of the biggest X factors in this series. The chances for San Antonio repeating as NBA champion doesn't look good. Since the NBA began crowning champions in 1947, only two teams — an almost invisible 1.5 percent — have ever won it all without a top three seed: The 1968-69 Boston Celtics (No. 4) and the 1994-95 Houston Rockets (No. 6). Both those teams were defending champions as well, boasting a wealth of experience. The Spurs are especially similar to the Celtics, who were led by an aging core. While the Clippers have made regular trips to the postseason, they haven't met the Spurs in the playoffs since San Antonio swept the Los Angeles in the 2012 Western Conference semifinals. San Antonio is a -185 series favorite, the only favored team without home-court advantage. The Clippers are +160. The Spurs are +200 second favorites to win the West and the Clippers +850. Series schedule Game 1: Spurs at Clippers, 7:30 p.m. Sunday TNT Game 2: Spurs at Clippers, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday TNT Game 3: Clippers at Spurs, 6:30 p.m. April 24 ABC Game 4: Clippers at Spurs, 12:30 p.m. April 26 ESPN Game 5*: Spurs at Clippers, TBD April 28 Game 6*: Clippers at Spurs, TBD April 30 Game 7*: Spurs at Clippers, TBD May 2 TNT

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