Clippers-Pelicans preview: The buyout bench debut

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Danny Granger could make his Clippers debut tonight as part of a revamped Clippers bench, but suddenly the backcourt is looking thin with Jamal Crawford's status unknown while J.J. Redick is still out.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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40-20

23-35
March 1st, 2014, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
17-9 East 14-10
23-11 West 9-25
24-5 Home 13-14
16-15 Road 10-21
17-13 .500+ 6-25
23-7 .500- 17-10
6-4 L10 2-8
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
98.02 (8th of 30) Pace 94.25 (25th of 30)
109.0 (3rd of 30) ORtg 104.6 (11th of 30)
102.5 (11th of 30) DRtg 106.9 (27th of 30)
Injuries/Other
J.J. Redick (back) out
Ryan Anderson (back) out
Jamal Crawford (strained calf) DTD
Jrue Holiday (leg) out
Danny Granger (new signing) ?
Jason Smith (knee surgery) out

The Back Story (The Clippers lead the season series is tied, 2-0):

Date Venue Final

12/18/13 Los Angeles Clippers 108, Pelicans 95 Recap Box
02/24/14 New Orleans Clippers 123, Pelicans 110 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have been interspersing huge games with significant playoff implications with games against the Pelicans. The beat the West-leading Thunder in Oklahoma City, then played the Pelicans. Then they beat the team directly ahead of them in the standings, the Rockets, and now they're playing the Pelicans again. After this game, they play the Suns, chasing the Clippers in the Pacific Division and a team that handed the Clippers their most embarrassing loss of the season. All those other games are huge -- but you still have to take care of business against the birds. The Clippers beat these guys handily just five days ago, but they also hit a scorching percentage of their three pointers in the process. With Jamal Crawford nursing a strained calf muscle that may keep him out of the game and J.J. Redick still out, the Clippers probably should not be banking on Matt Barnes and Hedo Turkoglu to repeat their three point performances in New Orleans. Instead, it would be nice to see a really solid defensive performance against a tired and frankly overmatched Pelicans squad.

The Antagonist:

The Pelicans lost in Phoenix last night, and have now lost six games in a row and eight of their last nine. Despite some very promising developments on the season and what could be a promising future, the wheels are well and truly off in New Orleans now, as yesterday point guard Jrue Holiday decided to have season ending surgery to repair the stress fracture in his leg, which means he joins Jason Smith and most likely Ryan Anderson in missing the rest of the season. That's three of the team's top seven players, and even great teams don't overcome that sort of misfortune -- young, hopeful teams that are still learning how to win certainly don't. The consolation prize for the Pelicans is that second year power forward Anthony Davis is looking more and more like one of the truly special players in the league. The bad news is that they're going to have to wait until at least next year to try to become a playoff team.

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 27th in defensive efficiency.
  • I guess his shoulder is OK. Second year power forward Anthony Davis left the Pelicans' game on Wednesday night with a strained shoulder and was considered a game time decision for last night's game in Phoenix. He must have felt OK though, as he tied a career high with 32 points in 41 minutes. Will he be feeling the affects of those 41 minutes (not to mention the sore shoulder) on the second night of a back-to-back.
  • Granny and Big Baby. I like calling Danny Granger Granny Danger -- not because it describes him well, but just because it's silly and I like silly things. Which means that the Clippers have added a Granny and a Baby within the last week. Rotations are a long way from being determined, and even if Granger plays in this game, he probably won't play much -- he was not able to sign with the team until after practice yesterday, and therefore will go into the game with nothing more than a walk through and a shootaround under his belt. But even if it will be a few games before Davis and Granger are really ready to contribute, and a few more at least before the rest of the roster is healthy so that the rotations are more set, the Clippers are a deeper team now than they have been this season. Davis and Granger may or may not be as good as we hope -- but they're good, and they're definitely better than some of the players who have been in the rotation.
  • If Crawford's out. The Clippers are already without starting shooting guard J.J. Redick. They may be without his backup, sixth man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford, who left Wednesday's win over Houston just before halftime with what an MRI later revealed to be a mildly strained calf muscle. That calf would likely benefit greatly from a few more days of rest (the Clippers don't play against until Tuesday). If Jamal is out, it will be interesting to see if Doc Rivers goes with Willie Green or Darren Collison in the starting lineup. He choose Collison in the second half against the Rockets, and he responded big time, completely outplaying Houston All Star James Harden in the fourth quarter. Eric Gordon isn't the biggest of two guards, so Collison is certainly an option. Regardless, Collison will certainly play a ton of minutes if Crawford is out -- how much Rivers will use Green and/or Reggie Bullock to rest Collison and Paul remains to be seen. The good news is that the pace of games this week is pretty light, so the likes of Collison and Paul will have plenty of time to recover before the next game if they do play big minutes.
  • The long and round of it. I kind of hope that the two Davises, Big Baby and the Unibrow end up on the court together at some point tonight. Anthony Davis is the modern NBA prototype -- he has the three most important attributes GMs look for these days, length, length and length. But Big Baby comes from a less common but also important NBA heritage, the round but surprisingly athletic for their weight big butt guys. Charles Barkley is the best example, but from John Williams to Oliver Miller, there have long been surprisingly skilled guys who looked nothing like basketball players. Big Baby takes up real estate, he sets massive screens, he's an immovable object on defense, and he can use that big ol' butt to ward off defenders. Length is a great attribute and always will be, but width has it's advantages as well.
  • Make hay while the sun shines. I pointed out before the game in New Orleans a few days ago that the Clippers upcoming schedule is very favorable. Next Tuesday in Phoenix is perhaps the only game in a series of 14 where the Clippers will not be favored to win. First things first, the Clippers can't overlook the Pelicans, but this stretch of games is a real opportunity to gain ground in the playoff race.
  • Shooting. After the win in New Orleans on Monday, the Clippers are now 25-0 when they make nine or more three pointers in a game. But they may not have the shooters to make nine threes in this game if Crawford doesn't play.
  • Doc and Austin. This is getting to be old hat now. This will be the fourth meeting ever, the third meeting this season, and the second in five days, between father Doc Rivers and son Austin Rivers. 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 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 announced Friday that Holiday is out for the season with the stress fracture in his leg. At this point, the season is already a lost cause --- the West is just too good -- so they might as well shut him down. It's a bitter pill for the Pelicans, especially considering how much they gave up to get Holiday: the guy who had been projected as the top pick in the 2013 draft before he was injured (Nerlens Noel) AND an unprotected a top 5 protected first round pick in the 2014 draft. 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 will Jrue Holiday be worth it in the long run? He's a solid NBA point guard -- but calling him an All Star should come with an asterisk indicating that it happened in the Eastern Conference. When healthy, 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.
  • 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:
    King Lear -- Act III, Scene 4 -- Lear
    Death, traitor! nothing could have subdu'd nature
    To such a lowness but his unkind daughters.
    Is it the fashion that discarded fathers
    Should have thus little mercy on their flesh?
    Judicious punishment! 'Twas this flesh begot
    Those pelican daughters.
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