Clippers-Pelicans preview: Maintaining focus

USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers are coming off two straight impressive wins and will look to make it three in a row, in their first ever meeting with the Pelicans (formerly the Hornets), who are playing without their best player, Anthony Davis.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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17-9

11-12
December 18th, 2013, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jrue Holiday
Jamal Crawford SG Eric Gordon
Jared Dudley SF Al-Farouq Aminu
Blake Griffin PF Ryan Anderson
DeAndre Jordan C Jason Smith
Advanced Stats
97.85 (9th of 30) Pace 95.75 (18th of 30)
106.1 (5th of 30) ORtg 105.4 (8th of 30)
100.6 (8th of 30) DRtg 104.7 (24th of 30)
Injuries/Other
J.J. Redick (wrist) out
Anthony Davis (broken finger) out active
Matt Barnes (torn retina) out active
Tyreke Evans (ankle) doubtful active
Reggie Bullock (sprained ankle) out
Greg Stiemsma (knee) out
Maalik Wayns (meniscus surgery) out

The Back Story (First meeting; Clippers won series last season 3-1):

--11/26/12 in Los Angeles | Hornets 105, Clippers 98 | Recap | Box Score

-- 12/19/12 in Los Angeles | Clippers 93, Hornets 77 | Recap | Box Score

-- 03/27/13 in New Orleans | Clippers 105, Hornets 91 | Recap | Box Score

-- 04/12/13 in New Orleans | Clippers 96, Hornets 93 | Recap | Box Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are coming off their best performance of the season, a convincing win over the San Antonio Spurs. And that win came on the heels of a very impressive victory over the Wizards in Washington. Of course, before those two games the team had been playing terribly, but that's all long forgotten now. Since Doc Rivers inserted Jamal Crawford into the starting lineup in Washington, the team seems to be clicking on offense again (they had been out of sync ever since J.J. Redick got hurt). Paradoxically, the Crawford-less bench was the key to the 19-0 run that turned the Spurs game around in the second quarter. But the Clippers issue this season has been consistency and focus. They've done really well in big games, especially at home, such as against the Spurs. But they seem to overlook lesser opponents -- so let's hope they don't have a let down against New Orleans. Chris Paul has been far beyond his usual amazing level of performance these last two games, and Blake Griffin played a great game himself against the Spurs. Superstar performances from those guys and solid contributions from the role players is a great recipe for this Clippers team right now.

The Antagonist:

The Pelicans were blown out by the Warriors last night in Oakland; they were down 23 heading into the fourth quarter. The silver lining for them is that because the game was out of reach, the starters got plenty of rest, and no one on the roster played as many as 30 minutes. So while they're on a back-to-back, they should be relatively fresh. The Pelicans have been hanging tough without Super-Soph Anthony Davis -- they're 4-4 since he broke is pinkie finger (if you include their win in the game he got hurt). Granted, those wins came most against some teams in complete disarray like the Knicks, the Bulls and the Grizzlies, but still. This is one of the most high powered offenses in the league, though they have been having trouble stopping people. Davis could be back in a week, and while it won't be easy in the very tough West, the Pelicans may have enough talent to eke out the final playoff spot.

