Clippers-Jazz preview: A break of sorts

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers are coming off two close and difficult road losses, so there's nothing better than a return home to face the last place team in the conference, the Utah Jazz.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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20-11

9-23
December 28th, 2013, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Trey Burke
Jamal Crawford SG Gordon Hayward
Jared Dudley SF Richard Jefferson
Blake Griffin PF Marvin Williams
DeAndre Jordan C Derrick Favors
Advanced Stats
98.03 (8th of 30) Pace 93.75 (27th of 30)
106.5 (4th of 30) ORtg 97.9 (26th of 30)
100.6 (8th of 30) DRtg 108.5 (30th of 30)
Injuries/Other
J.J. Redick (wrist) out
None
Reggie Bullock (ankle) out

Maalik Wayns (meniscus surgery) out

The Back Story (Clippers swept the season series last year 4-0):

-- 12/03/12 in Salt Lake City | Clippers 105, Jazz 104 RecapBox Score
-- 12/28/12 in Salt Lake City | Clippers 116, Jazz 114 RecapBox Score
-- 12/30/12 in Los Angeles | Clippers 107, Jazz 96 RecapBox Score
-- 02/23/13 in Los Angeles | Clippers 107, Jazz 94 RecapBox Score

The Big Picture:

After excruciatingly close road losses against the Warriors (a team that is apparently willing to do ANYTHING to beat the Clippers) and the Blazers (owners of the best record in the NBA), the Clippers come home to face the Utah Jazz, owners of the worst record in the Western Conference (and by far the worst point differential). The Jazz are easily the least frightening opponent in the Western Conference -- which is exactly what should frighten Clipper fans. The Clippers haven't exactly been their best against the perceived weaker opponents in the NBA this season. Returning home after two tough losses, the Clippers will certainly be looking to get back to playing winning basketball. Hopefully that will be enough to keep them focused and keep them from looking past the Jazz. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are coming off of huge games in Portland and really should dominate their matchups tonight as well. As if the deck weren't already stacked in the Clippers' favor enough, the Jazz played the Lakers in Utah last night and figure to be exhausted for this one.

The Antagonist:

The Jazz let their two best players and four starters walk away this summer -- and then turned around and facilitated the trade that sent Andre Iguodala to Golden State, improving a conference rival (and the Clippers' closest division rival, thank you very much). Then again, they did get THREE first rounders from the Warriors, so maybe the Jazz did the Clippers a favor after all. And all it cost them was a whole lot of salary for Richard Jefferson and the remains of Andris Biedrins. The plan all along was to be terrible in Utah this season, so in that sense everything is going along smoothly. Of course, they also would have liked to have seen promising signs from the group of young lottery picks to whom they've handed the reins, and that's not really happening. Gordon Hayward leads the team in scoring and is averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists -- but that's pretty clearly just a matter of him being the only option the Jazz have on most possessions, and it's just as clear that Hayward is much better suited to being a complementary player than to being the lead dog. He's shooting a career low from the field, barely over 40%, and he's really suffering from deep, shooting well less than 30% from beyond the arc (he was over 40% last season). Life is tough as the primary option on a team without a secondary option. Derrick Favors, who got rewarded with a big extension this summer, is also averaging career highs across the board -- and at least in Favors' case he is having a good year from the field. But Favors remains a physical specimen without much of a game (think of the criticisms frequently leveled at Blake Griffin, only this time they're true). With most the starters gone in Utah, last year's bench is now starting -- and the bench is just terrible. This is not a good team right now.

