Clippers-Pacers preview: Gotta win starting NOW

USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers are back home after a disappointing 1-3 road trip. With the fifth best record in the Western Conference at present, the Clippers need to make a push now if they still want home court advantage in the playoffs.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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49-25

47-27
April 1st, 2013, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Tickets, NBA-TV, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG George Hill
Willie Green SG Paul George
Caron Butler SF Lance Stephenson
Blake Griffin PF David West
DeAndre Jordan C Roy Hibbert
Advanced Stats through games of March 31
91.3 (19th of 30) Pace 90.2 (25th of 30)
109.9 (5th of 30) ORtg 104.4 (20th of 30)
103.3 (8th of 30) DRtg 98.6 (1st of 30)
Injuries
Chauncey Billups (groin) out
Danny Granger (knee surgery) out
Matt Barnes (ankle) probable
Gerald Green (infection) questionable

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers suffered one of their worst losses of the season Saturday in Houston on many different levels. On the final stop of a four game road trip in which the team had lost two heartbreakers in the final seconds, the team desperately needed a win to even their record on the trip to 2-2. When it was announced at the last minute that Rockets' leading scorer James Harden wouldn't play, it seemed as if they'd been handed a gift. Unfortunately, the game was still played, and while the Clippers assumed they'd win in the absence of Harden even without actually competing, it didn't work out that way. The embarrassing loss dropped them behind both the Grizzlies and Nuggets to the fifth best record in the NBA, and if the playoffs were to start today, they'd be headed to Memphis, just like last year. The good news is that there is plenty of time to rectify the situation, starting tonight. The Clippers remaining schedule is much easier than that of Denver or Memphis. If L.A. can manage to get back on track and close the season strong, they can certainly earn home court in the first round even bet back to third place. Tonight versus the Pacers is one of three playoff teams remaining for the Clippers, so a win would be huge.

The Antagonist:

