Clippers-Hornets preview: The game before the game

USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers could find themselves back even with the Grizzlies if all goes well tonight. They can't control the Memphis outcome in Houston, but they can make sure they beat the Hornets, to set up the showdown in Memphis tomorrow.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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52-26

27-52
April 12th, 2013, 5:00 PM
New Orleans Arena
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Greivis Vasquez Brian Roberts
Willie Green SG Eric Gordon
Caron Butler SF Al-Farouq Aminu
Blake Griffin PF Ryan Anderson
DeAndre Jordan C Robin Lopez
Advanced Stats through games of April 11
91.2 (19th of 30) Pace 88.5 (28th of 30)
110.7 (4th of 30) ORtg 105.9 (14th of 30)
103.6 (8th of 30) DRtg 109.9 (28th of 30)
Injuries
Chauncey Billups (groin) doubtful
Anthony Davis (sprained MCL) out


Greivis Vasquez (ankle/mouth) out


Austin Rivers (hand surgery) out


Jason Smith (shoulder surgery) out

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have four games left and their task is clear: win all four. It's not the end of the world if they don't win all four, the worst thing that can happen is that they'll be the fifth seed and start the playoffs on the road, and that will probably be their fate whether they lose one or four of their remaining games. But of their four remaining opponents, three have losing records and the fourth is Memphis. They don't want to lose to a team with a losing record at this time of year because, you know, who wants to lose to a team with a losing record at this time of year. And they certainly don't want to lose to the Grizzlies, who are almost guaranteed to be their first round opponent in the postseason. The good news is that they've already lost to each of their remaining opponents. Why is that good news? Because against the likes of the Hornets tonight, it's far less likely that the Clippers will have a let down against them given that they've already lost to them once this season. They should never have lost to New Orleans in the first place, and hopefully they'll remember that heading into this game. The Hornets will be without star rookie Anthony Davis, who is done for the season after spraining his MCL in Sacramento on Wednesday. Without Davis, the Hornets are down to Robin Lopez, Ryan Anderson and Lou Amundson in their big rotation, and hopefully the Clipper bigs can take advantage of them there. Blake Griffin has had two strong games after a couple of weeks of sub par play while he was hampered by a sore calf, and DeAndre Jordan is on the verge of leading the league in field goal percentage this season -- Jordan is making a ridiculous 78% of his field goals since the All Star break and an equally ridiculous 25% of his free throws. Which is, you guessed it, ridiculous. Chris Paul will be back in New Orleans for just the third time since being traded from the Hornets to the Clippers: he's split his two previous visits, with the Clippers winning the last meeting a couple of weeks ago.

The Antagonist:

The Hornets haven't been particularly good this season, compiling the second worst record in the Western Conference, but that's OK because no one expected them to be good. The bigger question is where are they going, and the answer isn't clear. There's good news and bad news on that front. Veteran acquisitions Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez have worked out very well, and point guard Greivis Vasquez is a leading candidate for most improved player. That's half of their top six right there. First overall pick Anthony Davis won't win Rookie of the Year, but he's still going to be a very good, possibly great, player very soon. But former Clippers Eric Gordon, the centerpiece of the Paul trade, has been injured, unhappy or both for most of his time in New Orleans, and has steadily morphed from a hyper-efficient scorer to a turnover prone chucker over the course of five seasons. The rumor at this point is that the Hornets would consider trading him, which is not a good sign when you're talking about a guy you just signed to a maximum contract. The future for New Orleans is pretty bright with a productive Gordon, not so bright with a disgruntled Gordon. As for the team taking the floor in this game, the Hornets will be without Davis, who is done for the year after spraining his MCL. But Gordon may be motivated to beat his former team, Anderson can create some problems for Blake Griffin, who'd prefer not to have to defend at the three point line, and Lopez has had some great games against the Clippers. Will the Hornets be motivated to beat CP3's new team, or will they mail it in? The Clippers need this win, so they can't afford to take them lightly.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. Monty Williams was considered a defensive coach when he was an assistant, before he got his break. The Hornets were good defensively last year under him. But they've been abysmal this year, 28th in the league in defensive efficiency.
  • [Note by Steve Perrin, 04/12/13 11:10 AM PDT ] Vasquez out. New Orleans point guard Greivis Vasquez will miss the game as well, resting a sore ankle. Or maybe he doesn't want to face an angry Chris Paul, who grew weary of Vasquez' constant trash talk in the last meeting. Brian Roberts, who is having a terrific season as a 27 year old rookie after toiling for years in the European leagues, will start in his stead.
  • Scoreboard watching. Tipping off at the same time as this game is the game between the Grizzlies and the Rockets in Houston. A Memphis loss combined with a Clippers win will put the teams in a deadlock in the standings with the Clippers owning the trump card Division champ tiebreaker. The Clippers can't afford to be scoreboard watching, but Clips Nation sure can.
  • The showdown. The big game is tomorrow night in Memphis. Even if the Grizzlies lose tonight, the Clippers will still need to win in Memphis tomorrow. But that win will be meaningless if they don't first beat the Hornets tonight.
  • Last meeting with the Hornets. It looks like this will be the Clippers final meeting with the Hornets ever, since the team will change their name to the Pelicans next season. Of course, Charlotte may decide to rechristen the Bobcats the Hornets, but I hope they don't. It will be confusing enough if the Kings are the Sonics and the Sonics are the Thunder; do we really want the Bobcats to be the Hornets and the Hornets to be the Pelicans? By the way, I'm not endorsing the move to Seattle -- I actually want the Kings to stay in Sacramento, as I think that town has done everything they've been asked to do to keep their team. It's bad enough when towns lose teams when their civic leaders don't step up -- it would be plain wrong if the town did everything anyone asked them to do and still lost their team.
  • Defending Griffin. With Davis and Jason Smith both out for the season, the Hornets are down to Lopez, Anderson and Amundson in their big rotation. Anderson has done surprisingly well defending Griffin in the past, but he certainly doesn't have the reputation of being a good defender at the four. The Clippers will try to take advantage of that matchup early, and perhaps get Anderson in Lopez into some foul trouble. The Hornets do have some biggish small forwards in Aminu and Darius Miller and Lance Thomas who may be forced to play some four in this game.
  • Billups. Chauncey Billups, who has missed nine of the last 10 games with a groin injury, insists that he'll be back before the playoffs start, but it doesn't seem like it will be in this game. With the Clippers four remaining games coming in two sets of back-to-backs, and presuming Billups would not want to play in a back-to-back situation so soon after his return, he'll have the option of playing in Memphis Saturday, and then once more against either Portland or Sacramento next week. But the time is getting short on the whole "before the playoffs" thing.
  • Green. It's debatable whether the Clippers should really want Billups back right now, as is replacement in the starting lineup, Willie Green, has been simply terrific this last couple weeks. Green has made 17-26 from beyond the three point arc since Billups has been out -- which is just amazing. He's also been driving to the basket well when the defenders close him out too aggressively. He's been quite the pro all season, doing his job whether he's starting or sitting on the bench. He's been a sneaky good acquisition for the Clippers this season. The team holds an option to bring him back next season, and you can rest assured that they will.
  • Paul. Chris Paul has been great the last couple of games, and there's really no reason to think that Vasquez is going to be able to stop him. The Clippers are best when Paul aggressively looks to score, so hopefully he'll look for his own shot some right from the beginning of this game. He should have a little extra motivation playing back in his old town.
  • Grant Hill and Monty Williams. Researching a piece on Hill the other day, I noticed that New Orleans head coach Monty Williams was in the same draft as Grant Hill. Hill was taken third in the 1994 draft, Williams was taken 24th. Maybe it's a good thing the Clippers didn't hire Williams back in 2010 when the job was open, because it might have been a little awkward for Williams coaching Hill, though he is a full year older than Hill.
  • Three point shooting. The Clippers and Hornets have played three times this season. In the first game, the Hornets made 15-25 three pointers and won a close one. In the second meeting they made 2-19 three pointers and were blown out. In the third they made 4-14 and the Clippers won handily. So it seems like maybe three point shooting is a key to this game. The Hornets average about 18 three point attempts per game, which is in the bottom third of the league, but obviously they are capable of making a bunch, especially Anderson.
  • Gordon. Former Clipper Eric Gordon was the centerpiece of the package New Orleans received from the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade. This summer they 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 have sidelined Gordon 97 out of 145 games since his arrival in New Orleans. Even more unfortunately, he's been pretty ordinary when he has played, posting a PER of 15.6 in 39 games this season (a PER of 15 is considered an average player). When Gordon was a Clipper I would periodically praise his high efficiency scoring, but his effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage have each decreased each season he's been in the league. As a rookie, Gordon posted a TSP of .593 -- this season he's at .529. Yikes. It's not clear that EJ wants to be in New Orleans -- he openly lobbied to be allowed to go to Phoenix and he recently got into a shouting match with Williams on the sidelines. The Hornets may shop him this summer, but at this point they seem to be stuck with each other. Hopefully he can have a fully healthy season next year and regain his shooting stroke.
  • AFA. The other former Clipper sent to New Orleans in the Paul trade, Al-Farouq Aminu, has had an up and down season. He began the season as the starter, then briefly fell completely out of the rotation -- he did not appear at all in the second meeting between the teams. But he's once again the starting small forward. He does some things well -- he's been a terrific rebounder from the three spot this season, he's a long defender who gets a lot of deflections, and he's hitting a better percentage of his shots this season. But it doesn't appear that he's ever going to be much of a scorer at the NBA level, and it's not clear that he's got the motor to thrive as a rebounder/defender on the wing. I guess the jury's still out.
  • Sideshow Robin. Look, I know that some think that Anderson Varejao looks like Sideshow Bob, but come on people. It's not even close. Robin Lopez IS Sideshow Bob. Think about it: have you ever seen them together? Plus, he has really big feet. (Krusty has small feet, like all good-hearted people.)
    Sideshow_robin_lopez_medium
  • Milestones. Every win for the Clippers sets at least two records at this point since the team has already set the high water mark for overall wins, road wins and home wins. A win tonight would therefore establish new records of 53 total wins and 22 road wins. Hopefully the Clippers are on their way to 56 wins, because they may need every one.
  • 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. Hornets rookie Austin Rivers was chosen using a draft pick that was included in that trade. Since his arrival in L.A. Paul has influenced the acquisition of his former New Orleans teammate Willie Green and assistant coach Robert Pack made the switch from the Hornets to the Clippers as well. DaJuan Summers, recently signed for the remainder of the season, played 15 games for the Hornets last season.
  • Get the New Orleans perspective At the Hive.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Hercules -- Elton John

    Ooh I got a busted wing and a hornet sting
    Like an out of tune guitar
    Ooh she got Hercules on her side
    And Diana in her eyes

    Some men like the Chinese life
    Some men kneel and pray
    Ooh well I like women and I like wine
    And I've always liked it that way, always liked it that way

    I can't dig it the way she tease
    That old tough man routine up her sleeves
    Living and loving, kissing and hugging
    Living and loving with a cat named Hercules, a cat named Hercules

    Looking for lyrics containing the word "hornet" I came across this old Elton John song from the Honky Chateau album. Now, this is by no means a great Elton John song, but I have so many memories of listening to this album way back in middle school (it was actually my sister's album) that I couldn't resist including it.
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