Clippers at Philadelphia - Game Preview

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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15-8
18-8
Wells Fargo Center
February 10th, 2012, 4:00 PM
FS West, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Jrue Holiday
Randy Foye
SG Jodie Meeks
Caron Butler
SF Andre Iguodala
Blake Griffin PF Elton Brand
DeAndre Jordan C Nikola Vucevic

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The Sixers dominated the Clippers twice last season.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers suffered their worst defeat of the season on Wednesday night in Cleveland. Sure, losses at San Antonio and Utah and at home against the Nuggets were by a wider margin, but they were also to good teams. Cleveland is a non-playoff team in the East, and were playing without their leading scorer not to mention two other key members of their team. It was the first game the Clippers played without Chauncey Billups after learning that he was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, so that may have contributed to the poor performance -- but they need to get over that. If it was on their minds in Cleveland, so be it, but the season's too short to allow that injury to affect their performance for long. Philadelphia is a much tougher opponent than Cleveland, and a team that shut down Blake Griffin in two games last season. The Clippers haven't lost back to back games since games 2 and 3 of the season -- they've been coming back strong after losses for a while now. I expect them to be focused and sharp in this one. I don't think Chris Paul will allow them to be anything less. But will it be enough against a very deep Sixers team?

The Antagonist:

I have to say up front that I'm not completely sold on the Sixers. The stellar record (18-8), and especially the gaudy point differential (+9.3, second in the NBA behind only Chicago) are certainly impressive. But they've come at the expense of a whole bunch of really bad teams. The Sixers have played 14 games against teams below .500 this season -- the Clippers have played just 6. Philly's record against teams .500 or better is just 6-6, while the Clippers are 10-7. I'm not saying Philadelphia isn't good, but I'm not convinced they're as good as their point differential. After all, the Sixers are plus 84 in three games against Washington -- the Clippers beat the Wizards by 26 also, they just haven't played them three times. The Sixers are another one of those super deep balanced teams that seem to be in vogue this season for some reason -- teams like the Nuggets and the Jazz and the Rockets. Philly has eight players averaging between 9 and 16 points per game, led by Lou Williams at 15.7. They also play elite defense, leading the league in defensive efficiency to date (though admittedly, that again may be influenced by the relatively easy schedule they've played). So far they've held their opponents to 42% shooting, 31% from the three point line; that's good defense no matter who you're playing.

