Offense: When you think of the best Tim Duncan defenders, DeAndre Jordan doesn't immediately come to mind -- but the stats say he should be considered. This year, Duncan scored only 17 points on 6-for-18 shooting in 52 minutes when defended by Jordan. Last year, Duncan's numbers were even worse against Jordan: 12 points on 4-for-15 shooting in 47 minutes. Watching the tape, Jordan's length and athleticism have bothered Duncan. In this series, Duncan needs to use his strength advantage to power through Jordan and not try to score over the top of him. The Grizzlies had success doing just that and basically made Jordan a non-factor in the first round. Add capable defenders in Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans off the bench and this isn't going to be a walk in the park for Duncan.
Defense: Duncan will spend a lot of time in pick-and-rolls that involve Chris Paul. He needs to show enough to not allow Paul to get an open jumper and then drop to the rim quickly enough to thwart alleyoop attempts. The good news is that the Clippers bigs don't shoot very well from the outside so Duncan can always retreat to the paint when in doubt. Outside of pick-and-rolls, Duncan's objective is to basically force the Clippers to do anything else other than layup or dunk the ball.
Offense: Individually, the Clippers don't have anyone who should be able to slow Manu Ginobili. L.A.'s best option may be Caron Butler -- but he's average at best defensively. The most difficulty Ginobili will face is when the Clippers switch pick-and-rolls and Ginobili has to contend with a big. But as long as his three-point shot is falling, that strategy should backfire. All in all, I don't see a reason why Ginobili shouldn't explode offensively.
Defense: This end of the court won't be nearly as easy for Ginobili. He'll likely be forced to spend most of his minutes chasing smaller, quicker shooters like Mo Williams and Randy Foye. Preferably, Pop will find ways to allow Ginobili to defend Butler, however that will probably not be the case. When guarding Williams and Foye, he needs to be wary of flare screens. The last time these two teams played, Ginobili got stuck behind screens a few times and gave up wide open threes. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin potentially limited by injuries, Ginobili's sole focus should be denying three-pointers. Roaming off of his man is highly discouraged in this series.
Offense: The Clippers are sure to throw a number of looks at Tony Parker. I expect Chris Paul, Randy Foye and Eric Bledsoe to be the players Vinny Del Negro calls on the most to try to slow Parker. Of those three, Bledsoe is the one who may be most capable of staying in front of Parker. The Clippers like to switch pick-and-rolls, especially in the fourth quarter. In the regular season, L.A. had success when Kenyon Martin switched onto Parker and then forced him to shoot. If Parker is hitting his jumpers, he shouldn't have too much trouble in this series. But if his jumper goes cold, he'll need to find other ways to make the Clippers pay for switching pick-and-rolls.
Defense: Parker has historically defended Paul relatively well. Staying out of foul trouble is key in that matchup, which is easier said than done against Paul and his acting abilities. That said, I don't think Parker will be the main defender against Paul. Instead, I think Parker will spend most of his time defending either Foye or Bledsoe, with some time on Mo Williams also mixed in. Parker is usually good at denying three-point attempts -- a trait that will come in handy this series.
Offense: The Clippers don't want to run and they don't defend the three-point line very well. Danny Green's job on offense will be to run the court whenever possible -- even force the issue if need be. Green should also get plenty of open looks from deep and he has to take those shots with confidence.
Defense: I expect Green to be the main defender against Paul. In fact, I'd be surprised if he doesn't start off games on Paul. It'll be a somewhat dangerous move by Pop because Green's glaring weakness as a defender is an inability to swiftly maneuver around screens. Considering that Paul will be going around screens constantly, Pop needs to be ready to alter his gameplan if Green isn't up to the job. Then again, if Green shows any ability to slow Paul, this could end up being an easy series for San Antonio. I don't think Green will have much success against Paul but it's within the realm of possibilities.
Offense: Like Green, Kawhi Leonard's job will be to run, run, run and shoot open three-pointers. The Clippers are only an average defensive rebounding team so Leonard might be able to also help by grabbing a few offensive boards. However, three-point shooting will make or break this series for Leonard. If the Clippers are able to rotate off of him without any repercussion, Pop will have to look elsewhere.
Defense: Leonard will begin games defending Caron Butler. Against Butler, Leonard's focus should be to keep him out of the lane. Since Butler is playing with a broken hand, the Spurs will gladly live with him taking outside shots -- they just can't have him driving to the rim and getting the bigs in foul trouble. When Nick Young enters, Leonard's gameplan should change completely. Young's only strength is to shoot catch-and-fire jumpers, so Leonard needs to force him to do anything else. There's a chance Leonard could be called upon to defend Paul. If that happens, his best bet is to lay back a few steps and try to bait Paul into shooting contested jumpers.
Offense: When Boris Diaw has Blake Griffin on him, he needs to stay on the move. Griffin's injured knee limited his mobility at the end of the Grizzlies series so Diaw being in perpetual motion is a good way to push Griffin. Also, since Griffin tends to fall back into the paint defensively, Diaw should get plenty of open looks from the perimeter. The Frenchman needs to be aggressive taking those outside shots to force Griffin to play the entire court.