The Pacers have been good all season, but they're playing perhaps their best basketball right now. They've won seven of their last eight games, and opened their four game road trip with three wins in a row. The best defensive team in the league all season by a pretty wide margin, they've scored 100 points or more in six of their last seven wins, so the offense is clicking right now as well. Paul George (an All Star this season) and Roy Hibbert (an All Star in 2012) have both been on tears, and the whole team seems to be clicking right now. Perhaps it's related to the fact that they finally decided to shut down Danny Granger once and for all. Granger is a great scorer and was Indy's best player a few years back, but he's missed all but five games this season, and waiting for him to return or trying to work him back into the lineup might have been a distraction. Granger and the team have now opted for knee surgery, he'd definitely out for the season, and the team knows what they have and what they need to do. The Pacers have plenty to play for in the final two weeks of the season. They are currently tied with the Knicks, though a game back in the loss column, for the second best record in the Eastern Conference. Second means avoiding the Heat until the Eastern Conference Finals and home court advantage for the Conference Semis, so they'd love to pass the Knicks.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Pacers have the best defense in the league by a wide margin, pretty much any way you look at it. They have the best defensive efficiency, allow the lowest field goal percentage, the lowest three point field goal percentage, and obviously the lowest effective field goal percentage. It's tough to score on these guys.
  • Remaining schedule. The Clippers have eight games remaining, five at home, three on the road. They have three games remaining against teams in playoff contention, including the Pacers tonight. They only have one road game against a playoff team (April 13 in Memphis). The Clippers will be favored in seven of their remaining eight games.
  • Remaining schedule: Memphis. The Grizzlies have nine games left, four at home, five on the road. They have six games remaining against teams in playoff contention (that is counting Dallas, but not counting Portland). They have four tough road games left at Portland, Dallas, Utah and the Lakers. They host San Antonio tonight, but the Spurs will be without Ginobili, Duncan and Leonard (thanks, Pop).
  • Remaining schedule: Denver. The Nuggets have eight games remaining, five at home, three on the road. They have six games remaining against teams in playoff contention (again counting Dallas, but not counting Portland). All three of their road games are against teams in playoff contention, in Utah, Dallas and Milwaukee.
  • First meeting. When these teams met in Indianapolis on the last day of February, the Clippers won fairly comfortably. But that game was played during Hibbert's suspension for an altercation with the Golden State Warriors. The Pacers are built on their defense, and their defense is built partly on Hibbert providing a backstop, blocking shots and clogging the lane. The Clippers shot 49% and scored 50 points in the paint in that first meeting -- it will no doubt be a bit tougher this time around.
  • March. These teams last met on the last day of February and they've had very different experiences in March. With back-to-back losses to close the month, the Clippers finished March a lackluster 7-7, their first non-winning month of the season, and obviously a far cry from their 16-0 December. The Pacers lost to the Clippers to close February, but went 11-5 in March.
  • Griffin's calf. Blake Griffin has been playing with a sore left calf. He's expected to play tonight, but the simple fact is that he has not been nearly as effective over the last five or six games. Has the injury been limiting him? It's hard to say. He was next to useless in Houston, but that seemed to have more to do with effort than anything else -- time and again against the Rockets Griffin stood and watched as others went after rebounds or drove to the basket. Whether it's the calf or something else, Griffin has got to play better for the Clippers to be competitive in the playoffs.
  • Length over strength. Length is also the new mantra in the NBA in the past five or ten years, and one of the primary reasons that the Pacers are so good defensively is because they are so very long. Hibbert (7'2) is as long as anyone in the league and George (6'8), Stephenson (6'5) and Hill (6'2 with crazy long arms) give them long defenders on the perimeter, and West has long arms as well. It's Indiana's length, along with good schemes and good discipline of course, that make them such a great defensive team.
  • The 2010 wings. In the 2010 draft, the Clippers needed a wing, preferably a small forward. The consensus among draft watchers was that Evan Turner and Wesley Johnson were the best available wings, and with the Clippers picking eighth, they knew they'd have no shot at them. That left the Clippers to choose from a group that seemed difficult to differentiate -- Al-Farouq Aminu, Gordon Hayward, Xavier Henry, Luke Babbitt and Paul George were all considered good but not great prospects. The Clippers went with Aminu at eight and the other four were snapped up with picks 9, 10, 12 and 16. Two seasons into their careers, Johnson is a bust and Turner is approaching bust status; Hayward is a solid player who has done well; and Aminu, Henry and Babbitt are all projects at best. But George, picked 10th, after Turner, Johnson, Aminu and Hayward, is an All Star. The Clippers shouldn't feel too bad about the 2010 draft though -- they did get Eric Bledsoe at 18, after all these guys.
  • Three point shooting. Given the Clippers' difficulties defending the three at times this season, it always makes sense to pay attention to three point shooting. The Pacers are slightly below the league average in both attempts and percentage; so they're a threat, but it's not a major part of their game usually. George and Hill both take quite a few and shoot a decent percentage.
  • Milestones. The Clippers are still looking to secure their first-ever 50 win season. Their next win, whenever it happens, gives it to them.
  • Connections. I don't have a lot on this one. Paul and West were long time teammates in New Orleans of course. For any Gauchos among the citizenry, rookie Orlando Johnson from UCSB made the Pacers roster this season against all odds and has been on the fringe of the rotation, appearing in 27 games. Ian Mahinmi and Ronny Turiaf are both French and have no doubt played together for Les Bleus (though Mahinmi was not on the Olympic team this summer).
  • Get the Pacers perspective at Indy Cornrows.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Climbing the Walls -- They Might Be Giants

    I got tired of pacing the floor
    Sick of it all, I'm done with the floor
    Walked away ever since I got a new job climbing the walls

    I was grinding my teeth,
    I was wasting my youth
    And using up my teeth
    Now I'm done chewing my nails
    Hanging my head,
    Chasing my tail
    It got so bad I quit my job
    Then I got a new job climbing the walls


    I've always been a huge fan of the clever lyrics of They Might Be Giants, and this is a good example. The idea of quitting your job and getting a new job climbing the walls just cracks me up.
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