Clippers-Bulls preview: The get away game

Stephen Dunn

The Clippers can make it five straight wins in their last game at STAPLES before heading out for the first multi-game road trip of the season. Let's hope they take the Bulls seriously even without Derrick Rose.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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6-2

5-3
November 17th, 2012, 6:00 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Kirk Hinrich
Willie Green SG Rip Hamilton
Caron Butler SF Luol Deng
Blake Griffin PF Carlos Boozer
DeAndre Jordan C Joakim Noah
Advanced Stats through Nov. 16
94.4 (3rdof 30) Pace 91.7 (24th of 30)
108.9 (5th of 30) ORtg 104.2 (14th of 30)
100.5 (6th of 30) DRtg 99.5 (3rd of 30)
Injuries
Chauncey Billups (Achilles surgery) out
Derrick Rose (ACL surgery) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out

Grant Hill (knee) out

The Back Story:

The teams have yet to meet this season. The Bulls won their only meeting last season.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have played seven of their eight games this season in the STAPLES Center (with one of those being a 'road' game) and they get to play one more tonight before heading out onto the road. The Clippers have been great against opponents they've been up for (the Grizzlies, the Lakers, the Spurs, the Heat) -- less great against the others (the Warriors and Cavs in particular). So how will they approach the Bulls? Do they view them as the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season? Or as a team playing without their superstar and therefore not a threat? Many things have changed about the Clippers since the arrival of Chris Paul, but the team's tendency to take teams lightly, particularly when they are missing key players, has remained a disturbingly consistent problem. They would be wise not to let down in this one -- after this they hit the road for four very difficult games: a win (and the corresponding five game winning streak) would be a much better way to hit the road than a loss.

The Antagonist:

