Clippers-Knicks preview: Bad team, bad news?

USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers finally blew out a reeling team on Sunday against the Bulls. The Knicks come into town struggling badly, but the Clippers have failed to play their best in these types of games several times this season.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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10-5

3-10
November 27th, 2013, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, NBA-TV, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Raymond Felton
J.J. Redick SG Iman Shumpert
Jared Dudley SF Carmelo Anthony
Blake Griffin PF Kenyon Martin
DeAndre Jordan C Andrea Bargnani
Advanced Stats
97.3 (5th of 30) Pace 90.8 (29th of 30)
110.9 (2nd of 30) ORtg 101.7 (21st of 30)
106.2 (21st of 30) DRtg 108.5 (29th of 30)
Injuries
Maalik Wayns (meniscus surgery) out
Tyson Chandler (broken leg) out
Matt Barnes (retinal tear) out
Raymond Felton (back, hip) probable

The Back Story (Clippers won the series last season 2-0):

-- 02/10/13 in New York | Clippers 102, Knicks 88 | Recap | Box Score

-- 03/17/13 in Los Angeles | Clippers 93, Knicks 80 | Recap | Box Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers finally had a dominant performance, wire-to-wire and on both ends of the floor, Sunday against the Bulls. Sure, it was a reeling Bulls team that had just lost Derrick Rose, but given how poorly the Clippers have played against other supposedly reeling teams this season, it was a welcome sight. Does it mark a turning point of some sort? Settle down Mike Smith. The best news from the Chicago game was probably that the team was hitting open jumpers. With the addition of Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, this team was built to hit open jumpers, and while every team would prefer to score in the paint, the reality is that you have to take the shots that are available. The Clippers' offense has generated plenty of open looks this season -- and before Sunday, the players were off just enough to keep the team from really humming. Redick and Dudley won't hit three-fourths of their jumpers this season the way they did Sunday -- but those are good shots, and it makes a huge difference when they're going in. Chris Paul (14 point/assist double doubles in 15 games) and Blake Griffin (10 points/rebounds double doubles and eight 20/10s) have both been consistent and incredibly productive on the season. With the Pacers, followed by a seven game road trip, looming on Sunday, the Clippers can ill afford to drop a game to the struggling Knicks.

The Antagonist:

The Knicks are a mess and it's not precisely clear why. They had the second best regular season record in the Eastern Conference last season with 54 wins -- but they've opened this season 3-10. The off-season trade for Andrea Bargnani was certainly strange, but they didn't give up a lot of basketball talent in the process, so it shouldn't have hurt them too badly. Jason Kidd retired, Chris Copeland left via free agency... none of that comes close to explaining the difference between a .659 winning percentage and .231. Obviously, it's early yet, so the small sample size may be the biggest issue here -- maybe they'll work things out. But it also seems pretty clear at this point that last season's success, even over the course of 82 games, was a statistical outlier as much as this season. The Knicks hit what seemed like an unsustainable percentage of their volume three point attempts -- NBA records in both attempts and makes -- and yet somehow they maintained it. Their .376 three point shooting from last year is down to .330 this year -- that's a huge difference. It is also painfully obvious how much the team missing center Tyson Chandler, who has been out since their fourth game with a broken leg. Without Chandler to anchor the Knicks defense, the team has been hemorrhaging points -- turns out, Bargani is not as good defensively as Chandler. When Chandler returns, the Knicks will look a lot better, but they probably can't recapture the magic of last season. Carmelo Anthony of course remains the number one option for the Knicks -- he's currently second in the NBA in scoring at 26.5 points per game.

