Clippers-Jazz Preview: A tough place to win

Jeff Gross

The Clippers are looking for their third straight win in a city where they've only won twice in their last 44 visits.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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10-6

9-9
December 3rd, 2012, 6:00 PM
EnergySolutions Arena
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
See Chris Paul and Blake Griffin
Buy Clippers Tickets today
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Mo Williams
Chauncey Billups SG Randy Foye
Caron Butler SF DeMarre Carroll
Blake Griffin PF Paul Millsap
DeAndre Jordan C Al Jefferson
Advanced Stats through games of Dec. 2
91.9 (17th of 30) Pace 91.5 (18th of 30)
108.8 (4th of 30) ORtg 106.7 (10th of 30)
102.3 (9th of 30) DRtg 106.8 (19th of 30)
Injuries
Grant Hill (knee) out
Raja Bell (disgruntled) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
Derrick Favors (foot) questionable


Marvin Williams (concussion) GTD

The Back Story:

First meeting of the regular season. The Clippers won the season series last year two games to one. The two teams split a pair of preseason games.

The Big Picture:

I hate to bring up the past, but you may recall that the Clippers haven't always been so good as they are now. In fact, for the vast majority of the team's history, they've been bad. It turns out, bad teams lose to good teams more often than not, especially on the road, and the Jazz have been a good team for the better part of three decades now. As a result, the Clippers record in Salt Lake City is bad -- really, really bad. Since moving to L.A., the Clippers are 6-50 in Utah, and 2-42 in the last 44 meetings. BUT... they had lost 16 straight before finally winning last February in their most recent visit to EnergySolutions Arena, so it's maybe not quite so scary this time. The Jazz are nonetheless undefeated at home and enjoy one of the most distinct home court advantages in the NBA, thanks both to their rabid fans and the altitude in Salt Lake City. The Clippers looked as good as they have in many games Saturday night in crushing Sacramento -- but then again the Kings were so very, very bad that it's difficult to take too much away from that game. Still, their confidence should be pretty high after a convincing win. The team is now 2-0 since Chauncey Billups returned -- that makes them 16-6 in games Billups has played for the team. That's pretty damn good.

The Antagonist:

