Clippers-Bobcats preview: The palate cleanser

USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers suffered by far their worst loss of the season against the Suns on Monday and really need to have a solid bounce back game against the Bobcats on New Year's night.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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21-12

14-18
January 1st, 2014, 6:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Kemba Walker
Jamal Crawford SG Gerald Henderson
Jared Dudley SF Anthony Tolliver
Blake Griffin PF Josh McRoberts
DeAndre Jordan C Al Jefferson
Advanced Stats
98.14 (8th of 30) Pace 94.83 (24th of 30)
105.7 (8th of 30) ORtg 96.4 (28th of 30)
100.4 (7th of 30) DRtg 98.3 (4th of 30)
Injuries/Other
J.J. Redick (wrist) out
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (broken hand) out
Reggie Bullock (ankle) out
Jeff Taylor (ruptured Achilles) out
Maalik Wayns (meniscus surgery) out
Brendan Haywood (foot surgery) out

The Back Story (Clippers swept the season series last year 2-0):

Date Venue Final

12/12/12 Charlotte Clippers 100, Bobcats 94 Recap Box
02/26/13 Los Angeles Clippers 106, Bobcats 84 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The loss to the Suns on Monday left a bad taste in everyone's mouth and the Clippers need a palate cleanser. Hopefully the Charlotte Bobcats are just the ticket. Not that the Clippers have exactly feasted on the East or on struggling teams, even at home. Some of the theoretically easiest home games of the season, against the likes of Sacramento and Utah and an injury-ravaged Brooklyn team, have all been struggles, even if the Clippers eventually pulled them out. On the bright side though, the team has mostly come back strong after bad losses -- they beat the Warriors after the Lakers loss, beat Philadelpha after the Cleveland loss, beat Washington after the Brooklyn loss. So far, whenever the team has been truly abysmal, they've come out with a strong effort in the next game. Whether that's just a coincidence or something that Doc Rivers is doing right, let's hope it continues tonight. All teams have bad games from time-to-time -- but Monday night's debacle almost needs another category. There's not a player on the team that doesn't need to play better tonight, but hopefully it starts with the stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

The Antagonist:

The Bobcats are a game and a half away from home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Of course, that's in the Eastern Conference, were 14-18 puts you in the middle of the playoff race. Charlotte has actually been respectable all season, at least for an East team, but they've lost their starting small forward and now his backup in the past month (which sounds a little familiar to Clipper fans) which hasn't helped their chances. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist broke his hand during the epidemic of hand injuries that got the Clippers' J.J. Redick, and then Jeff Taylor ruptured his Achilles two weeks ago. They've lost four of five since Taylor got hurt, with all the losses by three or four points. Charlotte added former Utah center Al Jefferson this off-season, and between Big Al and the young backcourt tandem of Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson, the Cats have a bit more going for them than they did the last few seasons. New coach Steve Clifford has them playing great defense, but the team has little or no outside shooting and they really struggle to score. But they'll play hard, and the Clippers saw what a team that plays hard can do against the Suns Monday night.

The Subplots

  • The Questionable Blogger. Ben Swanson of Rufus on Fire answered my questions, and I answered his. Big deal.
  • Comparison of key metrics. The Bobcats were terrible on both sides of the ball last season, 28th in offensive efficiency and 30th in defensive efficiency. This season they are a true NBA anomaly -- elite on one side of the ball, dreadful on the other, with the fourth best defense and the third worst offense. The Clippers now rank higher as a defense (7th) than they do as an offense (8th).
  • Happy New Year. It's New Year's Day, a day to make resolutions about your intentions for the new year. Let's hope the Clippers have resolved never again to play like they did against the Suns.
  • Are the Clippers better on defense than on offense? Let's be clear. While the Clippers currently have the 7th best defense by points allowed per 100 possessions, and the 8th best offense by points scored per 100 possessions, that doesn't mean that the defense is better overall than the offense. In fact, as compared to the league average, the Clippers are about three points better than the average on offense and about two points better on defense. There just are more above average offensive teams right now. Having said that, the Clippers have clearly been much better on defense than on offense in the past month. It's great news that the defense is playing well, but where did this offensive juggernaut we were promised go?
  • Big Al. Al Jefferson signed with the Bobcats this summer for 3 years/$41M -- Charlotte may have overpaid some, but that's not really bad at the end of the day. Al remains one of the best post scorers in the league -- there really aren't that many guys you can give the ball to in the post and say "Go score" and Al is one of them. Unfortunately for Al and the Bobcats, he's shooting a career low from the field, and because he doesn't get to the line a lot, his true shooting percentage is .476, which is really bad for a big. No wonder the Bobcats have such an inefficient offense.
  • Biyombo. The Bobcats really rolled the dice when they drafted Bismack Biyombo with the 7th overall pick in 2011. Biyombo had barely cracked the Spanish ACB at the time as a little used reserve on a second tier team but he burst onto everyone's radar with a spectacular performance at the 2011 Nike Hoops Summit. Charlotte knew he would be a project -- and he has been. He can rebound and block shots at an NBA level (12.4 and 2.3 per 36 minutes so far this season; compare that to 13.7 and 2.3 per 36 for DeAndre Jordan, among the league leaders), but he's a massive project on offense. He's making almost two-thirds of his shots this season -- but that appears to be because he's limiting himself to dunks and layups and he's taking significantly fewer shots. Could Biyombo be what Jordan is trying to be? A defensive stopper who simply doesn't worry much about the offensive end? Maybe, but he's also a could two inches shorter than Jordan.
  • McBobCat. When Josh McRoberts is your starting power forward, it's not a good thing. The Bobcats got McBob from Orlando for Hakim Warrick at the deadline last February. The Magic waived Warrick -- the Bobcats started McRoberts. Good deal for the Bobcats, I guess?
  • Three point shooting. The Bobcats don't do much of anything well on offense. One of the things they do poorly is shoot the three. Anthony Tolliver is hitting 43%, Kemba Walker 36% -- and no one else is hitting better than one in three. Of course, the Clippers can't really throw stones regarding three point shooting right now. They're down to 26th in the league in three point percentage, and are at 26% in their last five games (and that's including some meaningless makes in garbage time against Phoenix Monday).
  • Brendan Haywood. Being a thorough sort of person, I want to point out that Brendan Haywood, who has missed this season so far with foot surgery, would fit into the Clippers trade exception and under the hard cap. In theory, Haywood will be healthy soon, and it seems like that the Bobcats would be happy to be rid of him. Take it for what it's worth.
  • Connections. There may be more former Bobcats on the Clippers than anything else. Weird. Ryan Hollins, Byron Mullens, Stephen Jackson and Jared Dudley were all Bobcats at one point. Then there's the North Carolina thing -- Antawn Jamison and Reggie Bullock both went to UNC, while Chris Paul went to Wake Forest and J.J. Redick went to Duke -- all but Redick played their high school ball in the Tarheel state as well. Redick and McRoberts were Duke teammates for one season when Redick was a senior and McRoberts was a freshman. Henderson arrived in Durham the following season. Ramon Sessions and Matt Barnes were Laker teammates for a half a season.
  • Get the Charlotte perspective at Rufus on Fire.
  • Shakespearean reference:

    Othello -- Act II, Scene 1 -- Iago

    Come on, come on; you are pictures out of doors,
    Bells in your parlors, wild-cats in your kitchens,
    Saints m your injuries, devils being offended,
    Players in your housewifery, and housewives' in your beds.
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