Clippers-Pelicans preview: a chance to go streaking

Jeff Gross

The Clippers got an unexpected win in Oklahoma City yesterday, and now they enter a stretch of games where lots of wins will be expected.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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38-20

23-32
February 24th, 2014, 5:00 PM
Smoothie King Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
17-9 East 14-10
21-11 West 9-22
23-5 Home 13-13
15-15 Road 10-19
16-13 .500+ 6-22
22-7 .500- 17-10
5-5 L10 4-6
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Brian Roberts
Jamal Crawford SG Eric Gordon
Matt Barnes SF Al-Farouq Aminu
Blake Griffin PF Anthony Davis
DeAndre Jordan C Greg Stiemsma
Advanced Stats
98.14 (8th of 30) Pace 94.4 (24th of 30)
108.7 (2nd of 30) ORtg 104.3 (11th of 30)
102.3 (11th of 30) DRtg 105.9 (26th of 30)
Injuries/Other
J.J. Redick (back) out
Ryan Anderson (back) out
Chris Paul (sprained thumb) in

Jrue Holiday (leg) out
Glen Davis (new signing) in
Jason Smith (knee surgery) out

The Back Story (The Clippers lead the season series is tied, 1-0):

Date Venue Final

12/18/13 Los Angeles Clippers 108, Pelicans 95 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers got a huge win in Oklahoma City yesterday on the strength of great offensive performances from Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes. Production from the small forward position was particularly welcome as it's been a problem for the Clippers all season. Whether it's a one-off or a part of an upward trend for Barnes remains to be seen. He won't make six threes very often, we know that -- but there is some indication that he's beginning to (finally) play better this season. Crawford for his part has been pretty great lately, though the Clippers would dearly love for J.J. Redick to get healthy so Crawford can return to the bench; with Jamal in the starting lineup, the Clippers second unit has all but disappeared. But even before Redick's return the Clippers will get an infusion of depth, as Glen (Big Baby) Davis has signed with the team after being bought out in Orlando. With the addition of Davis, the Clippers have a legitimate third big for their rotation for the first time this season, and the fact that he has played under Doc Rivers and already knows the general schemes on offense and defense should mean that he can step in and play right away. The Clippers return to Los Angeles after this game and enter a forgiving stretch in their schedule -- over the following two weeks they leave Los Angeles once for a game in Phoenix (they also have a 'road game' against the Lakers in there) and they play 10 of their next 14 games against teams with losing records beginning tonight. We'll see if they take advantage, but some things are beginning to fall into place for the Clippers, and the win over the Thunder yesterday could be a springboard to better things.

The Antagonist:

The Pelicans had a chance this season, but the season was derailed by injuries. Superstar Anthony Davis missed eight games early which didn't help, but when they got him back they lost three other key players to serious injuries, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith. The playoffs might never have been a realistic expectation for them this season given how good the West is, but they might have been in the mix if they'd remained healthy. On the bright side, Davis is a complete and total monster, and only figures to get better and better. His length makes him one of the most disruptive forces in the league on defense, and on offense he can hit face up jumpers and handle the ball like a guard, in addition to the fact that he finishes lobs better than anyone outside of Lob City. He has many things to work on -- which makes him even more scary. The battle between Davis and Blake Griffin should be quite a spectacle in this game.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. Monty Williams was considered a defensive coach when he was an assistant, before he got his break. You wouldn't know it from this team, which is still pretty good on offense even after losing Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday but 26th in defensive efficiency.
  • Back in N'Awluns. The Clippers Chris Paul began his career in New Orleans with the Hornets (the pre-Pelicans, the Prelicans) and is still revered in the city. He and Blake Griffin were in town just over a week ago to participate in the NBA All Star Game. This is a quick trip after an afternoon game in Oklahoma City yesterday and the team anxious to return to L.A. immediately after tonight's game, but Chris no doubt took the team to some favorite spots. Paul will get a warm reception from the home crowd tonight -- Blake will not.
  • Smoothie King Center. So it's certainly at least in part a regional bias a it looks like Smoothie Kings are called Juice It Up on the West Coast and the multiple names are no doubt a residual of some acquisition strategy. But my immediate reaction to the new naming rights deal on the New Orleans Arena so that the Pelicans now play in the Smoothie King Center is "How can small market teams survive?" The first Smoothie King was in New Orleans, fine, and Sleep Train mattress stores may be a big deal in Sacramento, and Moda Health might matter in Portland. But I'm guessing that maybe, just maybe, the Sixers got more money from Wells Fargo and the Rockets got more money from Toyota for the naming rights on their arena's.
  • Big Baby. So much for the reverse mojo jinx. (We haven't discussed that in awhile!) The minute I heard that Glen Davis and the Orlando Magic were negotiating a buyout, I guaranteed that Davis would land with his old coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers. Davis cleared waivers yesterday afternoon and although I've yet to see it announced officially (see below), he is signing with the Clippers. I would assume that he'll be with the team in New Orleans tonight; he was in Orlando, he's from Baton Rouge, he's already had a couple of days off, he pretty much knew he was going to wind up with the Clippers -- it makes much more geographic sense for him to join the team in LA (Louisiana) than to join them in L.A. (Los Angeles). My guess is he'll be in uniform tonight, but as I said, there's been no official word as of yet.
  • [Note by Steve Perrin, 02/24/14 12:26 PM PST ] I hate it when that happens. So I was busy working on the preview, and hit publish without checking my email. Of course the Clippers made the official announcement in the meantime. Davis is signed, and will be with the team tonight; it's official.
  • Make hay while the sun shines. The NBA schedule has by its nature easier stretches and more difficult stretches. The Clippers are entering one of those soft schedule periods right now and have a great opportunity to make some real headway in the standings. In their next 14 games, the Clippers play only one road game against a team with a winning record. After tonight in New Orleans, they don't travel further than Phoenix for two full weeks. Basically, March 4 in Phoenix is the only time in the next 14 games when the Clippers will not be favored to win -- and that will be a big revenge game for the Clippers after what happened against the Suns in LA. They also have home games against three key rivals, Houston, Golden State and Phoenix, in this group of 14. Oh, and after facing the Spurs and Thunder and the Heat since Feb. 5, the Clippers only have one more game all season (home against the Thunder April 9) against the top four teams in the NBA. They have to go 18-6 in their final 24 games in order to match their 56 win season from a year ago, which seems like a tall order at first blush -- but looking at the schedule, I full expect them to match or surpass last season's win total.
  • Shooting. After winning yesterday in Oklahoma City, the Clippers are now 24-0 when they make nine or more three pointers in a game. This is getting eerie.
  • Rivers family reunion. For the third time in his career and the second time this season, Austin Rivers of the Pelicans will face an NBA team coached by his father, Doc Rivers. New Orleans played Boston twice in Austin's rookie season of course, but Rivers was injured and didn't play in the second meeting. Father-son/coach-player meetings are rare in the NBA. Mike Dunleavy Jr. played against his father 18 times while the elder MD was coaching the Clippers. George Karl has coached against his son Coby once. And Butch Van Breda Kolff coached against his son Jan four times in 1977. (The Van Breda Kolff's actually avoided each other all but one season of their respective careers, as Jan started in the ABA, and Butch retired from coaching one year after the NBA-ABA merger.) Austin has been getting consistent minutes in the Pelicans rotation since early January, owing in part to the team's injury troubles.
  • The name game. The Hornets changed their name to the Pelicans to fit their New Orleans surroundings better. When the Bobcats reclaim their Hornets heritage next season, then the Hornets nickname will have played in three different cities (New Orleans, Oklahoma City temporarily and Charlotte twice) and for two different franchises (Charlotte '88 and Charlotte '04). Basically, when someone says to you "He used to play for the Hornets" you'll still have no idea who the guy is talking about because that won't narrow it down much.