The Bulls lost Derrick Rose to a torn ACL during last year's playoffs. He is currently rehabbing from his May ACL surgery (he began cutting just this week) but it's unclear if he'll be able to return this season. With Rose the Bulls could challenge Miami as the top team in the Eastern Conference -- without him, they're probably a second tier playoff team at best. It's not helping Chicago's cause that Carlos Boozer, making $15M this season and signed for two more years, has had a terrible start, shooting a career low 44 percent from the field (disastrous for your power forward). The Bulls starting lineup looks solid on paper (ignoring Boozer's horrific start), and backup power forward Taj Gibson is arguably better than Boozer; but they have issues at point guard without Rose, and the bench is pretty terrible after an offseason of cutting payroll.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The number that jumps out to me after eight games in comparing these two teams is defensive efficiency. The Bulls, the best defensive team in the league for a couple of seasons under Tom Thibodeau, are still good, 3rd in the league currently. But the Clippers are just one point per 100 possessions worst on defense, and are currently sixth in the NBA in defensive efficiency. When you look at the opponents for the two teams (the Heat, Grizzlies, Lakers and Spurs are all top ten offenses so far) it becomes even more interesting. Small sample size of course, but very interesting in the early going.
  • No Rose. 2011 MVP Derrick Rose tore his ACL in last season's playoffs and underwent surgery on May 12. There's really no timetable for his return -- all you ever see is the generic estimate of 8 to 12 months for a typical ACL recovery period. The optimistic view (and there's a reasonable case to be made) is that if the Bulls can squeak into the playoffs without him, and he can return late in the season and work his way into good shape by the time the playoffs begin, they could be the most dangerous low seed in NBA playoff history. Think about it: the East is weak and the last few spots are always up for grabs, especially with the Bulls not hogging a top one this year. If the Bulls can avoid the eight seed (and thereby likely avoid the Heat for a bit) you could certainly imagine them getting on a roll in the postseason.
  • The downside of drafting well. With the horrendous exception of 2006 when they traded away LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas, the Bulls had quite a run of draft days from 2004 to 2009. In that span they drafted (or acquired on draft day) Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik. The problem is that you eventually have to pay those people, and when Gibson's extension kicks in next season, those five players will make more than the salary cap between them. Of course, Asik (the cheapest of the five) will be making his money in Houston, because you can't afford to keep everyone -- especially when you're also handing out bad free agent contracts to the likes of Carlos Boozer.
  • Money, money, money. The net effect of those big contracts is that the Bulls had to something to trim payroll this summer. Who knows what they might have done with a healthy Derrick Rose -- perhaps they would have spent more in hopes of winning a title -- but without him they've made some deep cuts. They had to let Asik walk, dumped Kyle Korver's salary and declined their option on Ronnie Brewer. They did spend a bit on Kirk Hinrich and extended Gibson (which will kick in next season), but otherwise filled the spots on their roster almost exclusively with veteran's minimum players.
  • Bulls bench. A bit like the Clippers, the Bulls starters from last season are still there (with the obvious exception of Derrick Rose who will of course be out much longer than the Clippers own injured guard Chauncey Billups) but the bench is almost completely different. Unfortunately for Chicago, it doesn't look nearly as much like an upgrade. Gone are Asik (starting in Houston), Brewer (starting in New York), Korver (starting in Atlanta), C.J. Watson (playing well in Brooklyn), and John Lucas (playing in Toronto), replaced by Hinrich and Nate Robinson (filling in for Rose), Marco Belinelli, Nazr Mohammed and Vladimir Radmanovic. You tell me if that's an upgrade (hint, it's not). Of course, the Bulls had to do something to save money, and this is the result.
  • Minutes. One result of the depleted Bulls bench is that the some of the starters are logging heavy minutes. Deng leads the league in minutes per game at 41, while Noah is third at just under 40. In stark contrast, Chris Paul (32.6) and Blake Griffin (31.8) are 62nd and 74th respectively in minutes per game at eight games. Paul and Griffin were both in the top 20 last season, so you can see the impact of the improved bench right there. In fairness, Deng has always been a workhorse and led the league in minutes last season as well.
  • VladRad. Former Clipper and current Bull Vladimir Radmanovic is now in his 12th season in the NBA. Wow, right? For his first 4.5 seasons he was in Seattle, but since a trade deadline deal that brought him to the Clippers in 2006, he's been all over. Chicago is his sixth team since he left Seattle. We know well Vlad's charms as well as his shortcomings -- but he continues to stick in the NBA.
  • Noah the scorer. Through eight games this season, Joakim Noah is second on the Bulls in scoring at 16 points per game, Much of that increase is simply from the additional minutes but he's also taking more shots and getting to the line more. Still, it's difficult to imagine opponents game planning to stop him. The battle between Noah and DeAndre Jordan, two centers who are suddenly looking to score more, could be interesting in this one. For what it's worth, Jordan is scoring a bit more on a per minute basis than Noah (15.4 per 36 to 14.5) and Jordan is of course much more efficient, leading the league in field goal percentage.
  • Record against playoff opponents. The Clippers are 6-2 on the season, the Bulls are 5-3. So close, right? But if you look a bit closer, you see that the Clippers are 5-0 against 2012 playoff teams, while the Bulls are 0-2. Chicago has built up their record against a very soft early schedule.
  • Well rested. In a rare confluence of scheduling, both of these teams come into this game on two full days rest, so neither team has much excuse. They should be energetic and sharp from the opening tip.
  • Speaking of the tip. This game tips off at 6 PM, and it's the only 6 PM Saturday tip I can remember for the Clippers at STAPLES. The game was originally scheduled for a 12:30 tip, but was changed to 6, no doubt because the arena was available in the absence of Kings hockey. Why they chose 6 instead of 7:30 is unclear. We can probably expect a few more of these switches as the NHL lockout drags on.
  • Matching up. Paul and Bledsoe should dominate the point guard battle with Hinrich and Robinson. Bledsoe will actually have a height advantage for once (though Robinson is built like a tank, not unlike Bledsoe himself). How Griffin does against Carlos Boozer may be the key. Boozer is a good scorer around the basket and from midrange, but a poor defender. I actually expect to see a lot of Gibson, who is a far superior defender. The Clippers real advantage, as it has been frequently this season, will come from the bench. There's no way Chicago's reserves should be able to hang with Bledsoe, Crawford and company.
  • Jordan and Bledsoe. Clippers youngsters Jordan and Bledsoe are perhaps the best reasons for optimism in Clips Nation two weeks into the season. Chris Paul is more or less a given, and Blake Griffin has been a tad disappointing so far (though he'll be fine). But Jordan and Bledsoe have made great progress, which was perhaps more expected from Bledsoe than from Jordan. At any rate, either one of those guys can be a major factor in any given game for the Clippers.
  • Crawford. Red hot Clipper sixth man Jamal Crawford began his career as Bull, where he played four seasons. Back in those days he was a combo guard, and a starter by the end of his time there. He seems better suited as a bench scorer, don't you think?
  • Get the Bulls perspective at Blog a Bull.
  • Lyrical reference:

    The Lonely Bull -- Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass

    So obviously there are no lyrics to this Herb Alpert classic instrumental, but I could not resist the historical reference given that The Lonely Bull was the first album released by A&M records exactly 50 years ago. A&M was the seminal record label Alpert formed with Jerry Moss (hence the name) -- the label featured the works of artists from the Carpenters to the Go-Go's to the Police.
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