Clippers Vs. Pacers - Game Preview - The Start of a Back-to-Back-to-Back

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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26-18

25-18
Bankers Life Fieldhouse
March 20th, 2012, 4:00 PM
FSN West, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul PG Darren Collison
Nick Young SG Paul George
Caron Butler
SF Danny Granger
Blake Griffin
PF David West
DeAndre Jordan
C Roy Hibbert

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The teams split two games last year, each winning at home.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers open a difficult and crucial road back-to-back-to-back today in Indiana. Not to be overly dramatic, but three games in either direction in the standing is essentially the difference between third place and eighth place in the Western Conference right now -- so yeah, this is big. With the toughest team of the sequence sitting in the sandwich game, and the weakest team at the end, there could be some strategy to how best to approach those games. But regardless, one thing is clear -- the Clippers need to win in Indianapolis tonight. A win here sets up the trip to be from 'good' to 'very good', while a loss might point to 'disaster'. The funny thing is, were this not the first game of a road B2B2B, we might be discussing how worn out the Clippers could be. It is, after all, their seventh game in ten days -- a pace unheard of in a normal NBA season. And while they have had a day since their last game, they also had to fly 2000 miles on that day. But relatively speaking, this is the Clippers rested game -- it starts getting nasty Wednesday and Thursday. The last time the Clippers played the Pacers, Blake Griffin scored a career high 47 in leading L.A. to a win. Griffin hasn't had a 35 point game this season -- he had 4 of them his rookie year. I wouldn't mind one of those right about now.

The Antagonist:

The Pacers, like the Clippers, started the season strong and have leveled off in the last month. There was a lot of hype around the Clippers, so it's hard to say that their strong start was completely unexpected, but Indiana (along with Philadelphia) was one of the real surprise teams of the early part of the season. But after going 16-6 to start the season, the Pacers are 9-12 since. The Pacers are among the new breed of deep and balanced NBA teams -- seven players average at least 9 points per game. The leading scorer is Danny Granger 17.6 per game, which is quite a bit less than he's been averaging the past several seasons. Granger appears to be something of a bellwether for the Pacers this season -- he scores almost 4 fewer points per game and shoots just 36% in their losses. The Pacers are solid, if unspectacular, at every position. Roy Hibbert made the All-Star team this season, David West and Granger are both former All-Stars, Paul George is a young, long, athletic two and Darren Collison provides quickness at the point. George Hill, Tyler Hansbrough and the newly acquired Leandro Barbosa provide depth.

