Clippers-Hawks preview: The long and winding road

Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE

The Clippers open a crucial seven game road trip tonight in Atlanta against the Hawks. None of the teams the Clippers will face is currently over .500 so this is a great chance for the team to load up on some road wins.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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12-6

9-10
December 4th, 2013, 4:30 PM
Philips Arena
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jeff Teague
Willie Green SG Lou Williams
Jared Dudley SF DeMarre Carroll
Blake Griffin PF Paul Millsap
DeAndre Jordan C Al Horford
Advanced Stats
96.2 (8th of 30) Pace 95.4 (12th of 30)
110.1 (4th of 30) ORtg 103.5 (17th of 30)
105.3 (14th of 30) DRtg 104.5 (12th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Maalik Wayns (meniscus surgery) out
Kyle Korver (bruised ribs) questionable
Matt Barnes (torn retina) out

J.J. Redick (wrist) out

The Back Story:

-- 11/11/12 in Los Angeles -- Clippers 89, Hawks 76 | Recap | Box Score

-- 11/24/12 in Atlanta -- Hawks 104, Clippers 93 | Recap | Box Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers let an opportunity to get a marquee win slip away on Sunday when they missed some great looks down the stretch and lost to the Pacers. They need to put that loss behind them and focus on making the most of their seven game road trip that opens tonight in Atlanta. Seven games on the road is never a picnic, but the Clippers have a chance to compose an impressive record on this one, given that none of their opponents is currently over .500. There should not be any fatigue excuse tonight -- the Clippers haven't played since Sunday afternoon, and arrived in Atlanta a day early to get settled before the game. Chris Paul needs to dominate his matchup with fellow Demon Deacon Jeff Teague, and Blake Griffin needs to break out of his mini-slump and have a big game against the undersized Paul Millsap. If Willie Green can make at least a couple of shots filling in for the injured J.J. Redick in the starting lineup, it will be a big help to the cause.

The Antagonist:

The Hawks missed out on a marquee win of their own in San Antonio Monday night. Coming back from seven down in the final three minutes, they tied the game on a Teague three with 4 seconds left, only to watch Tim Duncan nail a game winner. It would have been by far Atlanta's best win of the season -- the Hawks only have one win against a team with a winning record, a one point home win over Dallas. Center Al Horford and point guard Jeff Teague, along with newcomer Paul Millsap late of Utah, are Atlanta's big three, such as they are -- it's not exactly James and Wade and Bosh. But Horford is a very solid player, Millsap has had some huge nights against the Clippers, and Teague is the type of super-quick guard that can give Chris Paul trouble, so this game is far from a gimme for the Clippers.

