Clippers-Heat preview: Homestand

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers are finally home to stay for awhile, but the homestand starts with a tough one -- the defending champion Heat. The Clippers have beaten Miami five straight times in STAPLES, but without Chris Paul it will be a tall order.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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34-17

34-13
February 5th, 2014, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
15-8 East 22-10
19-9 West 12-3
20-3 Home 20-4
14-14 Road 14-9
16-12 .500+ 15-6
18-5 <.500 19-7
6-4 L10 7-3
11-5 noCP3 N/A
Probable Starters
Darren Collison PG Mario Chalmers
J.J. Redick SG Dwyane Wade
Matt Barnes SF LeBron James
Blake Griffin PF Shane Battier
DeAndre Jordan C Chris Bosh
Advanced Stats
97.69 (10th of 30) Pace 99.38 (4th of 30)
108.1 (3rd of 30) ORtg 109.3 (1st of 30)
101.9 (9th of 30) DRtg 94.6 (24th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Chris Paul (separated shoulder) out
None

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

Date Venue Final

11/07/13 Miami Heat 102, Clippers 97 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers lost a game in Denver they really should have won, and they lost it in heartbreaking fashion as Randy Foye hit a long three at the final buzzer. They have to put that game behind them and move on as they face the defending NBA champions, the Miami Heat. The Clippers will be thrilled to be back in STAPLES Center to stay after playing nine of the last 11 games on the road, but this one could feel a bit like a road game also coming at the end of that stretch -- it is their 12th game in 20 days, and that's a lot. Sadly, they've looked fatigued in their last two losses, but those both came on the road. Hopefully the home crowd -- not to mention the marquee opponent and national TV cameras -- will supply them with the energy they lacked in Oakland and Denver. They will need big games from several of their big guns -- Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick in particular -- to beat the Heat. And they'll need a major contribution from a roster spot that has been lacking in contribution this season, small forward. Even if Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley continue to struggle offensively tonight, they can have a major impact on the game if they can slow down LeBron James, even a little bit. The Clippers have done well in the absence of Chris Paul; Paul may be back from his separated shoulder on Friday, but the Clippers could really use him in this one.

The Antagonist:

