Clippers-Nets preview: Nonstop across the Atlantic

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers play their third straight Atlantic Division opponent tonight. The Clippers are only 5-5 against the Eastern Conference, but they're 4-0 against the Atlantic.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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15-8

7-14
December 12th, 2013, 5:00 PM
Barclays Center
TNT, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Deron Williams
Willie Green SG Joe Johnson
Jared Dudley SF Alan Anderson
Blake Griffin PF Kevin Garnett
DeAndre Jordan C Brook Lopez
Advanced Stats
98.08 (9th of 30) Pace 93.53 (27th of 30)
105.4 (7th of 30) ORtg 100.5 (20th of 30)
100.5 (9th of 30) DRtg 107.9 (29th of 30)
Injuries/Other
J.J. Redick (wrist) out
Andrei Kirilenko (back) out
Matt Barnes (torn retina) out
Jason Terry (bruised knee) out
Reggie Bullock (sprained ankle) out

Maalik Wayns (meniscus surgery) out

The Back Story:

-- 11/16/13 in Los Angeles | Clippers 110, Nets 103 | RecapBox Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have evened their record against the Eastern Conference at 5-5 and have a winning record on their current road trip at 3-2, thanks to consecutive wins against the Atlantic Division in Philadelphia and last night in Boston. The Atlantic is pretty much the doormat of the NBA right now, and the Clippers face another Atlantic foe tonight in Brooklyn. The Clippers are still struggling to make jump shots, but enough fell in the fourth quarter last night (in particular two huge three pointers by Jamal Crawford) to carry them to the win. But things remain a struggle on offense in the absence of the injured J.J. Redick and the Clippers have been reliant on big games from their stars to win lately. Chris Paul seems to be completely back from his hamstring issues and has had two straight good games, and Blake Griffin has been good for these two as well. The good news is that the defense has been very good, holding their last four opponents below 90 poitns and three of the four below 40% from the field (Boston managed to shoot 41.3%). How the Clippers handle Brook Lopez and Deron Williams (who returned to action on Tuesday) will be the keys to this one.

The Antagonist:

The Nets are a complete and total mess. But the good news is that they're a three game winning streak away from first place in the Atlantic Division. The Nets have had a ton of injuries, a major confrontation on their coaching staff, and general chemistry and fit issues with their high-visibility, big-money roster. The Nets are the only team I can think of in NBA history that could start five recent All Stars -- we're not talking about guys who are six seasons removed from making an All Star team, but five guys who've been All Stars within the past two seasons (East All Stars it should be noted, but still). But adding Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and Andre Kirilenko and Jason Terry to a lineup that already featured Deron Williams and Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez was bound to present some problems, and so far Kidd and the Nets have struggled to find the solutions. As of now they are one of the two worst defensive teams in the league, it's not like they've been great on offense either. They're as healthy now as they've been in a long time, and in particular having Williams back (he played very well Tuesday) is a huge factor for them. They'll almost certainly be a playoff team in the East eventually -- there's too much talent on that roster, in a conference with not nearly enough talent -- but how quickly they figure it out, and how good they can be remains to be seen.

