Clippers-Cavs preview: Time to start a win streak

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers opened their seven game road trip badly, with a lackluster performance in Atlanta. They followed that up with a worse first half in Memphis, before snapping out of it in the second half. Can they stay on a roll in Cleveland and win two straight?

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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13-7

6-13
December 7th, 2013, 4:30 PM
Quicken Loans Arena
NBA-TV, Fox Sports West, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Kyrie Irving
Willie Green SG C.J. Miles
Jared Dudley SF Alonzo Gee
Blake Griffin PF Tristan Thompson
DeAndre Jordan C Andrew Bynum
Advanced Stats (through games of Dec. 5)
98.02 (8th of 30) Pace 96.02 (18th of 30)
107.4 (4th of 30) ORtg 94.8 (28th of 30)
102.5 (15th of 30) DRtg 102.7 (17th of 30)
Injuries/Other
J.J. Redick (wrist) out
Carrick Felix (hernia) out
Matt Barnes (torn retina) out

Maalik Wayns (meniscus surgery) out

The Back Story (Split the season series last year, 1-1):

-- 11/05/12 in Los Angeles | Cavs 108, Clippers 101 | Recap | Box Score

-- 03/01/13 in Cleveland | Clippers 105, Cavs 89 | Recap | Box Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are badly in need of a full four quarters of good basketball. Since losing J.J. Redick to a wrist injury last week, the team has lost two of three, and the one they won didn't look good for the first half. Willie Green has shot just 6-22 as a starter in Redick's stead, and he's simply going to have to hit some shots or the Clippers are going to continue to get off to slow starts. Three point shooting has been ice-cold or red-hot on the road trip so far. The Clippers were 4-19 in Atlanta (1-13 at one point) and then started 2-12 in Memphis -- before hitting nine in a row to blow the game wide open. It would be nice to see how the team looks when they're just hitting at a normal rate -- neither unsustainably hot nor unbearably cold. The team also need superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to have a big trip -- Redick's loss has the team a bit out of sorts, and it's up to the big two to help get things back on track.

The Antagonist:

Heading into the season, Cleveland was my pick to be a surprise team in the East. Kyrie Irving seemed poised right on the brink of being a major star, and we've seen enough of Andrew Bynum at his best to know how good he can be. Adding the first overall pick in the draft seemed destined to help also, even if Anthony Bennett was something of a perplexing choice. But the Cavs have started 6-13 -- which in the Eastern Conference is pretty close to a playoff spot to be honest, but come on. Irving, who seemed like the best combination of shooter and playmaker since perhaps Kevin Johnson, suddenly can't shoot. Bennett is well on his way to being the biggest draft bust of all time (though there's obviously plenty of time for him to turn things around). And Bynum's knees aren't close to right, though he has been playing well the last few games. I actually think the Cavs will still make the playoffs -- I mean, eight teams have to appear in the post-season, whether they deserve it or not -- because Irving can't possibly stay this cold and Bynum is still a force, even with balky knees. The way the Clippers have played against the Eastern Conference this season, the Cavs will probably put it all together for this game. Or maybe it will just be the Clippers defense that makes it seem that way.