The Heat have been somewhat underwhelming this season. Their defensive efficiency is barely above the league average. Their margin of victory is fifth in the NBA, behind the Clippers. They're 3.5 games behind the Pacers in the Eastern Conference, which may matter a lot in the postseason -- Miami might not have gotten past Indiana last season without home court advantage, and the Pacers are clearly better. Last week they played the Thunder on national TV in a statement type game, and after jumping out to an early lead, they got absolutely pummeled. So are the Heat worse? They've made some obvious cost-cutting moves since last season, the most significant being that they amnestied Mike Miller. Their signings were of the longshot variety, as they took chances on former top picks Michael Beasley and Greg Oden. But the Heat were 29-14 in early February last season when they went on a 27 game winning streak. Guess what? It's early February and the Heat have 13 losses. Some teams think they can turn it on and off -- the Heat have more or less demonstrated that they can. Let's just hope they haven't turned it on yet.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Heat lead the league in field goal percentage, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, and offensive efficiency. Although their defense has been average overall, there's a sense that they can turn up the pressure at any point (they already lead the league in turnover percentage).
  • Home again, home again, jiggity jig. The Clippers are finally home to stay for a while. After their seven game Grammy trip, they had a couple one night stands at home interrupted by trips to Oakland and Denver over the last four games. All told it was 11 games in 18 days, with travel before and after every game. Now they're in L.A. for their longest homestand of the season, both in terms of games and duration. They play the next five in STAPLES Center, with one of those coming after the All Star break; they don't play another road game for over two weeks. This is pretty significant when you consider that the Clippers are tied with the Thunder for the fewest home losses in the Western Conference (20-3 at home). To date the Clippers have played more road games than any team in the NBA (28) which means they only have 13 left. With Chris Paul back as early as this Friday, this is definitely the time for the Clippers to make a move on the teams ahead of them in the standings.
  • Offensive rebounding. The Clippers have given up 15 or more offensive rebounds in six of their last seven games. They haven't been great on their defensive glass all season, but suddenly they're fatally bad. They're down to 27th in the league in defensive rebounding percentage and dropping fast. The good news is that Miami is a poor offensive rebounding team -- they play small and they rarely miss, so they just don't focus on it -- so hopefully it won't be their downfall in this game, but it's a massive problem lately and definitely cost them a win in Denver.
  • MVP Race. LeBron James has won the MVP in four of the last five NBA seasons, and in some ways he's having an even better season this year. His shooting percentages (.568 from the field, .656 TSP) are simply unheard of for a high-scorer. And yet as of now, he would finish a distant second in the MVP race to Kevin Durant, who has single-handedly carried the Thunder to the best record in the west and is having a completely ridiculous year. Those two have been the best two players in the league for awhile now, and the gap seems to  be widening. No one else comes close.
  • True shooting. Continuing on the point of James' shooting percentage, in the past 35 years, LeBron is the fifth player to average at least 20 points per game while posting a true shooting percentage of 65% or better. The other four were Charles Barkley, Adrian Dantley, Kevin McHale and Amare Stoudemire, power forwards who scored most of their points in the paint and played with their backs to the basket. Now, James is probably taller than either Barkley or Dantley and as strong as any of them, and he's played a lot of four this season. But he's still the only one on the list who is primarily a perimeter player who gets his points facing the basket. He gets plenty of points at the rim on fast breaks and drives, but he also has a deadly mid-range game.
  • Remember 2010? It's seems a bit quaint now, but remember when the Big 3 decided to take their talents to South Beach? At the time there seemed to be an open question as to who would be the top dog for the Heat. Wade had spent his entire career there, so it seemed reasonable to think that perhaps he'd want to be the main man with the game on the line. And for that first season, Miami did seem to struggle a bit figuring out a pecking order. Well that's not a problem anymore. This is LeBron James' team. He leads the team in points, rebounds, assists and minutes per game. He takes the big shots with the game on the line. He wins MVPs. He's indisputably the man, and Wade is a (fantastic) supporting player on more or less the same level as Bosh.
  • Defending James. LeBron is tough for anyone to defend -- he's not the two time defending MVP for nothing. The first time the Clippers met the Heat, Matt Barnes was injured and didn't play, and while Jared Dudley actually did a decent job on James, for some reason Doc Rivers had Willie Green take the assignment when Dudley was resting, and that was of course a complete disaster. Barnes is playing, Dudley can play, and Blake Griffin took some reps on James in the second half in November and held his own as well. None of them are ideal to defend James, but then again, who is? The Clippers at least have a few bodies they can throw at him and try to slow him down, and we certainly know that Barnes and Dudley are going to work hard.
  • Griffin. In years past, when teams have tried to defend Blake Griffin with tenacious small forwards (think Grant Hill at Phoenix) it's been surprisingly effective. You expect that Griffin would overpower them, but they lean and push and stay in front and manage to frustrate Griffin. But this is a new version of Blake Griffin, and I have a feeling that Shane Battier is not going to have the same level of success he's had in the past. A little like Dirk Nowitzki, who was confused and frustrated by smaller defenders at one point in his career, Griffin is developing the right approach for whichever defender a team throws at him. Against Battier, he'll do rim runs and establish deep post up position early in the clock, and he'll be patient on his post ups and look for cutters and shooters when the double comes. I think his game has evolved to the point where he'll destroy Battier if that's what Miami chooses to do. We'll see.
  • Allen and Redick. The NBA player to whom J.J. Redick is most often compared is Ray Allen. Both are elite long range shooters, both work tirelessly off the ball, running their defenders off screens to get open. Rivers coached Allen in Boston for several years and now has Redick as his starting two. The two of them will be opposite each other for long stretches tonight, which will be interesting, as each knows well the tricks to getting open perimeter looks.
  • Three point shooting. The Clippers will have to defend the three point line tonight. Allen, Chalmers, Battier, James, Cole ... heck, pretty much everyone on the roster. Even Bosh takes a couple of threes per game this season and is making them. Chris Andersen and now Greg Oden are essentially the only Miami players currently in the rotation who don't shoot threes.
  • Small ball. The Heat have settled on a starting frontcourt of Battier, James and Bosh, and Udonis Haslem is completely out of the rotation at this point. They've been playing Chris Andersen about 20 minutes a night for the past two months, and they have finally unveiled the Greg Oden experiment for about 10 minutes a night. They are currently playing about half of each game with James (or Battier, take your pick) at the four.
  • Jamesian. I'm not suggesting that Blake Griffin is anywhere close to the player James is -- he's not -- but he is establishing himself as a similarly unique combination of talents. Griffin's new found confidence in the absence of Chris Paul to grab the defensive rebound and immediately head up court leading the fast break is positively LeBronesque. Size, quickness, power, skills, passing -- if there's a player who comes close to James in encompassing the entire package, it's Griffin.
  • Clippers-Heat rivalry. The Clippers have not lost at home to the Heat since December 9, 2007. It is in fact the second longest stretch without a home loss the Clippers have against any team in the NBA when measured in elapsed time -- they last lost to the Bucks a few days earlier, on December 5, 2007. Of course, the Heat are in the Eastern Conference so they only play one game per season against the Clippers in STAPLES, but still, that's a pretty remarkable stretch, especially when you consider the makeup of the Heat over the past three visits. Can they manage to extend that streak even without Chris Paul?
  • Connections. Rivers coached Ray Allen in Boston for five seasons, where they won a ring together. Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo is the only league MVP in Clippers franchise history, having won the honor in 1975 with the Buffalo Braves before the team moved west. Battier and Redick were each Wooden Award winners at Duke and each stayed in Durham four years, but they were never teammates. Redick arrived two seasons after Battier left. Griffin and Beasley were Big 12 adversaries as freshman, when, surprisingly, Beasley was considered the far better pro prospect. Beasley and Dudley were teammates in Phoenix last season.
  • Get the Heat perspective at Hot Hot Hoops
  • Shakespearean reference:

    Sonnet CLIII (153)

    Cupid laid by his brand, and fell asleep:
    A maid of Dian's this advantage found,
    And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
    In a cold valley-fountain of that ground;
    Which borrow'd from this holy fire of Love
    A dateless lively heat, still to endure,
    And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove
    Against strange maladies a sovereign cure.
    But at my mistress' eye Love's brand new-fired,
    The boy for trial needs would touch my breast;
    I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,
    And thither hied, a sad distemper'd guest,
    But found no cure: the bath for my help lies
    Where Cupid got new fire-my mistress' eyes.

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