Clippers-Magic preview: The Paul-less stretch begins

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers return home and enter a long stretch of the season where they will be without superstar Chris Paul. There are plenty of winnable games in the upcoming schedule including this one: can they win enough of them?

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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23-13

10-23
January 6th, 2014, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Darren Collison PG Jameer Nelson
Jamal Crawford SG Arron Afflalo
Jared Dudley SF Tobias Harris
Blake Griffin PF Andrew Nicholson
DeAndre Jordan C Glen Davis
Advanced Stats
98.03 (8th of 30) Pace 96.65 (15th of 30)
106.1 (6th of 30) ORtg 98.6 (24th of 30)
101.1 (8th of 30) DRtg 102.2 (12th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Chris Paul (separated shoulder) out
Nikola Vucevic (ankle) doubtful
J.J. Redick (wrist) out

Reggie Bullock (sprained ankle) out

The Back Story (Magic lead the season series 1-0):

Date Venue Final

11/06/13 Orlando Magic 98, Clippers 90 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

So before you nitpick me to death regarding the title of this post, I know that the Paul-less stretch actually began in San Antonio on Saturday, but I'm not counting that one for a few reasons. That game was in all likelihood a loss regardless -- second night of a road back-to-back, Spurs looking to avenge a big loss to the Clippers in L.A. AND coming off their worst home loss of the season two nights before -- everything was going against the Clippers that night. Also, the Clippers didn't really know how long Chris Paul would be out at that point. Now they're back home, facing a stretch of winnable games, fully aware that Paul is gone until the All Star Break. So now it's time to figure out how to win without him. The Clippers lost to the Magic early in the season, in a game in which they played terribly, so hopefully they'll exact the vengeance on Orlando that the Spurs exacted on them. If there was anything positive to be taken from the Spurs game, perhaps it was the offensive outburst by Jamal Crawford in the second half. The Clippers need Crawford's scoring without Paul, and he'd been mired in a terrible slump through halftime in San Antonio. Perhaps an 8-13, 20 point half is a sign of better things to come. In addition to Crawford, the Clippers need Blake Griffin to carry the team for the next six weeks. If he has indeed taken that next step, this is his chance to prove it.

The Antagonist:

The Magic were 3-2 after their early season victory of the Clippers -- they're 7-21 since, which is more in line with expectations for this rebuilding team. Nikola Vucevic had a massive 30 point, 21 rebound game against the Clippers last time, but he turned his ankle New Year's eve and hasn't played since. I really have no clue when they expect him back -- I just know he didn't play Saturday. In addition to Vucevic, Arron Afflalo is having an excellent season, but beyond those two, the Magic don't have a lot working for them right now. Rookie Victor Oladipo was inserted into the starting lineup in game 11 and started 16 straight -- but coach Jacque Vaughan has gone back to the veteran Jameer Nelson at the point in the last seven. Oladipo is a major talent no doubt -- but he's had as many or more turnovers as assists in 21 of 33 games this season, which is not really what you're looking for from your point guard. Tobias Harris, acquired by the Magic for J.J. Redick at the trade deadline last season, was supposed to be a major piece for them, but he began the season injured, and has been underwhelming as the starting small forward (shooting just over 40% from the field) since returning to the lineup. And the Magic no longer have the option of turning to Hedo Turkoglu in tough games, as they finally waived the veteran last week.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers remain top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season. One would suspect both to suffer without Paul, but the offense to suffer more since Paul is the engine of the offense. The Magic are a very bad team on offense, middle of the pack on defense.
  • Bad road team. The Magic are 3-12 on the road this season with the three wins coming at Atlanta, Charlotte and Chicago. The Clippers are 14-3 at home -- but of course those 17 games all featured a healthy Chris Paul.
  • Waking from a Dwight-mare. When the big trade happened in the summer of 2012, it looked to everyone like three teams won and one team lost. A year later, it's the complete opposite. The all stars in the trade -- Howard, Andrew Bynum and Andre Iguodala -- were all in the final year of contracts, and none of them remain with the teams that acquired them. Meaning that the Sixers, Nuggets and Lakers all have nothing to show (less than nothing, since they all gave something up, and they still owe draft picks to the Magic as well). Meanwhile, Arron Afflalo has played well in Orlando, Nikola Vucevic looks like a potential monster in the middle, and even Harkless has shown promise. With three first round picks still on the way (some of which could be very, very good picks), the Magic really cleaned up in the process. All for Dwight Howard.
  • Backup point. With Paul out for awhile, we know that Darren Collison is the new starter at point guard for the Clippers. The Clippers waived Maalik Wayns, their third point guard, this weekend, which means they'll be getting by with combo guards running the team while Collison rests until and unless they can pick up a point guard on a 10 day contract. The game in San Antonio was such a mess that it's tough to take much away from it, but when Collison rested, Doc always had both Willie Green and Jamal Crawford in the game -- and they seemed to split the ball-handling duties, with Crawford winding up with the ball more often than not, because, well, he's Jamal Crawford.
  • Vucevic. One of the pieces Orlando received in the four team trade that send Dwight Howard to the Lakers was former USC center Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic has started 81 of 86 games since arriving in Orlando and is looking like a significant NBA center. Recalling his college game, I thought of him as a face up center with a pretty decent 18 footer but a little soft. Instead he's been a rebounding beast who was second only to Howard in the NBA in rebounding last season. The battle of the boards between him and DeAndre Jordan could be key tonight.
  • Young front line. Between Vucevic (23), Andrew Nicholson (24), Maurice Harkless (20) and Tobias Harris (21), the Magic have some very young players in their front court who appear to have the potential to be pretty good. Along with Oladipo, they just need a shooting guard of the future and they could be in good shape. Rumors continue to have them shopping Afflalo, but really, he's got a good contract and he's still relatively young (28); why not keep the guy?
  • Vucevic? If Vucevic can't play, Griffin and Jordan really should run wild over the Orlando bigs, who just don't have enough size and/or experience to handle them. Of course, Vucevic hung a 30/20 on the Clippers the last time, so if he is healthy enough to play, he could really change the equation.
  • Trade bait. With so much emphasis on the youth movement in Orlando, guys like Glen Davis and the starting backcourt of Afflalo and Jameer Nelson could be on their way out before the season is over. Davis would look pretty good backing up Griffin and Jordan, and of course he had his best seasons playing for Doc Rivers in Boston -- but his $6.4M salary doesn't make a lot of sense for the Clippers. Not that Orlando would want Jamal Crawford in their current situation, but would you give up JCrossover for Big Baby? I wouldn't.
  • Big game for Griffin? Looking at the Orlando roster, I'm not really seeing anyone who can handle Griffin. Nicholson is young, Davis and Jason Maxiell are undersized, and the rest of the options are all very inexperienced. I'm feeling like Griffin is going to come through with a big game to add to his strong recent string.
  • The meniscus connection. Former Clipper Solomon Jones signed a non-guaranteed contract with the Magic in September and proceeded to make the team in training camp. He then tore his meniscus in the second game of the season and had surgery. Maalik Wayns had a non-guaranteed contract with the Clippers heading into training camp. He tore his meniscus in pre-season and required surgery. The NBA's collective bargaining agreement makes the contract of any player guaranteed if they are waived while they are injured. But both Jones and Wayns were apparently healthy enough, because both were waived over the weekend.
  • Connections. The other half of the Clippers starting backcourt, shooting guard J.J. Redick, played his first six and a half seasons in the NBA in Orlando. Matt Barnes was a starting small forward for the Magic in one season of his well-traveled NBA career. Ryan Hollins and Arron Afflalo were UCLA teammates for two seasons, and Afflalo and Collison were teammates for two seasons as well. Afflalo is an LA native, having played his High School ball in Compton at Centennial High. Doc Rivers coached the Magic for four seasons (plus 11 games) at the start of his coaching career.
  • Get the Orlando perspective at Orlando Pinstriped Post.
  • Shakespearean reference:

    Hamlet -- Act III, Scene 2 -- Hamlet

    So you must take your husbands.- Begin, murtherer. Pox, leave
    thy damnable faces, and begin! Come, the croaking raven doth
    bellow for revenge.
    Luc. Thoughts black, hands apt, drugs fit, and time agreeing; Confederate season, else no creature seeing; Thou mixture rank, of midnight weeds collected, With Hecate's ban thrice blasted, thrice infected, Thy natural magic and dire property On wholesome life usurp immediately.

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