Clippers-Jazz preview: going for Sweet 16

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers have a tough back-to-back in a tough place to play, but the way they're playing right now you have to figure they'll win anyway.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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23-6

15-15
December 28th, 2012, 6:00 PM
EnergySolutions Arena
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jamaal Tinsley
Willie Green SG Randy Foye
Caron Butler SF Marvin Williams
Blake Griffin PF Paul Millsap
DeAndre Jordan C Al Jefferson
Advanced Stats through games of Dec. 27
91.7 (16th of 30) Pace 91.3 (20th of 30)
110.5 (4th of 30) ORtg 106.3 (11th of 30)
99.3 (2nd of 30) DRtg 107.2 (24th of 30)
Injuries
Chauncey Billups (ankle) out
Raja Bell (whiny baby) out
Grant Hill (knee) out
Mo Williams (thumb) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

Way back on December 3rd, the date of the first meeting with Utah when the Clippers now 15 game winning streak was in its infancy at just two straight wins, I wrote about getting greedy with the December schedule. At that time I said that I thought the Clippers should be favored in 15 of their 16 games during the month. The lone exception? Tonight's rematch with the Jazz in Salt Lake City. The Clippers are on a tough turnaround, with a flight from L.A. to Salt Lake City after playing the Celtics last night. To make matters worse, they lose an hour on the time change, so the 7:00 PM mountain tip off is really 6:00 PM for us in L.A. and a mere 20 hours after the end of the Boston game (which of course ran late because of the TNT coverage). So yeah, this game has had schedule loss written all over it since the league released the schedules. HOWEVER -- I no longer think the Jazz should be favored in this game. I think the Clippers should be favored, for several reasons. For one thing, the Clippers are playing great, and they are flat out better than the Jazz. Secondly, the Clippers have won their last several games so easily that no one has had to play big minutes. Chris Paul played 29 minutes against Boston; Blake Griffin played 26. The deep Clippers bench and the ease with which they've been winning means that the entire team is fresh. Finally, Jazz point guard has an injured thumb and will miss this game. Without him the Jazz are down to Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson at the point, and that's not good. So yeah, I now expect the Clippers to make this their 16th straight win, though it still won't be easy.

The Antagonist:

The loss of Mo Williams hurts the Jazz. Citizens of Clips Nation know well that he's far from perfect, but Mo is a very effective starting point guard, and it's a BIG drop off to Tinsley and Watson. For one thing, Williams and Randy Foye had added a deep threat that was serving the Jazz well this season, but neither Tinsley nor Watson is a perimeter threat in the least. Williams may not be as good a player as Millsap or Jefferson, but his loss hurts the Jazz more because of the drop off to his replacements. In fact, I'd say Mo Williams was the player Utah could least afford to lose. The Jazz had started to falter some even before Williams got hurt, losing five of their last seven, with all five losses coming by double digits. Utah's record may say .500, but they've actually given up more points than they've scored this season, while the Clippers are outscoring their opponents by over 10 points per game, more than 16 during the winning streak. The Utah front line is certainly formidable -- Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap will give the Clippers all they can handle, as will backups Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. But the backcourt is going to be severely outclassed by the Clippers, who have at least three guards better than Utah's best guard (who happens to be former Clipper Randy Foye),