The Subplots

  • The Questionable Blogger. Once again, I had a chance to ask some questions of Dennis Velasco from NetsDaily and he was kind enough to answer them. And you should also head over there to see my answers to his questions.
  • Comparison of key metrics. Remember when we wondered if the Clippers could possibly be a top 10 defensive team by the end of the season? That was three weeks ago. The Clippers are currently rated ninth in defensive efficiency, and have been consistently holding teams in the low 40s or below in shooting. The Nets on the other hand are 29th in the league in defense, and currently it's a two team race (Brooklyn and Utah) for worst defense -- no one else is even close.
  • TNT game. Oh crap, it's another TNT game.
  • Yin and yang. As the Clippers defense has improved, their offense has stagnated. When these teams met 26 days ago, the Clippers had the second rated offense in the league, and the 28th rated defense. Now they are seventh and ninth respectively. The defensive improvement is welcome -- but the drop off in the offense is troubling. Particularly when you consider that a weaker level of competition has definitely helped the defense, but it really should have helped the offense too. Chris Paul missed a game (and played injured a bit) with a sore hamstring, and J.J. Redick has now been gone for half a dozen games, and those things have definitely left the offense out of sync. But the real problem is that the shooters (such as they are) can't shoot. The remaining healthy wings (Jared Dudley, Willie Green and Jamal Crawford) have all been ice cold from the perimeter. They actually made some shots in the second half in Boston -- maybe they're emerging from their hibernation.
  • The Brooklynites. Maybe there's just too much to do in the super trendy neighborhoods of Brooklyn, but the Nets have been just as bad at home this season (3-6) as they've been on the road (4-8).
  • Delayed reunion on the court. Pierce and Garnett both missed the game in L.A. when the Nets played the Clippers, so although they saw their former coach Doc Rivers, they have not yet played against him since the separate transactions that landed them players in Brooklyn and Doc with the Clippers. Pierce broke a bone in his hand about the same time Redick hurt his hand, but it's a different injury. Pierce has returned ahead of schedule, wearing a protective glove over the broken hand a la Tuff Juice Caron Butler in the 2012 playoffs.
  • First meeting. It wasn't just Pierce and Garnett who missed the game in L.A. Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko also missed that game, leaving the Nets with just Joe Johnson among their usual starters. The Clippers then proceeded to play down to the level of their opponent, making Andray Blatche and rookie Mason Plumlee look like All Stars in the process. This time, it's the Clippers who are injury-depleted. The Nets are still missing Kirilenko as well as Jason Terry, but the Clippers have most of their wing rotation out of action, and Stephen Jackson will once again see significant minutes at small forward.
  • Jackson. As strange as it seems, Jackson could actually be a key to this game in just his second appearance with the team. Joe Johnson is a very big shooting guard and a very good one-on-one scorer. Willie Green will work hard against J.J. but it's a tough cover for Willie. Likewise Jamal Crawford will have difficulty handling Iso-Joe. And then there's Pierce, who was 0-3 in his first game back from injury, but could pose some problems on the wing. With Dudley's knee still causing trouble, Jackson's services as a wing stopper could prove vital tonight.
  • Sixth Man Pierce. In his first game back from injury, Paul Pierce came off the bench for the Nets. After the game, Jason Kidd talked about liking his leadership on the second unit, and Pierce has said he's willing to come off the bench if that's what will help the team. With Jason Terry currently out, it may make sense -- and it might be the right choice even after Terry returns. The easiest answer as to why things haven't worked in Brooklyn with their five All Star starting lineup (aside from all the injuries) is that there's still only one basketball. Johnson, Williams, Pierce and Lopez are all guys who need touches, need shots. Taking some of those guys who need the ball and putting them with the second unit is one way to try to make things work.
  • Kidd the coach. Jason Kidd when straight from the court at Madison Square Garden to the coach's office at Barclay's Center. Obviously, playing basketball is very good training for coaching basketball -- better than say, being a lawyer or a fireman. But being an assistant coach, or being a college coach, or being SOME KIND OF COACH would seem to be good additional training. Of course, Mark Jackson is having success at Golden State in his first coaching position of any sort, and Clippers coach Doc Rivers never coached until he took the head job in Orlando, and he has turned out OK. So maybe it's fine. One thing all those guys have in common -- they were all point guards when they played.
  • Kidd and Frank. Yeah, maybe Kidd will be OK, but his coaching career certainly has not begun well. There's the fact that his team has lost two-thirds of their games despite having by far the richest payroll in the NBA. And then there's the fact that he got into a screaming match with his top assistant, Lawrence Frank. Frank has since been banished from the bench and from practices -- supposedly he writes reports now, whatever that means. Frank is a former head coach, and in fact coached Kidd when he played for the Nets, and he was supposed to be the guy that would help Kidd transition during his first ever head coaching experience. Supposedly Frank and the Nets are working on a buy out (he was the highest paid assistant in the league), but I wonder if Frank might be option B if the team decides to cut bait with Kidd. Probably not, given the reports that the players were siding with Kidd in the conflicts, but we'll see.