The Jazz are one of the more intriguing teams in the league right now. With some promising young players and a ton of cap space next summer, the team could be very well positioned for the future. But as is often the case, that bright future promise complicates the present for the team. For all their young talent, all five of their starters are veterans and four of them are in the final year of their contracts. The backcourt will look familiar to Clips Nation since it started a bunch of games for the Clippers over the last two seasons. Mo Williams went to Utah as part of the deal that brought Lamar Odom back to L.A. and Randy Foye signed there as a free agent (Foye beat out Gordon Haywood for the starting shooting guard job a couple weeks ago). The front line of Clipper killer Paul Millsap and low post scoring machine Al Jefferson is a handful and will give the Clippers trouble, but the Jazz could be a little shorthanded tonight. Derrick Favors and Marvin Williams each missed their game Saturday night with a foot injury and a concussion respectively; both are hoping to play in this game.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Jazz have certainly been consistent. Through 18 games this season they are almost identical to last season's team in several key metrics: pace (91.4 last year to 91.5), offensive efficiency (106.8 to 106.7) and defensive efficiency (106.1 to 106.8). For two seasons now, the Jazz have given up just about as many points per 100 possessions as they've scored. That's a recipe for a .500 team, which is pretty much what they've been.
  • Utah free agents. Jefferson, Millsap, Williams and Foye will all be free agents next season. We've sometimes seen teams devolve into a me-first attitude when too many guys are in contract years. Whether that happens or not, the Jazz will have some major decisions to make this summer.
  • Favors. Favors was scheduled to get an MRI Sunday to determine if there's any structural damage in his sore right foot. They're calling it a strain, and there's some talk of plantar fasciitas. He's having a very solid third season so far and the Jazz will miss him if he's out.
  • Clippers backcourt, then and now. One thing about the guard matchups -- we can pretty much say with confidence that the Clippers have the superior backcourt. When Billups was healthy last season, Williams and Foye backed up Paul and Billups. And although Eric Bledsoe was not a full strength until after Billups went down, had they all been healthy at the same time it's likely that Bledsoe would have been ahead of Foye in the rotation. That is to say nothing of Clippers leading scorer Jamal Crawford. We can state with a certain level of authority that the Clippers win the backcourt battle across the board.
  • Williams and Foye. That is not to say that Williams and Foye are bad. In fact, they've both played very well for the Jazz. Utah badly misses Deron Williams after literally decades of stellar point guard play, and Devin Harris never worked out, so they were happy to have Williams back where he began his career (even though Mo's numbers are not significantly better than Harris' so far). Foye won the starting job with his three point shooting, which has been even better so far in Utah than his career year with the Clippers last year. Foye has made 44 three pointers this season, tied for third most in the league, and he's hitting better than 46%. So the Clippers need to stay home on him.
  • Steals and blocks. As I've already stated, it's dangerous to extrapolate from the Sacramento game because the Kings were just SOOO bad, but it was definitely good to see the Clippers active on defense, as reflected by 12 steals and 6 blocked shots. Then again, a few of those steals seemed to be the Kings more or less handing the ball over. At any rate, keep an eye on these activity stats in this game as well. These are always a good indication of how active the Clippers are defensively.
  • Turnovers. The Clippers season-low five turnovers were especially good to see on Saturday. Basically, the Clippers played an almost flawless game -- and were allowed to do so by an opponent that put up little resistance. One of the L.A.'s biggest problems this season when they've been bad has been taking care of the ball. This is without a doubt a key stat to watch on the road tonight.
  • Jeremy Evans. Evans is a complete mystery to me. This is his third season in Utah, and he's never really broken into the rotation. In fact, his minutes per game are going down every season, from 9.4 as a rookie to 7.5 in his second season to just 5 per game (in just five games) this year. Why did he re-sign with Utah when he's never gotten a chance there? Why did the Jazz give him a three year contract if they're not going to play him? And why is that a guy who can do what he did to Ronny Turiaf in pre-season can't find a spot in the rotation? He should get minutes tonight if Favors is still out.
  • Enes Kanter. The 20 year old second year big from Kentucky looked impressive in pre-season. In fact, his preseason numbers were as impressive as his abs. (You may recall that he adjusting his diet and undertook a rigorous workout regimen and lost 50 pounds over the summer.) But after all that, his regular season number have been very similar to his number last season. His scoring is up a little, his rebounding is down a little. Obviously it's still early, he's still very young, and it could yet happen, but I really thought he was going to have a break out year this season.
  • Millsap. It's funny, we think of Millsap as a Clipper killer, and indeed he has had some good games against the LAC. But his career average against the Clippers of 13.3 points per game is in line with his overall average of 12.1. Funny how a few unexpected performances stand out so much.
  • AJ and DJ. The battle in the middle between Al Jefferson and DeAndre Jordan should be a key. Jefferson is a really tough challenge for DeAndre -- he's got a lot of moves and one of the best pump faces in the game, and DeAndre has always been prone to bite on fakes. He'll have to resist that urge, stay patient and stay down against Jefferson, and try to crowd that little one handed half jump hook half jump shot, but not try to block it. On the other end, Jefferson is really undersized and should have trouble of his own containing the newly offensive Jordan.
  • Preseason. Not that it makes sense to read much into the preseason games, but for what it's worth, although the teams split their two preseason meetings, the Clippers rested all of their started except Chris Paul in their loss in Utah, so that one hardly counts.
  • Lamar. It's undeniable that Lamar Odom is starting to look more and more comfortable on the court. His season stats still look abysmal, with a PER under 5, but the numbers are trending up, and they don't even matter that much. Lamar is such a natural on the basketball court, he does a lot for the team that does not show up in the stats. He handles the ball, makes plays, is almost always in the right spot defensively. Besides, his line of 6 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in 21 minutes on Saturday was plenty productive.
  • Get the Utah perspective at SLC Dunk.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Rejazz -- Regina Spektor

    Thought I'd cry for you forever
    But I couldn't so I didn't
    People's children die and they don't even cry forever
    Thought I'd see your face in my mind for all time
    But I don't even remember what your ears looked like


    So no, the word Jazz is not actually in the lyrics, but it is in the title... and there's obviously a heavy jazz influence in the song. And Regina Spektor is pretty friggin' awesome. She put on a great show this summer at the Greek.
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