The Subplots

  • Clips Nation Viewing Party. Don't forget the Clips Nation Viewing Party for this game, at Joey's Smokin' BBQ in Torrance. The owner is our very own citizen pegitom, and the place will be completely dedicated to the Clippers this afternoon, with food and drink specials and I'll be running a trivia contest with fabulous prizes! Tip is 4:30, we'll do the trivia contest at halftime, and everyone should be there. 25308 Crenshaw Blvd, Torrance.
  • Comparison of key metrics. IMPORTANT NOTE! I have switched from the advanced stats from basketballreference.com to the ones now available at NBA.com. For comparison to other teams, either one is fine, but the raw numbers are different because of variations in the pace calculations. So the Clippers didn't go from a defensive efficiency rating of 105.8 to 102.5 in one game in Memphis -- they actually went from 105.8 to 105.0 in the BR calculation, but the NBA.com numbers run about 2 to 3 points lower across the board, for whatever reason (for those who want to know more about the reasons, I'll explain it later). From now on, we'll use the NBA.com numbers in previews and elsewhere, since those are more official (neither is technically official, but I figure the ones on the NBA.com site are the closest thing). No matter how you calculate it, the Clippers are moving up the ranks in defensive efficiency -- and the Cavs are bad on offense, 28th in the league, mainly because they just can't shoot (28th in field goal percentage and 29th in effective field goal percentage).
  • First overall busts. In the lottery era, there have been four first overall picks who failed to average double figures in scoring in their careers, all of them big men: Kwame Brown, Greg Oden, Pervis Ellison and Michael Olowokandi. Oden is trying to make a comeback, and Kwame may be back in the NBA at some point, but none of them are likely to change their status significantly. As of now, Oden has to be the biggest bust from the first overall pick in the lottery era, but Brown and Olowokandi are neck-and-neck in the non-injury division. But six weeks into his NBA career, Anthony Bennett is struggling more than any of them. He's average 2.4 points and 2.4 rebounds per game, shooting 24% from the field and 37% from the line. Yikes.
  • Maybe DeAndre should switch hands. Tristan Thompson entered the NBA as a left-handed shooter. During the off-season, after two full seasons in the NBA, he switched and started shooting his jump shot with his right hand. The results have been terrific at the free throw line, where Thompson has gone from below 60 percent with his left to close to 75 percent this season. However, he has struggled to make his field goals -- as has everyone on the Cavs this season frankly. Strangely, Thompson has been unusually bad in the paint, where the ability to use either hand should in theory be a huge advantage.
  • Tough place for the Clips. Until they finally broke through with a win last March, the Clippers had lost 10 straight games in Cleveland. Let's hope that they started a streak of a different sort at this point.
  • Our old friend Andrew. It's been 20 months since the Clippers have faced former Laker Andrew Bynum. Bynum has scored over 35 points three times in his NBA career -- two of those coming against the Clippers. Bynum was a notorious chucklehead about 90 percent of the time he played for the Lakers -- but he was always all business against the Clippers. His career average of 15.3 points per game against the Clippers (which, bear in mind, includes many games when he was a little used project) is the highest of any opponent. Drew has averaged about 19 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks in Cleveland's last three games so he may be starting to come around, although he is evidently still a long way from completely healthy.
  • Andrew and DeAndre. Bynum and Jordan have had some battles over the years -- DeAndre went for 23 points on 11-12 from the floor, and at least nine of those were dunks, in the same game where Bynum scored 42. It was like they conspired to let each other have career games. The old Jordan never came close to stopping Bynum. What can the new Jordan do?
  • What happened to Kyrie? It can be very difficult to tell who is going to take that next step. Paul George and Kyrie Irving each made the Eastern Conference All Star team last season. In ESPN's NBARank list this offseason, George came in at number 13 in the NBA, and Irving landed in the top 10, at number 8. Did it really make sense for two such inexperienced individuals to be among the 15 best players in the league? Well George is an early MVP candidate, and has exceeded what seemed like unattainably high expectations for him. Irving on the other hand has taken a giant step backward, at least so far. The problem is pretty simple -- suddenly he can't make shots. Through his first two NBA seasons, he was shooting .459 overall and .394 from beyond the three point line. So far this season he's at .394 overall and .300 from deep. He's actually shooting worse overall this season than he had shot from beyond the arc in his first two seasons, by a couple hundredths of a percentage point. He'll surely find his stroke -- shooters don't just forget how to shoot -- but without it he's just not the same guy. As if to underscore my point, Kyrie had an unimaginably bad outing last night in Atlanta -- missing all nine of his shots and getting benched for the final 19 minutes of the Cavs' loss. It's bad when the first overall pick gets benched -- when he gets benched for an undrafted rookie (Matthew Dellavedova) it's really bad.
  • Good news, bad news for the Cavs. The bad news is that Cleveland is on the second night of a back-to-back, after losing in Atlanta last night. The Clippers were actually in Cleveland all day waiting for them -- the Cavs would not have gotten into town until well after midnight. The good news is that the starters were so bad in their bad loss to the Hawks, that they should be plenty fresh for the Clippers. Irving played a season low 20 minutes, C.J. Miles played 12 and Alonzo Gee just 11. Then again, those three combined to make just 1 of 19 shots and score three points, so it's not surprising that they didn't play.
  • Waiters. There have been rumors of dysfunction in the Cavs locker room. It seems that second year guard Dion Waiters feels like Irving gets deferential treatment from the Cavs, and apparently Waiters got into an argument with Tristan Thompson recently. It's no wonder that Waiters is rumored to be on the trade block. Waiters had been struggling, but he's on a tear lately, scoring 20 or more in four of his last five games, including a season-high 30 last night against Atlanta. Bear in mind that Waiters scored 28 last year when the Cavs beat the Clippers in L.A., making 7-11 three pointers; he's never made more than four treys in another NBA game.
  • The improved LAC bench. For the first month or so of the season, the Clippers bench was absolutely terrible. The starters had to carry the team in every game and hope that the backups wouldn't give away the lead while they were resting. But lately it's been almost the opposite. For the last six games, the plus/minus stats for the team have had the starters deep in negative territory, while the reserves have been mostly positive, by double digits in several games. It must be noted that the reserves have tended to build up their numbers against reserves for the opponent as well, but early in the season there weren't any second units worse than the Clippers. The flourishing of the bench has coincided with the season debut of Antawn Jamison, who is now the first big off the bench, and who has clearly been a vast improvement over Byron Mullens. It also helps that Darren Collison has been playing better, and Reggie Bullock is now making shots. Also, the first unit's struggles are clearly related to injuries at least to some extent. The Clippers started the same five guys for the first 16 games of the season, but have been missing a key starter for each of the last four games (Chris Paul in one, and J.J. Redick in the last three and a half).
  • Where is this weak East we've heard about? The disparity between the conferences is worse than it's ever been, and the West is winning well over 70% of interconference games this season. But you couldn't tell that from Clippers games. The Clippers have played seven of their 20 games against the East and the are 3-4 in those games -- the are 10-3 against the mighty West. Right now, the Clippers are the only team in the NBA with a winning record against the West and a losing record against the East. It's worth noting that half of LAC's East losses have come against Miami and Indiana, the two really good teams in the conference, but still. The Clippers actually have the best record against the West of any Western Conference team, so if they can just take care of business against the mid-majors back Little East, everything will be fine. The teams ahead of L.A. in the West -- the Spurs, Thunder and Blazers -- are all undefeated against the East.
  • Connections. Kyrie Irving was drafted by the Cavs with the Clippers 2011 lottery pick, though the Clippers didn't mind too much since the trade that sent Baron Davis to Cleveland was part of a series of moves that has them where they are today. Ryan Hollins spent a season and a half in Cleveland. Antawn Jamison spent two and a half seasons in Cleveland, where he was supposed to help LeBron James get over the top -- but instead LeBron left for Miami, leaving Jamison on one of the worst teams in the league to two years.
  • Get the Cleveland perspective at Fear the Sword.
  • Shakespearean reference:

    Henry V, Act III, Scene 0 -- Chorus

    Thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies
    In motion of no less celerity
    Than that of thought. Suppose that you have seen
    The well-appointed king at Hampton pier
    Embark his royalty; and his brave fleet
    With silken streamers the young Phoebus fanning:
    Play with your fancies, and in them behold
    Upon the hempen tackle ship-boys climbing;
    Hear the shrill whistle which doth order give
    To sounds confused; behold the threaden sails,
    Borne with the invisible and creeping wind,
    Draw the huge bottoms through the furrow'd sea,
    Breasting the lofty surge: O, do but think
    You stand upon the ravage and behold
    A city on the inconstant billows dancing;
    For so appears this fleet majestical,
    Holding due course to Harfleur. Follow, follow:
    Grapple your minds to sternage of this navy,
    And leave your England, as dead midnight still,
    Guarded with grandsires, babies and old women,
    Either past or not arrived to pith and puissance;
    For who is he, whose chin is but enrich'd
    With one appearing hair, that will not follow
    These cull'd and choice-drawn cavaliers to France?
    Work, work your thoughts, and therein see a siege;
    Behold the ordnance on their carriages,
    With fatal mouths gaping on girded Harfleur.
    Suppose the ambassador from the French comes back;
    Tells Harry that the king doth offer him
    Katharine his daughter, and with her, to dowry,
    Some petty and unprofitable dukedoms.
    The offer likes not: and the nimble gunner
    With linstock now the devilish cannon touches,
    And down goes all before them. Still be kind,
    And eke out our performance with your mind.

    Look, no one reads the historical Shakespearean plays. But it is nice to have an option for the word "Cavalier" which is not so easy to find in modern movie quotes or song lyrics.
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