  • Celtics reunion. This game of course represents yet another reunion for Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who had an emotional night in Boston last night. Tonight he's reunited with Nets players Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (and technically Jason Terry, but come on). Boston made the tough decision to move on and rebuild for the future, and releasing Rivers from his contract so he could coach the Clippers (and getting a first round draft pick in return) was the first domino to fall in that process. Shortly afterwards, Garnett and Pierce and Terry found themselves in Brooklyn where the Nets timeframe for winning (NOW!) syncs up with their ages. Garnett, Pierce and Rivers won a championship together in Boston and were extraordinarily close. It's sure to be another emotional night for Doc coaching against his former players.
  • Paul and Williams. Williams' ankle deprived of us a Paul-Williams showdown last month, but ever since they were picked third and fourth in the 2005 draft, the two have been linked. As Steve Nash aged, the question was which of them would be given the title of best point guard in the NBA. Paul has more or less ended the debate on that subject over the last few seasons, but Williams is no slouch, and the one area where he has consistently bested Paul is head-to-head, where Williams' teams have won 14 of their 19 meetings including two of the three meetings since Paul's been a Clipper. Williams scored 25 on 10-16 shooting against Boston Tuesday night, by far his best game of the season, so that's a good sign for the Nets. Paul has looked more like himself the past two games after a few sub-par games while playing through a sore hamstring. This matchup should be fun, and may determine the outcome. You can bet that CP3 knows he's 5-14 against DWill and is not happy about it.
  • Garnett and Jordan. A huge part of the drama this summer surrounding the process of Rivers coming to the Clippers was the proposed trade of Garnett for Jordan. The league determined that the trade was linked to the Rivers deal, which is a no-no, and decreed that the deal, and indeed any deal between the Clippers and Celtics, could not be done at the same time as the Rivers agreement. The Nets stepped in with a different offer, and that was that. At the time, it seemed that Garnett would be a big upgrade over Jordan, but about three weeks into the season, Garnett has been terrible and Jordan has been pretty darn good, so it seems like the Clippers dodged a bullet, thanks to David Stern. Garnett, whose career PER is over 23 and who hasn't posted a PER below 19 for a season in 16 seasons, currently has a PER around 6. He's shooting about 30% from the field. Jordan on the other hand is posting a career high PER of over 18. Whenever Stern gets involved in trades, somehow it always works out well for the Clippers.
  • Oligarch money. For years, Mark Cuban, who made his money in the dotcom boom and is worth about $2.5B, ran the Dallas Mavericks with total disregard for the NBA's dollar-for-dollar luxury tax. But the more punitive tax that started kicking in with the last CBA and which is being fully implemented for the first time this season seems to have gotten his attention, as well as profligate owners of the Knicks and Lakers. But Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov continues to flaunt the luxury tax. Brooklyn's team payroll is over $100M (the 'cap' is around $58M) and all told their luxury tax bill is estimated to be in the $80M range. Prokhorov is worth $13B -- that's the difference between dotcom money and Russian oligarch money. Of course, Paul Allen, the owner of the Blazers is worth even more ($15.8B -- that's Microsoft money) and even Portland pays attention to the bottom line; someday the Nets may decide that they will be better off spending smart rather than just spending.
  • Brook Lopez. Nets Center Brook Lopez has always killed the Clippers. In eight career meetings, Lopez has shot .608 against the Clippers, his second highest career percentage against any team (he has shot .609 against the Pistons). And unlike Clipper center DeAndre Jordan, Lopez isn't maintaining that shooting percentage with a bunch of dunks and layups -- he hits face up jumpers and tough jump hooks at an amazing rate whenever he plays the Clips. Jordan has been better this season defensively, but Lopez is a tough cover any time, and especially the way he usually plays against the Clippers. Lopez missed the game in L.A. so this is the only time the Clippers will play him this season.
  • Reggie Evans. Former Clipper Reggie Evans is barely in the Nets rotation this season after being a starter for them last season. He's 13th on the team in minutes per game and has four DNPs including Tuesday against the Celtics. The Clippers would love a hard-nosed defender and rebounder for their front court -- and Reggie would actually fit into their trade exception. Not to mention that between the various and sundry luxury tax penalties, getting rid of Evans'$1.7M contract would actually be worth about half a billion dollars to the Brooklyn (that's a rough estimate and I may not have it exactly correct). I don't think it's going to happen, but you could see how it might be a good idea for both teams.
  • Livingston. Former Clipper Shaun Livingston has been busy as the backup point guard in Brooklyn since Deron Williams has missed so much time. Livingston has appeared in all 21 Nets games, has started eight times, and is averaging about 24 minutes per game.
  • Connections. Reggie Evans was a key member of the Clippers two seasons ago. Shaun Livingston began his career with the Clippers, and was well on his way to stardom when a horrific knee injury ended his season, his time in L.A., and almost ended his career. Obviously, Pierce and Garnett were coached by Rivers on the Celtics for many years. Ryan Hollins was their teammate in Boston for part of a season. Willie Green was teammates with Joe Johnson two seasons ago in Atlanta, and before that Jamal Crawford and Johnson were together on the Hawks. Crawford, Terry and Antawn Jamison are three of the eight active Sixth Man Award winners in the NBA.
  • Get the Brooklyn perspective at NetsDaily.
  • Shakespearean reference:

    Much Ado About Nothing -- Act II, Scene 3 -- Don Pedro

    Let there be the same net spread for her; and that
    must your daughter and her gentlewomen carry. The
    sport will be, when they hold one an opinion of
    another's dotage, and no such matter: that's the
    scene that I would see, which will be merely a
    dumb-show. Let us send her to call him in to dinner.
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