The Subplots

  • Korver probable. [Note by Steve Perrin, 12/04/13 12:37 PM PST ] It looks like Hawks sharpshooter Kyle Korver is going to return to action tonight. He had missed four games with bruised ribs.
  • The Questionable Blogger. In advance of today's game, Lucas Hann and Daniel Christian from the Hawks blog Peachtree Hoops exchanged some questions about their favorite teams. Be sure to check out Daniel's insights into the Hawks, as well as Lucas' answers to their Clippers questions.
  • Hawks plan. I'm not really sure what the Hawks' plan is at this point. They traded away Joe Johnson 17 months ago (just two years after signing him to a terrible contract) and then they allowed Josh Smith to leave this summer. Those were smart moves at some level -- those guys are both wildly overpaid -- but the Hawks somehow wound up with Jared Cunningham as the only asset from the Johnson deal and got nothing for Smith. Meanwhile, Paul Millsap is a very solid player, but they gave him a lot as well. All of which leaves Atlanta squarely in no-man's-land -- a lock to make the playoffs (and miss the lottery) in the dreadful Eastern Conference, but in absolutely no position to compete with Miami or Indiana now or in the foreseeable future. A Horford-Teague core is just not going to get you over the top.
  • Bigs. The big man matchups, Horford against Jordan and Millsap against Griffin, should be very interesting in this one. The Hawks have wanted to get Horford back to his preferred power forward position for years, but with the dearth of centers in the league, they just haven't been able to do it. Smith was a 3-4 tweener, and they've replaced him with Millsap, another tweener. And none of the bigs off the bench -- Antic, Brand, Ayon -- are true 5s, leaving Horford playing most of his minutes at center. He'll be a tough cover for DJ there -- he's got a great midrange jump shot and a lot of game -- but DJ's length could bother him. Griffin had some huge games against Millsap last season -- but Millsap has been a Clipper-killer in the past. Millsap has been shooting more threes lately, and has made 8-14 in the last four games, so Griffin's going to have to follow him far out onto the floor.
  • Wounded shooters. Both teams could be missing their best perimeter shooter tonight. The Clippers will definitely be without J.J. Redick who is out for awhile with a broken bone in his hand and a torn ligament in his wrist. Meanwhile, Kyle Korver, who has made a three pointer in 88 straight games, one shy of the NBA record held by Dana Barros, has missed the Hawks' last four games with bruised ribs. Korver could play in this won -- and the Clippers would be wise to keep track of him if he does.
  • Pero Antic. The Hawks are one of several NBA teams to take a chance on a veteran big from overseas this summer (Detroit with Datome and Boston with Faverani are others that come to mind). Pero Antic is a 31 year old rookie from (the former Yugoslav republic of) Macedonia who has been a productive EuroLeague player for years. He's a big who can shoot with range, but he has not been hitting shots so far in the NBA.
  • Road trip. The Clippers are opening a seven game road trip tonight, and as of this moment, none of the opponents are above .500. The Hawks have one of the better records, and they played the Spurs very tough in San Antonio Monday night, finally losing at the buzzer. So they are not to be taken lightly. But after playing the league's second toughest schedule through the first five weeks of the season, this is the first extended soft stretch the Clippers have seen. Yes, the weaker opposition comes in the form of a seven game road trip, which has it's own challenges, but this is the time to pump up that winning percentage and bank some extra road wins. This is tied for the longest road trip of the season for the Clippers -- the Grammy trip in February is another seven-gamer.
  • Memphis awaits. The Clippers have to head to Memphis directly after the game to face the dreaded Grizzlies tomorrow night. It would be great to build a lead in this one and give the starters a little extra rest with a tough back-to-back waiting in the wings.
  • Last season. These teams last played over a year ago, in late November 2012. The Clippers lost, their third straight defeat on the way to four losses in a row. And then they went on a 17 game win streak. (Funny that the winning streak could have been 19 had the Clippers played better in winnable games against the Hornets and the Hawks.)
  • Crawford. Jamal Crawford had his best season in the NBA as a Hawk four seasons ago when he won the Sixth Man Award. In fact it was Atlanta where he found his real NBA niche as a bench scorer; he'd been a starter for most of his career before he landed with the Hawks. As well as he played when he was in Atlanta, he's been as good or better in his tenure with the Clippers. Jamal's .523 effective field goal percentage his first season with the Hawks was his career best until this season -- he's currently at .537, a stellar eFG, especially for a guy with a reputation as an inefficient scorer.
  • Willie Green. In addition to Crawford, Clippers guard Willie Green will be playing against his former club. Green had a very solid season in Atlanta two years ago, hitting a career high 44 percent of his three pointers. He's back in the starting lineup for the Clippers again, in the absence of J.J. Redick, and the team really needs him to make some threes. He's hasn't played enough this season to really know how he's shooting, but he's just 1 for 6 from deep so far.
  • Trivia Time. Doc Rivers was traded from the Hawks to the Clippers on June 26, 1991. Without looking it up, who did the Hawks draft with the first round pick they received from the Clippers?
  • Connections. Elton Brand signed with the Hawks this season, his third team in three years. He of course played seven seasons with the Clippers where he was an All Star/All NBA player. Jeff Teague is the second best NBA point guard to ever come out of Wake Forest -- guess who is first. Clippers shooting guards Crawford and Green both played for the Hawks. Clipper coach Doc Rivers spent his first eight NBA seasons in Atlanta, where he was an All Star in 1988.
  • Get the Hawks perspective at Peachtree Hoops.
  • Shakespearean reference:

    Sonnet XCI (91)

    Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
    Some in their wealth, some in their bodies' force,
    Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
    Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
    And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
    Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
    But these particulars are not my measure;
    All these I better in one general best.
    Thy love is better than high birth to me,
    Richer than wealth, prouder than garments' cost,
    Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
    And having thee, of all men's pride I boast:
    . Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
    . All this away and me most wretched make.

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