Defense: Diaw will start games defending Griffin. While the Clippers power forward is a very good player, his knee injury makes him even more limited than usual -- and should make Diaw's job easier. Diaw's first goal should be to stay between Griffin and the basket to take away any dunks. When Griffin gets the ball, Diaw needs to make him shoot; don't fall for pump-fakes or give him driving lanes. Back off and force Griffin to use his iffy outside touch. And if he ever gets Diaw in a bad position, Diaw needs to foul him instead of giving him an easy shot at the rim. This is one series where it's okay to use fouls liberally.
Offense: Like all the other shooters, Stephen Jackson has to be prepared to pull the trigger from three-point territory. Against Utah, Jackson actually passed up a handful of open threes. Since the Clippers have relatively short wings, going to Jackson in the post is a legit option. He's shown good post-up ability in his return to San Antonio and that could be a lucrative source of points for the second unit.
Defense: No player has a bigger adjustment to make defensively from the first round to the second round. Jackson was mostly in the paint versus the Jazz. Against the Clippers, he'll be needed to get a hand up against their shooters -- specifically Nick Young. If Jackson proves not to be up to the task, Pop will be tempted to replace some of his minutes with smaller combinations.
Offense: Gary Neal's ballhandling ability is going to put the test in this series. Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe will pressure Neal fullcourt in an attempt to cause turnovers. If Neal can take care of the ball -- which is far from certain -- he could be an explosive weapon for the Spurs. When the Clippers dare to switch pick-and-rolls against him, Neal will get wide open shots from three-point land. And we all know how much he likes to take (and make) those shots.
Defense: This is one of the shakiest aspects of the entire series. Can Neal survive defensively? It's going to be a challenge. Shifty, dynamic guards give Neal a lot of trouble and the Clippers boast four such players. The best hope may be for Neal to be put on Eric Bledsoe and then have Neal back off and dare Bledsoe to hit perimeter shots. Bledsoe is ultra quick but he can't shoot, so perhaps that's how the Spurs can hide Neal.
Offense: Just keep doing what you do, Tiago Splitter. His pick-and-rolls should be really effective, especially because the Clippers don't have any players on their bench that challenge shots at the rim. Splitter also has a size advantage over Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans, so he should be able to provide some hoops via post-ups. However, one thing Splitter has to beware of is Evans flopping on him. When Splitter rolls to the basket or goes into a post-move, Evans will be looking to draw an offensive foul every time.
Defense: Splitter will really need to protect the rim this series. The Clippers small guards have a speed advantage and will thus find their way into the paint often. If Splitter can patrol the paint without getting into foul trouble, he'll be extremely valuable. Defensive rebounding should also be a point of emphasis. In fact, the only reason Splitter should leave the paint is if Martin gets hot from the perimeter -- and that doesn't happen very often.
Offense: On paper, Matt Bonner should have feasted against the Jazz. On paper, the Clippers are an even better matchup. Which of L.A.'s bigmen will want to sit on the perimeter defending Bonner? Certainly not Reggie Evans, who will probably spend a lot of minutes against Bonner. Evans is horrible at defending the perimeter -- so let's hope that's something Bonner is able to exploit.
Defense: Bonner needs to be an asset on offense because he's going to have issues on the defensive end of the court. While he's pretty good at boxing out, Evans is an all-time great when it comes to pulling down contested offensive rebounds. If Bonner is on Evans, he's going to have to use every once of energy just to keep him from giving the Clippers repeated second chances. Pop might switch Bonner onto Kenyon Martin but that won't be much easier. Not only can Martin rebound, his toughness and ability to score around the rim will test Bonner's mettle.
Offense: DeJuan Blair actually played really well offensively against the Clippers in the regular season. In 62 minutes, he had 36 points on 18-for-26 shooting from the field. For some reason, he's always had a lot of success scoring against Blake Griffin down low. If the Spurs start getting too perimeter oriented, Blair could be called upon to provide muscle and some points in the paint.
Defense: In the regular season, Blair was able to body up on Griffin and keep him off the offensive glass. However, that's about the extent of Blair's potential positives on that end in this series. Griffin is able to score over him and I don't love Blair against any of the other bigs on L.A. He's just not big enough or crafty enough to hang at this point in his career.
Offense: If Neal's ballhandling falters, Patrick Mills may get a chance to run some backup point guard minutes in this series. Mills is also an option if the outside shooting goes cold. Since the Clippers are so small at shooting guard, Mills could actually buy minutes at that position in this round.
Defense: Mills is far from a great defender but his skillset on that end could be useful against the Clippers. He can pressure the basketball and guard against speed, two traits that could be in high demand. If Neal can't hang on offense or defense, Mills will be the next in line. Personally, I think he's going to get a shot at some point. Let's hope he's ready.