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. Utah's defensive efficiency is 24th in the league. That's really bad. The teams below them are all well below .500 and essentially out of the playoff race already. Ty Corbin can't be please with that. After their throttling defensive performance against Boston last night, the Clippers are up to second in the league in defensive efficiency.
  • Blowing teams out. In their last two games the Clippers faced opponents that in theory had the talent to provide them with a tough challenge, and certainly every team they face will be motivated to try to end the streak. But against Denver and Boston the Clippers built a huge lead and coasted to the end, winning essentially wire to wire. It seems that right now the rest of the NBA just can't compete with the Clippers.
  • First meeting. Remember what it feels like for the Clippers to be in a close game? It's been awhile, I know. Back on December 11th Chicago got within two points in the final minute, but the Clippers never trailed that one in the fourth quarter. Before Chicago, it was the last time these teams met, December 3rd. The Clippers actually trailed late in that one (the only time they've been behind in the fourth quarter during the winning streak), but Chris Paul hit some crucial layups down the stretch and Chauncey Billups (remember him?) drew a crucial shooting foul with 74 seconds left on a play that earned him a flopping warning from the league office. That was the last time Billups played before shutting down again with a sore ankle. The Clippers haven't had many close games this season, but they won that one. That first game in Utah was also the one where Blake Griffin broke out of his early season doldrums, recording his first 30 point game of the season.
  • Trade chatter. The Jazz have two talented bigs in the final year of expensive contracts, and two talented bigs on cheap rookie contracts. This will inevitably lead to trade talk. Will Utah deal Millsap or Jefferson? What can they get for their borderline all star bigs? Utah could also have a ton of cap space next summer, but it's not easy to convince free agents to live in Salt Lake City, so they'd be better off flipping their assets in trades now it would seem.
  • Matt Barnes. It's pretty remarkable what Matt Barnes has been doing during the winning streak. We've mentioned many times that the Clippers are undefeated on the season, a perfect 17-0 when Barnes comes off the bench to score in double figures. But what you may not have realized is the consistency with which he has done so lately. During the 15 game win streak, Barnes has scored in double figures in 13 of those games, including the last nine in a row. He's averaging almost 14 points per game during the winning streak. Not bad for a guy with a career average of 7.5 who's only averaged double figures on a season twice in his nine year career.
  • The streak. With the 15th win, the Clippers claimed the longest NBA winning streak in over four years. They are currently tied for the fifth longest winning streak in over a decade. Two more wins and they'll be tied for the fourth longest winning streak in the NBA since 1996.
  • 9-3. The Clippers road record is 9-3. Utah's home record is 9-3. So something's got to give in this game.
  • Record in Utah. The Clippers have an abysmal record playing in Utah over the years. Not so long ago the Clippers had lost 42 out of 43 games in Salt Lake City. However, they've now won two in a row, and are looking to make it three straight road victories over the Jazz tonight.
  • Best record. Oklahoma City pulled out an overtime win versus Dallas last night and remain just a half game behind the Clippers for best overall record in the NBA, but the Clippers have to win tonight to maintain their lead. A loss in Utah would move the Thunder into first based on winning percentage, at least until their meeting with Houston Saturday. It's way too early to be worried about this kind of stuff, but hey, it's fun, especially since we citizens of Clips Nation have never before gotten to talk about this kind of stuff.
  • Seven games in 10 days. This game will be the second in a very trying stretch of seven in 10 days for the Clippers. They got the start they needed, with an easy win over Boston that kept the workload light for all the Clippers. It's a lot to ask, but if they can get through this stretch with their winning streak in tact, there's no telling how long it could go on. That would be 21 in a row -- I just don't see that happening. The streak will end some time in the next six games.
  • Perfect December? In addition to 15 consecutive wins, all but one of those has come in the month of December, making the Clippers a perfect 14-0 with only two games left. Both of those games are coming against the Jazz on a home and home pairing tonight and Sunday. With Mo Williams expected to miss both games, the Clippers have got a lucky break that may help them to a perfect undefeated month of basketball.
  • Connections. Mo Williams and Randy Foye were Clippers just last season, and both spent plenty of time in the starting lineup during their respective stays in L.A. Marvin Williams and Willie Green were teammates in Atlanta last season. Marvin Williams will long be remembered as the guy Atlanta drafted with the second pick in the 2005 draft when they could have had Chris Paul. While we're on that subject, the Clippers could have drafted Gordon Hayward in 2010 when they picked Al-Farouq Aminu, but if they'd done so then Hayward would probably be in New Orleans now. Matt Barnes and Earl Watson were teammates at UCLA for three years. Chauncey Billups and Alec Burks both attended Colorado and may be the best pros to have played for the Buffaloes. Clipper broadcaster Mike Smith played his college ball at BYU in nearby Provo.
  • Get the Utah perspective at SLC Dunk.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Where it's at -- Beck

    There's a destination a little up the road
    From the habitations and the towns we know
    A place we saw the lights turn low
    The jig-saw jazz and the get-fresh flow
    Pulling out jives and jamboree handouts
    Two turntables and a microphone
    Bottles and cans just clap your hands
    Just clap your hands

    All these years later, there's still really nothing quite like the indescribably wonderful conglomeration of sounds that Beck came up with on a song like Where it's at. I just love the dude.
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