The Subplots

  • Tonight's Special Guest Recapper. Citizen Newton Pham (the artist formerly known as newtybar).
  • The Questionable Blogger. This week's Questionable Blogger is Tom Lewis of Indy Cornrows, and he provides more information than you require on Mad Ants. Read his answers here, and head over to IC for my answers to his questions.
  • Key Pacers Metrics:
    Pace: 90.9 (19th of 30 NBA Teams)
    Off Rtg: 104.2 (15th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 101.5 (10th of 30)
    On paper, these are pretty evenly matched teams. Both 2 to 3 points better on offense than on defense. Both started the season strong but have dropped off recently. Both are fourth in their Conference, a half game out of fifth.
  • Key Clippers Metrics:
    Pace: 89.2 (28th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 107.8 (5th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.5 (21st of 30)
  • DVR Alert. The game is on Fox Sports West tonight, not Prime Ticket. Make sure your DVRs are programmed accordingly, since the 4 PM start will make living viewing trickier for many.
  • Three straight? The Clippers won two straight on Sunday for the first time since mid-February. They haven't won three straight since a winning streak that reached four on February 1. The Clippers have done a great job of avoiding long losing streaks this season (they've yet to lose more than two straight). What they haven't done yet is get on a serious roll. Unfortunately, this trip is probably not going to be that time, but three straight isn't a lot to ask.
  • Final Third. These are two teams hoping to return to their initial form for the final third of this abbreviated NBA season. The Clippers were 15-7 through the first 22 games. Coincidentally, game 22 happens to be the game where Chauncey Billups tore his Achilles. They are 11-11 in the second 22. The Pacers were 16-6 in the first third, and are 9-12 in 21 games since. Whether these teams can replicate their first third success down the stretch will have a major impact on their playoff seedings. Both teams are currently in fourth in their respective conferences, a half game ahead of the fifth place team.
  • Reunion week for CP3. New Orleans on Thursday is the big one of course, but Chris Paul has a significant reunion in every game of this B2B2B. Tonight in Indianapolis he will be reunited with David West, his teammate of six seasons with the Hornets. Paul and West formed a devastating pick-and-pop tandem with the Hornets -- West's numbers are way down this season, partly because he's returning from surgery, but one also suspects that playing with Paul brought out the best in West. Darren Collison was Paul's backup in New Orleans (and the fill in starter when Paul was injured) his rookie season. Wednesday night it's Oklahoma City, where Paul actually played his first two seasons in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and then it's on to N'Awluhns. Big week for CP3.
  • Paul. Chris Paul needs to be aggressive early in this one. He carried the Clippers to fourth quarter wins against the Rockets and Pistons with late game heroics, but that was only after being very passive through the first half of those games. It's one thing to fall behind early at home -- the Clippers can ill afford to dig a big hole for themselves on the road. Paul needs to look to score from the start.
  • Young to start? It seems as if Nick Young will be getting the start a two guard tonight. Dain Blanton spoke to Nick after shootaround in Indy today, and Young believes that he'll be starting. I suspected as much. They didn't acquire Young to not start, and Vinny has said from the beginning that it was intention to start Young. It's just a matter of when, and it's not as if they're getting a lot more practice time to work him in slowly this month. Might as well throw him in there now, if you want him playing with the first unit. Also, this is an opponent where his size will be useful -- Paul George is a 6'7" two guard.
  • Barbosa. The Pacers have a new acquisition of their own since the trade deadline. Leandro Barbosa, acquired from the Raptors on Thursday, is expected to make his Pacers debut tonight. That makes the Pacers even deeper than they were. The Pacers second string backcourt (George Hill and Barbosa) scares me more than their starters.
  • George. It is ancient history at this point, and irrelevant as well since Aminu is long gone as part of the Paul trade, but 20 months ago the debate was raging about which small forward the Clippers should draft in the first round. The Clippers, picking eighth, had their choice between Al-Farouq Aminu, Paul George and Gordon Hayward. Aminu went to the Clippers at 8, Hayward to the Jazz at 9 and George to the Pacers 10. It's still early of course, but George has had the best start to his NBA career. Interestingly, both George and Hayward are playing the two and not the three in the NBA. Interestingly, Wesley Johnson, the can't miss wing in that draft who went fourth, has been a major bust.
  • Last meeting. Blake Griffin scored a career high 47 the last time these teams met in January 2011. It was an eye-popping performance. Unlike his 44 against the Knicks, which featured dunk after dunk and a lot of transition baskets, Griffin scored his points against the Pacers almost exclusively in half court sets. He'll be going against David West tonight more than Tyler Hansbrough, so it's a different situation -- but one suspects Blake will have a lot of confidence against this team. Then again, he only had 12 against the Pacers the first time he played them.
  • Roy Hibbert. When the Pacers beat the Clippers last season, Hibbert had 18 points and 8 rebounds. In the LA win, Hibbert had 4 points and 5 fouls in just 12 minutes. Hibbert's a tricky matchup for DeAndre Jordan. His herky-jerky style tends to throw DJ off some. How Jordan handles Hibbert will be a key to this game. Hibbert has slumped badly since his All-Star game appearance -- he was shooting 51% from the field before the All-Star break, but he's at 41% since.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    pacer

    n. A torturous P.E. activity which involves running around with other morons to bad music.

    Damn! We're doing the Pacer AGAIN?!

  • Get the Pacers perspective at Indy Cornrows.
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