The Subplots

  • Hawes hurting. Spencer Hawes, the Sixers usual starting center, will miss tonight's game with a sore left Achilles tendon (I guess it's going around). USC rookie Nikola Vucevic will start in his place.
  • Blake's nightmare. Blake Griffin struggled more against Philadelphia than he did against any other team in the league. Although his average was lower against Boston (33 total points in two games versus 34 in two games against Philly), he shot a miserable 32% from the field against the Sixers, by far his worst percentage against any team. Blake has come back strong against some of his other nemeses from last season, like New Jersey and Houston, so hopefully he can do the same thing tonight. I guarantee you he knows he struggled against these guys. The Sixers took Blake out of his game by double teaming him aggressively and often last year. It resulted in a slew of free throws, so hopefully his new found prowess at the charity stripe will continue tonight (he's 15 for 17 in two games since including a rhythm dribble in his routine). The Clippers also have more scoring around Blake this season, so it will be harder to double team him without paying the price. Last season, you could double Blake, recover to Eric Gordon, and take your chances with everyone else.
  • Paul versus Holiday. Lou Williams is the Sixers leading scorer, Andre Iguodala is an All Star, but Jrue Holiday makes the Sixers go. He leads the team in minutes, pushes the tempo, plays pressure defense, and still manages to score 14 points per game. How Chris Paul handles Holiday and vice versa is a key to this game. Paul needs to dominate this matchup. It seems obvious, but bear in mind that Ramon Sessions outplaying Paul was the key to the loss in Cleveland.
  • Philly defense versus Clippers offense. The Philadelphia defense allows 96.2 points per 100 possessions, best in the NBA. The Clippers offense scores 108.2 points per 100 possessions, third best in the NBA. Something's gotta give tonight. The Clippers defense remains in the bottom third of the league, and definitely needs to improve if the team wishes to be regarded as elite.
  • Low turnover teams. One thing these teams have in common is that they take care of the ball. Philadelphia has by far the lowest turnover percentage in the league, and the Clippers are fifth in that category. This will be a key for the Clippers tonight -- the Sixers are at their best when they force turnovers and convert them into easy points.
  • Seeing is believing. I have to admit, I haven't watched the Sixers this season other than a quarter or so against the Lakers. Their statistical rankings are through the roof -- but I'm having trouble believing they are sustainable. I just don't see where this team will score in the half court, despite their seventh best offensive efficiency rating. My explanation for now is that Philly's numbers are all inflated by the terrible competition they've faced. They've played Washington, Charlotte and Detroit, the three worst teams in the East, a combined seven times. They've even played New Orleans and Sacramento, the West's cellar dwellers, once each. That's nine wins against a group of hopeless teams the Clippers have played just once total. The Sixers are 18-8 overall, meaning half their wins have come against teams that are not just bad but really bad. Having said that, Philly does have wins against Orlando, Chicago, Atlanta and the Lakers in the last two weeks, so as the schedule has gotten tougher, they've continued to win. Their 6-6 record against teams over .500 tells you that they're good -- but they're not as good as all those blowouts against bad teams might lead you to believe. That's my story anyway. I'm looking forward to watching them.
  • Elton Brand's second career. For six full seasons in Los Angeles with the Clippers before he was injured, Elton Brand was an elite power forward. He made two All Star teams, should have made some others, and had a PER that averaged around 23. During his best season, in 05-6, his PER was 26.5 and he was selected to the All NBA second team. Since moving to Philadelphia, he's been a solid contributor on a good team, but nothing close to a star. His PER hit a Philadelphia high of 18.5 last season, but is back down at 17 this year. That's probably a combination of age and injuries catching up with him -- he's now 32, he missed most of his final season in LA with a torn Achilles, and then suffered a separated shoulder among other injuries during his first season in Philadelphia.
  • Catching up with old teammates? Believe it or not, there is no one on the current Clippers roster who played with Brand in LA. Longest tenured Clipper DeAndre Jordan arrived the year Brand left. Brand can still say Hi to Jasen Powell, Ralph Lawler and Mike Smith.
  • Williams, Sixth Man. This game will feature two of the leading Sixth Man of the year candidates, in Lou Williams of the Sixers and Mo Williams of the Clippers. Lou actually leads the Sixers in scoring, despite coming off the bench. He's the closest thing the Sixers have to a go to scorer, and when they need a basket late in a close game, they'll give him the ball, as the Lakers found out on Monday. Mo is in a mini-slump, making just 5 of 22 shots in the last two games, after being red hot in the ten games before that. With Billups done for the season, the Clippers really need Mo to get hot again.
  • No star teams. The Sixers are chief among a group of no star teams this season. The Nuggets, Jazz, Pacers and Sixers are all using a formula of depth, defense and balance to win a lot of games this season. It's an encouraging trend for people who like team basketball -- but the formula for winning championships still requires a superstar, as the 2004 Pistons remain the only team in over 30 years to win a ring without an MVP candidate. One big reason these balanced teams are doing so well this season may be that the compressed schedule is making it harder on the stars who log big minutes, but we'll see what happens in the playoffs.
  • First time All Star. The Nuggets and Jazz can still say they have no All Stars on their rosters, but the Sixers can no longer make that claim. Of course, the already had Brand, who is a former All Star, but now they've got Andre Iguodala, who was named an Eastern Conference reserve yesterday. It's a well-deserved honor -- Iguodala is a great player, who doesn't happen to be a great scorer. But he impacts the game in myriad ways and is certainly worthy of an All Star selection.
  • FElton vs. Griffin. This is obviously the marquee matchup for Clipper fans. The past versus the future. The former best Clipper ever, versus the future best Clipper ever. One gets the impression that Brand squeezed every ounce of production out of his somewhat limited skill set. He's not the biggest, strongest nor most athletic power forward in the NBA. Griffin on the other hand is just scratching the surface of his massive talent. One thing they have in common is that they are both tireless workers, so we can expect Griffin to reach his full potential just as Brand did - the ceiling is just a lot higher on Griffin. One advantage Brand has is his length - he's got a big wingspan, and his length could bother Griffin around the basket. But one doubts, at 32 after an achilles injury, that Brand has the quickness to stay with Blake. In two meetings last season, they each played 75 minutes and scored 34 points. Griffin won the rebounding battle 26 to 18, but Brand shot a much higher percentage. Breaking even in this matchup won't do -- Griffin needs to dominate here.
  • Young guns. I spoken many times last season about the Clippers U23 team, their five players who were 22 or younger. A couple of key members of that group are now gone, and the Clippers are still young, but not as young as they once were. The Sixers remain one of the most promising young teams in the league. Jrue Holiday (21), Spencer Hawes (23) and Jodie Meeks (24) are currently starting, and Williams (25), Evan Turner (23) and Thaddeus Young (23) are the key players off their potent bench. That's six players 25 and under in the rotation. Heck, Andre Iguodala is still only 27 just turned 28.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    sixer

    A six pack of beer.

    To start the morning off right, I downed a sixer.
  • Get the Sixers perspective at Liberty Ballers.
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