The Subplots

  • The Questionable Blogger. Seth from Posting and Toasting answered some questions about his "sad and broken" (his words not mine) team, and I answered some questions about the Clippers for them as well. As we are wont to do.
  • Comparison of key metrics. Losing Tyson Chandler to a broken leg certainly didn't help, but the Knicks defense has been dreadful -- only their equally disappointing neighbors the Nets have a worse defensive efficiency rating one month into the season. And it doesn't figure to get better tonight as the Knicks try to stop the Clippers, the second most efficient offensive team in the league. Andrea Bargnani and Amare Stoudemire are the worst of a collection of bad individual defenders.
  • Carmelo at the three. According to 82 games, Carmelo Anthony played the vast majority of his minutes last season (about 80% of the time that he was on the floor) at power forward, and even logged some time at center. This season he is back to starting at small forward -- he only plays about a third of his overall minutes there, but still, that's a huge increase over last season. The Knicks had so much success with Carmelo at the three, and the league has been going smaller as a whole, it all begs the question -- why did Mike Woodson go away from that successful formula?
  • Blake on Melo. Blake Griffin has defended LeBron James and Dwight Howard and Kevin Love this season. Tonight he will undoubtedly be asked to defend Carmelo Anthony, another highly skilled scorer who is as much three as four. Melo's not as quick as LeBron, but he's as good a shooter and can score in a variety of ways. Griffin has risen to the challenge of defending stars one-on-one this season, and how he handles Anthony while he's on them will be one key to this game. Jared Dudley will open the game on Melo, since Anthony starts the game at small forward, and we can expect Duds to make him work for his points.
  • The beauty of blow outs. The Clippers have opened up big leads on teams many times this season, but have seemed to lack the killer instinct to finish teams off, and have let teams hang around, or worse yet, come all the way back. The finally won a laugher Sunday, beating the Bulls by 39 -- it was their fourth double digit win of the season and their first by 20 or more. Blow outs have a few advantages -- for one thing, it lets Doc Rivers rest the starters, who finally took a fourth quarter off on Sunday, almost four weeks into the season. It also makes the team stats look a LOT better. The win-loss column is ultimately what matters, but padding those team stats can get analysts and others off your case, and give a team a little more confidence. The Clippers went from 28th in the league in defensive efficiency to 21st on the results of a single blow out.
  • Bargs and Mully. If seven footers who like to shoot three pointers and look hilariously lost trying to defend a pick and roll is your thing, then this is the game for you. The Clippers' Byron Mullens is a poor man's Andrea Bargnani -- and by poor man's, I mean Bargnani makes 12 times more money than Mullens. Bargs is the better player -- he can score in more ways and his individual post defense isn't as bad, though Mullens is the far better rebounder -- but when you're feeling depressed about having Mulligan on the roster, just remind yourself that the Clippers aren't paying him $12M.
  • Felton injury. Knicks point guard Raymond Felton has missed the team's last four games with some lower back and hip issues (sounds like me) but he is considered "likely" to play in this one. Which may be good news for the Clippers, if it means Clipper-killer Beno Udrih returns to the bench.
  • Three point shooting. The Knicks set NBA single season records last year, taking 2371 three pointers and making 891. Those 891 makes were just shy of 11 per game -- that's a season long average! Wow. So far this season, they are making 8.3 per game. They are taking fewer, but more than that, they just aren't making them the way they were last year. The Clippers on the other hand are taking a lot more threes, though they haven't fallen with the frequency Doc Rivers would like. The Clippers attempt 24.4 threes per game and the Knicks take just over 25, and both are in top five in the league in attempts, so you can expect a lot of long bombs in this one.
  • Sixth men. Last season, J.R. Smith of the Knicks edged out Jamal Crawford of the Clippers for the Sixth Man Award, a decision I found strange to say the least given Smith's incredibly inefficient scoring. This season, Crawford is once again a clear early candidate for the award (he's second in per minute scoring among reserves to Isaiah Thomas of the Kings, who probably wouldn't get serious consideration because of their team record) while Smith is... shooting 32% from the field. Smith began the season hurt and hasn't gotten going yet, and he's a notoriously streaky player -- even last season, he went through a horrendous slump in the middle of the season -- so he'll probably make some noise at some point. But Crawford definitely deserves some kudos for his consistency at least.
  • Chandler and Jordan. I've long maintained that Tyson Chandler should be DeAndre Jordan's role model. This season, new head coach Doc Rivers has encouraged Jordan to embrace Chandler's defense first, second and third mentality and Jordan seems to be responding to the challenge. There are many similarities between the two. They both entered the NBA as young, raw talents (and they were both drafted by the Clippers, as it happens.) They both have found themselves at the other end of Chris Paul lobs on many occasions. And if you're looking for a reason to believe that Jordan could still continue to improve, consider that Chandler was selected to his first All Star game last season in his 12th season in the league. This is just Jordan's sixth year in the NBA. At a similar point in Chandler's career, Chicago had given up on him and traded him to New Orleans for the 37 year old P.J. Brown (and J.R. Smith as it happens, though Smith was promptly waived). Chandler was not the defensive force his is now really until he'd been in the league eight or nine seasons. Perhaps Jordan will continue to develop in a similar manner.
  • Griffin and the Knicks. We all remember Griffin's first game against the Knicks, which was his break out game. Two iconic dunks, the Mozgov and the Gallinari came out of that night. He scored 44 in that one, and has had subsequent games of 21 and 29. His 26.4 point per game average is his second highest against any team in the NBA. He has shot close to 60 percent from the field in five career games against New York. He did however have his poorest game against the team, just 12 points, in their last meeting.
  • Connections. Kenyon Martin played for the Clippers two seasons ago. Jamal Crawford spent four-plus seasons in New York, his longest stint with any team in his rather well-traveled career. Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith were teammates of Chris Paul with the Hornets. Knicks coach Mike Woodson played two seasons for the Clippers. Clippers coach Doc Rivers was traded from the Clippers to the Knicks in 1992 in a blockbuster deal that brought Mark Jackson to the Clippers. Chandler was originally a Clippers draft pick, but was traded to the Bulls on draft day for Elton Brand.
  • Get the Knicks perspective at Posting and Toasting.
  • Shakespearean reference:

    Midsummer Night's Dream, Act III, Scene 1, Nick Bottom

    I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me;
    to fright me, if they could. But I will not stir
    from this place, do what they can: I will walk up
    and down here, and I will sing, that they shall hear
    I am not afraid.
    [Sings]
    The ousel cock so black of hue,
    With orange-tawny bill,
    The throstle with his note so true,
    The wren with little quill...

    There are no Knicks nor indeed knickerbockers in Shakespeare, so I have to improvise here. I considered going with pantaloons, another fancy word for pants (fancy pants at that), but I went a different direction. One of the subplots of Midsummer Night's Dream involves a group of craftsmen who decide to put on a play, and the weaver Nick Bottom provides a good deal of comic relief throughout Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identity. Bottom is eventually cursed to have the head of an ass ("make an ass of me") after which the faerie queen Titania falls in love with him because of a love potion. Hilarity ensues.
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