The Subplots

  • Davis active. [Note by Steve Perrin, 12/18/13 6:44 PM PST ] Remember when I said I was sad that we wouldn't get to see Anthony Davis play tonight? Well, careful what you wish for. Davis has been activated for the game, and will play tonight -- way ahead of schedule. As far as I know, Davis hasn't even practiced since he broke his finger, so this is quite unexpected. It remains to be seen of course how effective he'll be, but you can expect that the Pelicans will be fired up. Tyreke Evans is expected to play as well. The Pelicans are relatively close to full strength, depending on how effective Davis can be.
  • Barnes in goggles. [Note by Steve Perrin, 12/18/13 6:47 PM PST ] Matt Barnes will be active and in uniform for the Clippers. He has been cleared to play by the eye specialist, but will be required to wear protective goggles. Doc Rivers says he does not expect or plan to play him tonight -- but we'll see.
  • The Questionable Blogger. In advance of this game, I asked some questions of Rohan at SB Nation's Pelicans blog, The Bird Writes. Be sure to check out what he had to say to get up to speed on this re-tooled opponent.
  • Comparison of key metrics. Monty Williams was considered a defensive coach when he was an assistant, before he got his break. You wouldn't know it from this team, which is top 10 in offensive efficiency, bottom 10 in defensive efficiency. The Clippers are pretty solidly in the top 10 in both categories at this point, and have been the best defense in the NBA in the month of December.
  • Paul on a tear. Chris Paul has had back-to-back monster games. His 38-points-on-14-shots night in Washington on Saturday was one of the most efficient volume scoring nights in NBA history. In fact, his game against San Antonio -- 23 points on 8-13 shooting, eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals -- would probably have gotten a lot more attention had it not been overshadowed by his prior outing. One thing for certain -- CP3 is making his fantasy owners very happy right now (not to mention Clipper fans). The Clippers are clearly a better team when Paul is aggressively looking to score, as opposed to just trying to set up his teammates, which is always his first inclination.
  • Shooting. The Clippers have hit their perimeter shots two games in a row; it's not really a surprise that they've also won those games. After playing for four weeks with a great offense and no defense, then for three weeks with a really good defense and a sputtering offense, the Clippers have actually looked good on both sides of the ball the last two games. Hopefully that continues tonight.
  • Rivers family reunion. For the second time in his career, Austin Rivers of the Pelicans will face an NBA team coached by his father, Doc Rivers. New Orleans played Boston twice in Austin's rookie season of course, but Rivers was injured and didn't play in the second meeting. Father-son/coach-player meetings are rare in the NBA. Mike Dunleavy Jr. played against his father 18 times while the elder MD was coaching the Clippers. George Karl has coached against his son Coby once. And I can't think of any others, but I'm no doubt missing some. If you can think of others, leave it in the comments.
  • The name game. The Hornets changed their name to the Pelicans to fit their New Orleans surroundings better. When the Bobcats reclaim their Hornets heritage next season, then the Hornets nickname will have played in three different cities (New Orleans, Oklahoma City temporarily and Charlotte twice) and for two different franchises (Charlotte '88 and Charlotte '04). Basically, when someone says to you "He used to play for the Hornets" you'll still have no idea who the guy is talking about because that won't narrow it down much.
  • Anthony Davis. I'm pretty sad that I haven't gotten a chance to see Anthony Davis play this season. His numbers are just crazy. Per 36 minutes, he's right around 20 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. It's not unusual for a player to be elite at scoring and rebounding. And it's not unusual for a player to be elite at rebounding and blocked shots. But all three? Davis' averages (in just his second season in the NBA mind you) put him in VERY exclusive company -- these is Olajuwon, Robinson, Abdul-Jabbar type numbers. His 28 PER this season puts him in the company of guys named LeBron and Chris and Kevin (a couple of Kevins, actually). He could be back by Christmas, and it can't come soon enough for the Pellies.
  • Need a center. The Pelicans have a very nice assemblage of talent right now. They've got a Team USA member, a former All Star and a future All Star at three positions and a recent Rookie of the Year and a great sixth man in Ryan Anderson coming off the bench when the team is fully healthy. What they don't have is a center, or really any sort of post up guy. Davis is talented, and he can certainly protect the rim, but he's not really a post up threat nor does he have the heft to bang against big centers -- not yet anyway. Jason Smith is a face up guy also, and the rest of their bigs are journeymen (including Lou Amundson whom the Clippers waived in pre-season). They gave up Robin Lopez as part of the Tyreke Evans deal, and now Lopez is starting on the team with the best record in the Western Conference.
  • Alexis Ajinca. Continuing the thought above, New Orleans are signing French center and former first round draft pick Alexis Ajinca. I watched a lot of Ajinca during France's European Championship run this summer, and he actually looked really good -- he was by far the best big man on a France team that featured a lot of NBA players. He was willowy and frail in his first stint in the NBA, but he's much bigger now (and he was always long). He won't play against the Clippers, but if he looks good when he does join the team remember, the Clippers could have signed him instead of Lamar Odom. I think I'd rather have Odom, but we'll see.