The Subplots

  • The Questionable Blogger. This week, on a very special Blossom Questionable Blogger, Amar from SLC Dunk gives us the skinny on the five lottery picks the Jazz are currently counting on. Head on over to SLC Dunk to see my answers to Amar's questions as well.
  • Comparison of key metrics. Despite being seven games over .500, the Jazz have actually given up more points than they've scored this season. That means that either they're getting blown out in their losses, or they're winning a disproportionate number of close games, or a little bit of both.
  • Last season. The Clippers swept the Jazz last season, including three wins in L.A.'s perfect month of December. The Jazz used to dominate this series, especially in the state of Utah. But as it happens, the Clippers have now won six in a row -- and have yet to lose to Utah in the Chris Paul era.
  • Bet on 107. In the last eight meetings between these two teams, the Clippers have scored 107 points in four of them, 105 twice and 108 once. In the eighth one they scored 116. That's just weird.
  • Jefferson. Both of the guys whom the Jazz got from the Warriors are fascinating to me. Utah facilitated the sign-and-trade that sent Andre Iguodala to Golden State because they had the cap room to do it and because the Warriors gave them a whole bunch of first round picks. Jefferson and Biedrins are making $20M between them, and combined with Marvin Williams, that's half of Utah's payroll all expiring this season. But strangely, Jefferson has started all 32 games for the Jazz and is fourth on the team in minutes played -- despite the fact that at 33 he doesn't figure into their long term plans in any way. He's not even playing that well, so go figure. It's hard to remember at this point, but Jefferson was at one point the starting small forward in the NBA Finals and has twice averaged 22 points per game for a season.
  • Biedrins. Biedrins on the other hand is just plain fascinating. He's in the sixth and final year of a $54M contract the Warriors gave him in 2008 when he was 22 and their starting center. He got hurt in the second year of that deal and then -- forgot how to play basketball or something. He posted PERs of 19 in back-to-back seasons before and after his new contract, but has seen his numbers and his minutes fall off the table since 2009. The weirdest thing of all is that somewhere along the way he went from a bad free throw shooter -- 53% in his first five seasons in the NBA -- to an impossibly bad free throw shooter. His confidence is so far gone that he basically is no longer of any use on the court, and it seems like a lot of it is directly tied to his foul shooting. He made 119 free throws in 08-09 -- he has made 21 in five seasons and 198 games since. That's just astounding.
  • Griffin and Paul. The Clippers two stars are absolute matchup nightmares for Utah. The Jazz have been starting Marvin Williams at power forward lately, but he'll get absolutely overpowered by Griffin. In fact, Utah may be forced to go to Enes Kanter to counter Griffin (though they did use Williams on Zach Randolph last Monday in Memphis). They can always slide Favors, a very good defender, over to Griffin, but Williams would get destroyed by DeAndre Jordan on the glass at the very least. Kanter has been very disappointing this season and Jeremy Evans is rail thin and they really don't have many other options, so it will be interesting to see what Utah does. Meanwhile, Trey Burke is by far the best option Utah has at the point, and they are thrilled to have him back (you may recall that he got injured against the Clippers in pre-season, which is what held him out of the first few weeks of the season), but he's (a) a rookie and (b) small. CP3's eyes light up when he goes against rookies or when he gets to post up -- this is the daily double for him.
  • Jeremy Evans. Utah's reserve forward Jeremy Evans has long been the poster boy for some in the advanced stats crowd, as his per minute production -- in incredibly limited minutes -- has always been very good. Evans is finally getting regular rotation minutes this season because, well, because Utah has no other options, and he's still an athletic jumping jack -- but he's just not really a basketball player. He shot close to 65% from the field in his first three seasons -- on very few shots consisting mostly of lob dunks and putbacks in garbage time. This season he's shooting .504 -- which isn't bad at all, but obviously is very different. He can make a little face up jumper and can certainly finish lobs. But he remains more 'dunk contest phenom' than 'NBA rotation player.'
  • The 2005 Draft. It's impossible to see Marvin Williams and Chris Paul on the court together and not think about the 2005 draft, in which Atlanta, in desperate need of a point guard and holding the second overall pick, chose Marvin Williams ahead of both Deron Williams and Paul. Utah picked third and chose DWill, leaving CP3 for New Orleans. And who was drafted first overall that year? The LAC's newest enemy number one, Andrew Bogut.
  • The 2010 Draft. Long time readers will recall that I liked Hayward a lot in the 2010 draft and wanted the Clippers, in need of a small forward at the time, to pick him. Instead the Clippers selected Al-Farouq Aminu with the eighth pick, Hayward went to Utah at nine and Paul George was ten. After three plus seasons, it's obvious that the order for those three would have been reversed -- with George already an All Star and pushing his way into MVP territory. Meanwhile, Hayward is a nice player -- but clearly not suited to being a first option as the Jazz have painfully learned this season.
  • Connections. Marvin Williams and Willie Green were teammates in Atlanta. Matt Barnes and Earl Watson were teammates at UCLA for three years. Stephen Jackson and Richard Jefferson were traded for each other a couple years ago. Jackson and Barnes were teammates with Biedrins on the Warriors. Players from UCLA (Hollins, Collison, Barnes and Watson), North Carolina (Jamison, Bullock and Williams) and Michigan (Crawford and Burke) are all pitted against each other tonight.
  • Get the Utah perspective at SLC Dunk.
  • Shakespearean reference:

    Sonnet CII (102)

    My love is strengthen'd, though more weak in seeming;
    I love not less, though less the show appear:
    That love is merchandized whose rich esteeming
    The owner's tongue doth publish every where.
    Our love was new and then but in the spring
    When I was wont to greet it with my lays,
    As Philomel in summer's front doth sing
    And stops her pipe in growth of riper days:
    Not that the summer is less pleasant now
    Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night,
    But that wild music burthens every bough
    And sweets grown common lose their dear delight.
    .   Therefore like her I sometime hold my tongue,
    .   Because I would not dull you with my song.


    Obviously there was no jazz in Elizabethan England -- but 'wild music' seems like a more than acceptable substitute in this case.
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