  • Anthony Davis. Second year power forward Anthony Davis made a surprise appearance in the first meeting between these teams, returning sooner than expected from a broken hand, and proceeded to post a 24/12 game in 32 minutes. He made his first All Star game appearance last weekend and he's destined to make a lot more. His productivity is incredible for a second year player -- he's got the fifth highest PER in the league after guys named KD, LBJ, KLove and CP3. As great as Blake Griffin has been the past three months at the tender age of 24, if you asked pundits who the best power forward in the NBA will be in five years, most would probably pick Davis. That's speculation of course -- and Blake has at least proven that he has the drive and work ethic to improve his game -- but the simple fact is that Davis' potential is almost limitless. Regardless of who's better, you can expect Davis and Griffin and Kevin Love (who is just 25) to be vying for the title for many, many years to come.
  • The future in New Orleans. The Pelicans have a very nice assemblage of talent right now. When healthy, they've got a Team USA member, a former All Star and a current All Star at three starting positions and a recent Rookie of the Year and a great sixth man coming off the bench. What they don't have is a lot of options for getting better going forward. Their top five are all signed for two more seasons, but they're also all well-paid (Davis is on a rookie deal, but he was a first overall pick so he's making over $5M) and they don't have their first round pick this year because of the Jrue Holiday deal. They would love to trade Eric Gordon to help fill out the roster, but they won't get equal value for him given his contract. This has the potential to be a very good team, in large part because Davis is going to be a superstar, but it won't be easy to add some necessary pieces around him.
  • Holiday. The Pelicans gave up a lot for Jrue Holiday: the guy who had been projected as the top pick in the 2013 draft before he was injured (Nerlens Noel) AND an unprotected first round pick in the 2014 draft (the most loaded draft in a very long time). They're playing well enough that losing the 2014 pick probably won't be TOO painful (barring strange ping pong ball bounces of course), but even a 12 pick in this draft could be very good. So is Jrue Holiday worth it? He's a solid NBA point guard -- but calling him an All Star should asterisk indicating that it happened in the Eastern Conference. He's at best the eighth best point guard in the Western Conference, firmly in the middle of the pack. To be fair, he would still be in the conversation for best point guard in the East if he were still in Philly.
  • NOP. The New Orleans Pelicans appear as NOP in NBA shorthand. But did you know that I used to teach assembly language coding for a big IT company in the 80s? In assembly language, a NOP is a "no operation" command. It tells the computer to do nothing. The more you know.
  • Gordon. Former Clipper Eric Gordon was the centerpiece of the package New Orleans received from the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade. Then New Orleans 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 sidelined Gordon 97 out of 148 games in his first two seasons in New Orleans. Even more unfortunately, he's been pretty ordinary when he has played, posting a PER of 15.4 in 42 games last season (a PER of 15 is considered an average player). At least he's consistent, because he's posting a 15.4 through 52 games this season -- which is long way away from max money production. Gordon's a very solid piece of the Pelicans team right now -- a legit two guard who can score in a variety of ways and get his own shot. But he's the highest paid player on the team, and currently about the fourth best player. That is almost never a formula for success.
  • The trade. It's been mentioned before, but mad props to Neil Olshey for keeping Eric Bledsoe out of the Chris Paul trade and offering Gordon instead. With Gordon coming to the end of his rookie deal and playing like a borderline star, Olshey realized something that New Orleans did not -- borderline stars are the last thing you want heading into restricted free agency. You can't let them go because they might be future stars, but signing them to maximum contracts is terrible also. The Clippers retained Bledsoe, who became a great additional trade chip, and the Pelicans took Gordon, who's contract has become a different seabird -- an albatross.
  • AFA. The other former Clipper sent to New Orleans in the Paul trade, Al-Farouq Aminu, is tough to figure. New Orleans didn't even exercise the fourth year on his rookie deal, but he wasn't in high demand as a free agent this summer so he re-signed in New Orleans for one year at $3.7M. He has started 20 games for them and is one of the best rebounders in the league from the small forward position. He's crazy long and can be a nuisance on defense, but he never showed much feel for the offensive end of the floor as a Clipper, and there's not much indication that he's gotten better there. He averages almost as many rebounds per game (6.5) as points (7.3).
  • A Luke Babbitt sighting. Another small forward in the AFA draft was Luke Babbitt. He wound up with Portland, where he never really cracked the rotation, despite being one of the best shooters around. Portland let him walk and he signed in Russia this season, but he broke that contract in January. As with Kenyon Martin and his China League adventure when the Clippers were trying to sign KMart two seasons ago, there was some controversy with Babbitt and FIBA and whether he could sign elsewhere (FIBA understandably frowns on players walking out on contracts and then playing in other leagues). Babbitt landed with the Pelicans a couple weeks back and is playing a poor man's Ryan Anderson role for the team.
  • 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. Since his arrival in L.A. Paul has influenced the acquisition of his former New Orleans teammate Willie Green. As a rookie, Darren Collison backed up CP3 in New Orleans and now he backs him up in LA. Collison and Jrue Holiday were teammates at UCLA where Collison played the point and Holiday slid over the the two in his only season in Westwoord. As mentioned, we'll also have the rare "father coaching against his son" meeting between Doc and Austin Rivers. And don't forget that Austin was drafted using a first round pick sent to New Orleans in the CP3 trade -- the infamous Minny pick from the years ago Sam Cassell trade (that's correct, Sam Cassell was traded with Doc Rivers' son -- think about that). The newest Clipper, Glen Davis, is from Baton Rouge and played his college ball at LSU.
  • Get the New Orleans perspective The Bird Writes.
  • Shakespearean reference:
    Hamlet -- Act IV, Scene 5 -- Laertes
    To his good friends thus wide I'll ope my arms
    And, like the kind life-rend'ring pelican,
    Repast them with my blood.

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