  • Smith and Griffin. This game is a reunion for Jason Smith and Blake Griffin. You will recall that Smith laid out Griffin with an open field tackle in New Orleans a couple of seasons ago. The two have met each other twice since that hit without incident.
  • Holiday. The Pelicans gave up a lot for Jrue Holiday: the guy who had been projected as the top pick in the 2013 draft before he was injured (Nerlens Noel) AND an unprotected first round pick in the 2014 draft (the most loaded draft in a very long time). They're playing well enough that losing the 2014 pick probably won't be TOO painful (barring strange ping pong ball bounces of course), but even a 12 pick in this draft could be very good. So is Jrue Holiday worth it? He's a solid NBA point guard -- but calling him an All Star should always be prefaced with the qualified of "Eastern Conference". He's at best the eighth best point guard in the Western Conference, firmly in the middle of the pack. To be fair, he would still be in the conversation for best point guard in the East if he were still in Philly. (Man is the EC All Star team going to be ugly this year.) Holiday is averaging a career high in assists per minute, and shooting a career high from deep also. He has certainly helped the team this season, but the long term costs are pretty steep.
  • NOP. The New Orleans Pelicans appear as NOP in NBA shorthand. But did you know that I used to teach assembly language coding for a big IT company in the 80s? In assembly language, a NOP is a "no operation" command. It tells the computer to do nothing. The more you know.
  • Three point shooting. Ryan Anderson of the Pelicans is averaging almost eight three point attempts per 36 minutes, second most in the NBA among players who play at least 20 minutes a game. And he makes 44% of them, which means he's first in the NBA in threes made per minute. That's correct, Ryan Anderson makes more threes per minute than Stephen Curry. But even with Anderson and Clipper-killer Anthony Morrow off the bench, the Pelicans are 27th in the league in threes per game as a team. They have some guys shooting a good percentage, but no one other than Anderson takes very many. Griffin is going to have to stay glued to Anderson out at the three point line, something Blake doesn't always like to do.
  • Gordon. Former Clipper Eric Gordon was the centerpiece of the package New Orleans received from the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade. Then New Orleans matched a maximum offer for Gordon from the Suns, locking up what they hoped would be a cornerstone piece for their rebuilding project. Unfortunately, injuries sidelined Gordon 97 out of 148 games in his first two seasons in New Orleans. Even more unfortunately, he's been pretty ordinary when he has played, posting a PER of 15.4 in 42 games last season (a PER of 15 is considered an average player). He's up to 16.8 this season -- which is pretty good, but a long way away from max money good. Gordon's a very solid piece of the Pelicans team right now -- a legit two guard who can score in a variety of ways and get his own shot. But he's the highest paid player on the team, and currently about the fourth best player. That is almost never a formula for success.
  • AFA. The other former Clipper sent to New Orleans in the Paul trade, Al-Farouq Aminu, is tough to figure. New Orleans didn't even exercise the fourth year on his rookie deal, but he wasn't in high demand as a free agent this summer so he re-signed in New Orleans for one year at $3.7M. He has started 20 games for them and is their leading rebounder (at least until Anthony Davis gets back) which is very unusual for a small forward. He's crazy long and can be a nuisance on defense, but he never showed much feel for the offensive end of the floor as a Clipper, and there's not much indication that he's gotten better there. He is probably the only small forward in the NBA who averages more rebounds (6.8) than points (6.7). My guess is Doc Rivers will put Jared Dudley on Gordon and Jamal Crawford on AFA in the first quarter. That's what I would do.
  • Connections. Largely because of the Paul trade, there are loads of connections between the Clippers and the Hornets. There's Paul and Gordon and Aminu of course. Since his arrival in L.A. Paul has influenced the acquisition of his former New Orleans teammate Willie Green. As a rookie, Darren Collison backed up CP3 in New Orleans and now he backs him up in LA. Collison and Jrue Holiday were teammates at UCLA where Collison played the point and Holiday slid over the the two in his only season in Westwoord. As if all that weren't enough, the Pelicans re-signed Lou Amundson at the start of the season after Lou and his pony tail spent training camp and pre-season trying to make the Clippers roster. As mentioned, we'll also have the rare "father coaching against his son" meeting between Doc and Austin Rivers. And don't forget that Austin was drafted using a first round pick sent to New Orleans in the CP3 trade -- the infamous Minny pick from the years ago Sam Cassell trade (that's correct, Sam Cassell was traded for with Doc Rivers' son -- think about that).
  • Get the New Orleans perspective At the Hive.
  • Shakespearean reference:

    Sonnet CLV (155)

    A wonderful bird is the pelican,
    His bill will hold more than his belican,
    He can take in his beak
    Enough food for a week
    But I'm damned if I see how the helican!


    Ha! Fooled you! This isn't a Shakespearan sonnet at all; it's a limerick about a pelican. I'm sure most of you saw through it right away, because there was no Sonnet 155 -- he only wrote 154, as everyone knows. Plus, where's the iambic pentameter? I spent my entire life until this week believing that Ogden Nash wrote this limerick, because that's what my dad told me. Turns out, the big guy was wrong. According to Wikipedia, it was written by Dixon Lanier Merritt. My dad is a huge Ogden Nash fan, and he's going to be devastated by this news. I'm not sure if he reads the Shakespeare part of the previews or not. I guess I'll find out.
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