Clippers-Warriors preview: Round four

USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers face the Warriors in a key Pacific Division showdown on Martin Luther King's birthday in Oakland. These teams have split their last two meetings, with each team blowing the other one out, so anything could happen in this one.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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32-9

24-15
January 21st, 2013, 1:00 PM
ORACLE Arena
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Stephen Curry
Willie Green SG Klay Thompson
Caron Butler SF Harrison Barnes
Blake Griffin PF David Lee?
DeAndre Jordan C Festus Ezeli
Advanced Stats (thru games of 1/3)
91.9 (10th of 30) Pace 93.8 (7th of 30)
110.3 (4th of 30) ORtg 106.0 (11th of 30)
100.6 (3rd of 30) DRtg 104.9 (13th of 30)
Injuries
Chauncey Billups (ankle) out
Andrew Bogut (ankle) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
Brandon Rush (knee) out

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have lost two of three games to the Warriors this season, but the one they won more than makes up for the losses. After the hot shooting Warriors routed the Clippers by 21 in Oakland on January 2nd, the Clippers turned around and won by 26 (after leading by as many as 39) three days later. If the Clippers win this game they'll even the season series with the Warriors in this their final meeting. It probably won't matter other than for bragging rights -- when the Clippers and Warriors last met Golden State was only three games back of the L.A. in the Pacific Division, but today, just over two weeks later, the lead has grown to six games, and as long as the Clippers avoid a major collapse in the second half of the season, they should be able to maintain that lead. But still, bragging rights are always nice. If for no other reason it would be good in case these teams were to meet in the playoffs (which could easily happen in a 3-6 pairing). Chris Paul returned for the Clippers Saturday against Washington and looked a little rusty shooting the ball, but was still nice to have around. The Clippers had their second worst shooting night of the season against the Wizards but still managed to win -- they'll need to do better against the Warriors.

The Antagonist:

The Warriors are finding out what life is like when opponents start taking you seriously. The Warriors snuck up on some good teams earlier this season, beating the Heat in Miami and the Clippers in L.A. But more recently they've lost to Miami by 17 and the Clippers by 26. Golden State has lost five of their last seven games beginning with that defeat to the Clippers as their schedule turned difficult and their profile got higher. The Warriors have three really great starters in Stephen Curry, David Lee and Klay Thompson and two terrific reserves in Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry -- but the rest of the roster is suspect. If they ever get Andrew Bogut back, this team could be really scary, but until that time they are going to live and die with their perimeter shooting. If they are making shots, they can beat anyone. If not, they can lose to anyone. There's a subplot of revenge simmering beneath the surface of this game. As the Clippers were building their huge lead during the last meeting, Warriors coach Mark Jackson engaged in some gamesmanship when he spent an entire timeout staring at the Clippers bench after Chris Paul had hit DeAndre Jordan for consecutive lob dunks. It's hard to figure what Jackson's point was -- something about "permanent ink." At any rate, the Warriors will have something to prove today on their home court, but stares are not going to win this game.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. Both of these teams have advanced into the upper tiers of the league based on significant improvements on the defensive end.
  • A rivalry is born. The Clippers and Warriors are historically two of the least successful franchises in the NBA. They're two of the more surprising teams this season, both exceeding pre-season expectations of success. And perhaps all of that is contributing to one rather obvious observation -- these guys don't like each other.
  • Back on top. With the Thunder losing in overtime in Denver Sunday night, the Clippers are once again tied for the best record in the NBA. A win in Oakland this afternoon would give the Clippers the best record in the NBA all by themselves, with a showdown against the Thunder looming for Tuesday night in L.A.
  • Best road record. In addition to have the best overall record in the NBA, the Clippers also have the best road record at 13-5. As it happens, the Clippers have a better road record than the Warriors home record (12-6), but this game is going to be about more than just the records.
  • MLK Day Matinee. The Clippers play plenty of matinees in L.A. but it happens less frequently on the road. The energy inside STAPLES is always a little funky for these day games; let's hope the same is true at the ROARACLE, which can be one of the loudest Arenas in the NBA.
  • Excuses, excuses. The Clippers have ready excuses (of varying validity) about both losses to Golden State. In the first loss, which came in just the third game of the season, they were guilty of taking the Warriors too lightly, expecting them to be more or less last season's Dubs, particularly when Andrew Bogut (who had played the first couple of games of the season) was a late scratch. In the second meeting they were playing in the second game of a road back to back, their fifth game in seven nights. They won't be taking the Warriors lightly tonight and they should be pretty well rested, so no excuses.
  • Making shots. You can analyze matchups all day long, dissect strength and weaknesses. There's little question in my mind that the Clippers are the better team between these two and would win a seven game series. But any individual game may come down to how the Warriors shoot. Curry and Thompson and others are the kinds of shooters who can make shots no matter how well you defend. Some nights they make everything -- other nights, the ball doesn't go in as much. If the Warriors are making shots, they're tough to beat, and the game may just come down to that simple fact.
  • Lee Questionable. David Lee missed the Warriors last game Saturday night in New Orleans. He's considered questionable for this game, but I'd be shocked if he didn't play. He won't want to miss a chance to play Blake Griffin, so he'll tape if up and go if he possibly can.
  • Curry back. Stephen Curry has had a sad history of ankle injuries and seems to miss a month at a time when he twists his ankle. For that reason the Warriors held their collective breath when Curry turned an ankle in practice last week. Luckily for them, Curry missed only two games, returning Saturday against the Hornets.
  • Lee and Curry and the All Star Game. Both Lee and Curry have a very good chance to be selected as reserves for the Western Conference All Star team, but neither is a lock. As it happens, either one would have a better chance were it not for the other. With the Warriors sitting in fifth in the Western Conference, the coaches will no doubt few them as deserving of one All Star, not two. If either Lee or Curry were the obvious star of the team, they'd get that one vote, but as it is they may split the Warriors vote and end up losing out on both spots. If I had to guess I'd say that Lee makes it and Curry doesn't. With Kevin Love hurt and Dirk Nowitzki only just back, the guard spot is a little deeper in the West than the forward spot right now.
  • Fitting Hill in. Grant Hill has been back for five games now, and Chris Paul is healthy also at this point. Meaning that Vinny Del Negro has a few too many good players than he has figured out how to use. Hill can certainly defend Carl Landry, an undersized four, so Del Negro should have the option of playing the CHOBB second unit (Crawford-Hill-Odom-Bledsoe-Barnes) if he wants to. Hopefully he'll also find a way to get Hill minutes with Chris Paul, as those two seem to work very well together. But overall the rotation is definitely in flux with some unanswered questions.
  • Connections. Clippers super sub Jamal Crawford spent most of a season in Oakland between his stints in New York and Atlanta. Ronny Turiaf signed a big contract with the Warriors when he left the Lakers back in 2008 and spent a couple seasons there. Matt Barnes really solidified himself as a viable NBA player on the We Believe Warriors of the 2007 playoffs (the last time the Dubs made the playoffs, btw). Warriors coach Mark Jackson was a Clipper back in the early 90s. Chris Paul, Willie Green, Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry were all teammates during Paul's final season in New Orleans.
  • Get the Warriors perspective at Golden State of Mind.
  • Lyrical reference:

    The Cool, Cool River -- Paul Simon

    And I believe in the future
    We shall suffer no more
    Maybe not in my lifetime
    But in yours I feel sure
    Song dogs barking at the break of dawn
    Lightning pushes the edges of a thunderstorm
    And these streets
    Quiet as a sleeping army
    Send their battered dreams to heaven, to heaven
    For the mother's restless son
    Who is a witness to, who is a warrior
    Who denies his urge to break and run


    I was initially disappointed in Paul Simon's Rhythm of the Saints album; then I realized that I was holding it up to the impossibly high standard of his previous album, Graceland, which is arguably one of the great pop albums of all time. Viewed on it's own merits, Rhythm of the Saints is very, very good, though clearly it is no Graceland.
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