Clippers Vs. Jazz - Game Preview - Can L.A. Take the Season Series from Utah?

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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30-21

27-25
STAPLES Center
March 31st, 2012, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Devin Harris
Randy Foye SG Gordon Hayward
Caron Butler
SF C.J. Miles
Blake Griffin
PF Paul Millsap
DeAndre Jordan
C Al Jefferson

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

When the Clippers began their current five game home stand, I deemed it a massive opportunity to get their season back on track. The NBA schedule gods had handed them a brutal March schedule, including a back-to-back-to-back at the tail end of a stretch of 9 games in 12 days. That hadn't gone well. But the schedule makers also gave them five straight at home to close the month, against five beatable teams (teams with bad road records in fact), who also happened to be teams the Clippers needed to beat out in the playoff race. That home stand ends tonight, and the Clippers to this point have capitalized on the opportunity they were given. They are 4-0 on the home stand, but now is not the time to let up. (Hopefully, they got their bad game out of their system last night while still escaping with a win.) When the home stand started a week ago, the Clippers were a half game ahead of tonight's opponent Utah in the standings -- now they are 3.5 games up on the Jazz. What a difference a winning streak makes. But again -- this is a game the Clippers need to win, against a team that could get hot again and pass them in the standings. At home, for the season series, against a conference foe, entering the final month of the season -- good teams win those games.

The Antagonist:

The Jazz were as hot as the Clippers were cold -- and their fortunes changed back about the same time. As L.A. has been winning four straight, the Jazz have been losing 3 of 4. Of course, with Utah, going on the road is always a problem -- with the altitude and rabid fans in Salt Lake City, Utah has always been a much better home team than road team. The again, that home loss to Sacramento last night sure didn't help their chances. With their recent struggles, the Jazz have fallen right back out of the top eight, and at that this point, it's really hard to know what team this is. Is it a potentially dangerous playoff opponent? Is it a lottery team? Depends on the week you're watching. The Jazz have a formidable front line, led by Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, but also featuring youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. however, their guard play is a little suspect -- which is probably not a great recipe for playoff success.

The Subplots

  • Tonight's Special Guest Recapper. Yours truly.
  • The Questionable Blogger. Check out the answers from AllThatJazzBasketball, from SBNation's Utah blog, SLC Dunk. Head over to SLC Dunk for my answers to his questions.
  • Key Jazz Metrics.

  • Key Clippers Metrics.

  • Another bad road team. As I mentioned, the current home stand featured a string of poor road teams. Both Portland and Utah in particular have managed to hang around the playoff race with stellar home records, but are among the worst road teams in the Western Conference. That Jazz are just 8-18 away from home coming into this game. Of course, Portland gave the Clippers everything everything they could handle last night, so the last thing L.A. wants to do is get complacent.
  • Trap game? HOPEFULLY the combination of the poor showing against Portland last night and the fact that Utah is currently the team to beat in the Clippers first goal of making the playoffs will keep the Clippers focused on the game at hand. However, with the next two coming against Dallas (fifth in the conference, a game behind the Clippers) and the Lakers (third in the conference, a game ahead of the Clippers) one might imagine the Clippers could be looking ahead to those huge games. Let's hope that doesn't happen.
  • Eight playoff sports, nine teams. The Clippers position in the postseason is looking more comfortable at this point. Then again, we watched them lose a lot of games last month, and they have a difficult schedule ahead of them in April. To avoid the ultimate embarrassment of returning to the lottery even with Chris Paul, this game is particulary huge. While Phoenix and Minnesota and Portland are all in the neighborhood as well, it is Utah (and the other four teams behind the Clippers in the standings, namely Dallas, Memphis, Denver and Houston) that has the best chance of actually catching the Clippers. An LA win tonight puts the Clippers 5 games ahead of Utah in the loss column, and holding the tie breaker. A loss means 3 games in the loss column and Utah holding the tie breaker. This one game is essentially a three game difference for the final playoff spot. If the Clippers win, it would take an epic collapse for them to miss the playoffs -- but if they lose, it becomes much less certain.
  • Bad loss. The Clippers almost suffered a bad loss last night. Playing at home against a team they should have beaten easily, they pulled out a last second win. Utah, also playing at home against a team they should have beaten easily, suffered a last second loss. One assumes Utah will be motivated to play better tonight.
  • March 31st, finally. The Clippers play their 20th game in the month of March tonight, a truly astounding number. I don't know if it's a record, but it feels like one. The current home stand has managed to make the month look almost acceptable taken in its entirety. Last night's win was the Clippers 10th of the month, ensuring that they will not have a losing record in March. A win tonight makes them 11-9 for the month, a loss leaves them at 10-10.
  • Ten games over .500. A win tonight also puts the team at 10 games over .500, a high water mark for the season, reached once before at 19-9.
  • That season series time of year. As we approach the final month of the season and the last 15 games, the Clippers will be wrapping their season series with lots of opponents. Last night it was Portland, as the Clippers won the season series for the first time since 06-07. Tonight it's Utah, and with only three meetings with the Jazz this year, the winner takes the series. The Clippers last won a season series with Utah in 05-06 -- which is remarkably recent when you consider that LA almost literally NEVER won in Salt Lake before this season. As it happens, in 05-06 (which was the last Clippers playoff team of course) the Clippers and twice played just three times, with two of the three being in LA, so the Clippers were able to win the series without a road win that year.
  • Deja vu hot Clippers. The last time the Clippers played the Jazz, they were riding a three game winning streak, looking for their fourth straight. That was the first day of February. Now, on the last day of March, the Clippers are riding a four game winning streak, looking for their fourth straight. The two months between haven't exactly been great, but the team is more or less back to where they were, so that's not too bad.
  • Raja Bell and Josh Howard out. Veterans Raja Bell and Josh Howard, the starters on the wing for Utah when they've been healthy, have both been shut down for the season with injuries. However, our friends at SLC Dunk seem to think that's a good thing for the Jazz, as it frees up minutes for the likes of rookie Alec Burks and second year wing Gordon Hayward.
  • Guard play. If the Jazz were getting much of anything out of their backcourt, particularly their point guard, they could be a very good team. Devin Harris is nowhere near the player he was in Dallas or New Jersey, and his backups, Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley, are past their not-so-great-in-the-first-place primes. Watson at least might be able to harass Chris Paul some tonight.
  • Lakers playing the matinee. I don't remember this ever happening -- the Lakers and Clippers are playing the weekend STAPLES double header, and the Lakers are playing the early game with the Clippers playing Saturday night. It sometimes happens on Sunday, when the Lakers are on National TV, but I can't recall a case of this happening when the Lakers weren't playing on ABC. It's probably happening for a couple of reasons -- one, the Lakers play again tomorrow, and having the early tip today gives them more time between games; two, with the Final Four tipping off tonight, the Lakers won't be competing with those games.
  • Scoreboard watching. It's a surprisingly light night in the NBA (because of the Final Four) but there are a couple of other games with Clippers playoff implications. Keep an eye on Hornets@Lakers (the Lakers would really have to have a major let down to lose this one) and Memphis@Milwaukee (the Bucks can do the Clippers a favor and help themselves in their chase for the number eight spot in the East at the same time).
  • DJ on Jefferson.Jefferson will be a tough challenge for Jordan. He's a very clever post scorer, and has some great pump fakes. Given that DeAndre has been known to go for pump fakes way too easily, it could be a problem.He needs to say down on Big Al, use his length to challenge shots without jumping, and keep him off the offensive glass.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    jazz

    Another word for stuff

    I'm finish with all of that jazz.

  • Get the Jazz perspective at SLC Dunk.
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