Clippers-Hawks preview: Lucky number seven

Kevin C. Cox

The Clippers are on a season high six game winning streak as the ice cold Atlanta Hawks come into STAPLES Center. Is another blowout on the way?

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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vs
Atl_70_medium
43-20

26-34
March 8th, 2014, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
17-9 East 18-19
26-11 West 8-15
25-5 Home 17-11
18-15 Road 9-23
22-14 .500+ 8-24
21-6 .500- 18-10
8-2 L10 1-9
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jeff Teague
Darren Collison SG Kyle Korver
Matt Barnes SF DeMarre Carroll
Blake Griffin PF Paul Millsap
DeAndre Jordan C Elton Brand
Advanced Stats
98.03 (8th of 30) Pace 99.98 (2nd of 30)
109.3 (2nd of 30) ORtg 103.7 (15th of 30)
101.6 (8th of 30) DRtg 104.1 (17th of 30)
Injuries/Other
J.J. Redick (back) out
Al Horford (pectoral) out
Jamal Crawford (strained calf) probable
Gustavo Ayon (shoulder) out
Jared Dudley (back spasms) ?
John Jenkins (back) out

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

Date Venue Final

12/04/13 Atlanta Hawks 107, Clippers 97 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers haven't suffered a bad loss in almost three months. They lost to the Hawks in Atlanta way back in early December, but at the time, before Al Horford and various other Atlanta bigs were injured, it didn't seem so bad. Losing to the Hawks now would definitely qualify, but not to worry, it's not going to happen. I might be more concerned if the Clippers weren't motivated, but there's no way they are going to be swept by Atlanta this season. Jamal Crawford should be back tonight to face his former team, and the Clippers bigs should run roughshod over an Atlanta frontline missing Horford and Gustavo Ayon. Paul Millsap used to give Blake Griffin some trouble, but Griffin has had his way with the undersized Millsap for some time now, and Millsap still hasn't experienced this latest version of Griffin. The Clippers will need to defend the three point line, but on the whole, they just have too much firepower for the Hawks to deal with, and a season high seventh straight win is almost inevitable.

The Antagonist:

The Hawks may not be the worst team in the NBA, but they certainly are the coldest right now. Atlanta has lost 13 of their last 14 games, but here's the crazy thing -- they're still the eight seed in the East! Pretty comfortably in fact. There are seven teams in the East with a winning percentage below .400 -- so it's not clear that there's enough time for the Hawks to suck enough to actually get into the lottery. Sometimes you just wait too long to suck, and all the other teams get a sucking head start on you and then you find yourself in a suck hole. Strangely, the Hawks continued to play pretty well for a time even after Horford, their best player, went down. They were 7-7 in the first 14 games without Horford, but are the aforementioned 1-13 in the last 14. Seems as if Horford's absence and a rash of other injuries eventually caught up with them. Jeff Teague has had a good year, and Kyle Korver continues to be among the best shooters in the league (though his record 127 game streak with a three pointer did come to an end on Wednesday). But they seem to have hit a wall at this point. It doesn't help their cause that they lost to the Warriors in Oakland last night and will be tired coming into this game.

The Subplots

  • Overconfidence. Citizen John Raffo chided me for my overconfidence prior to the Lakers game when I said that consecutive wins six and seven were in the bag. How's that overconfidence looking now? Obviously I could be wrong and it's going to hurt if I am, but the Clippers seem to be in a place right now where they're not going to play a flat game and lose to a bad team. The Hawks have lost 13 of 14 -- that qualifies as a bad team. The fact that they played last night just makes it all the more certain. Besides, the blogger can be overconfident, so long as the team is just confident.
  • Blowout City? By now most citizens of Clips Nation know that the Clippers are the darlings of John Hollinger's automated power rankings and playoff odds. Despite having just the sixth best record in the NBA, the Hollinger system has them as far and away the best team, and gives them the best chance of winning it all, even though they are coming out of the deeper, tougher Western Conference. The simple reason as to why Hollinger's system likes the Clippers so much is because it values margin of victory and it values recent results, and with wins of 48, 45 and 32 among their last 10 games, the Clippers recent MOV is through the roof. It's becoming something of a habit to blow teams out, and back at home against the slumping Hawks, another big win could be in the offing.
  • Hawks plan. I'm not really sure what the Hawks' plan is at this point. They traded away Joe Johnson 17 months ago (just two years after signing him to a terrible contract) and then they allowed Josh Smith to leave this summer. Those were smart moves at some level -- those guys are both wildly overpaid -- but the Hawks somehow wound up with Jared Cunningham as the only asset from the Johnson deal and got nothing for Smith. Meanwhile, Paul Millsap is a very solid player, but they gave him a lot as well. All of which leaves Atlanta squarely in no-man's-land -- destined to make the playoffs (and miss the lottery) in the dreadful Eastern Conference, but in absolutely no position to compete with Miami or Indiana now or in the foreseeable future. A Horford-Teague core is just not going to get you over the top, even if Horford were healthy.
  • Pero Antic. The Hawks are one of several NBA teams to take a chance on a veteran big from overseas this summer (Detroit with Datome and Boston with Faverani are others that come to mind). Pero Antic is a 31 year old rookie from (the former Yugoslav republic of) Macedonia who has been a productive EuroLeague player for years. He's a big who can shoot with range. Antic stepped into the starting lineup when Horford was first hurt, but shortly after he injured his ankle the wheels really came off in Atlanta.
  • Two straight losses. The Clippers have actually lost two in a row to the Hawks dating back to November of 2012. One thing you have to love about Chris Paul and his LAC teammates is that they seem to have long memories. They definitely find motivation in prior results, and they know it's time to beat Atlanta.
  • FElton. Former Clipper Elton Brand signed with the Hawks in the off-season. He was mostly an afterthought early in the season, registering quite a few DNP-CDs in November. But the rash of injuries to Atlanta bigs have thrust Brand back into the rotation, and even into the starting lineup. But he's a shell of the player he was with the Clippers, averaging less than six points and five rebounds. He's always defended Griffin tough (and very physically) but he may have to take DeAndre Jordan in this game if the Hawks don't want Millsap giving away six inches to DJ.
  • Crawford. Jamal Crawford had his best season in the NBA as a Hawk four seasons ago when he won the Sixth Man Award. In fact it was Atlanta where he found his real NBA niche as a bench scorer; he'd been a starter for most of his career before he landed with the Hawks. Crawford probably should have won his second SMOY award last season when he lost out to J.R. Smith; to my thinking, he's the obvious choice to win it this year. Crawford has missed the last three games resting a strained calf, but reports are that he's doing much better and I would expect he'd like to play against his former team. His length may be helpful defending Korver (or DeMarre Carroll) as opposed to Darren Collison.
  • Willie Green. In addition to Crawford, Clippers guard Willie Green will be playing against his former club. Green had a very solid season in Atlanta two years ago, hitting a career high 44 percent of his three pointers. Green struggled in the starting lineup this season, but lately in the absence Crawford and J.J. Redick Green has provided some capable backup minutes when called upon.
  • Connections. Elton Brand signed with the Hawks this season, his third team in three years. He of course played seven seasons with the Clippers where he was an All Star/All NBA player. Jeff Teague is the second best NBA point guard to ever come out of Wake Forest -- guess who is first. Clippers shooting guards Crawford and Green both played for the Hawks. Clipper coach Doc Rivers spent his first eight NBA seasons in Atlanta, where he was an All Star in 1988.
  • Get the Hawks perspective at Peachtree Hoops.
  • Shakespearean reference:
    Taming of the Shrew -- Prologue, Scene 2 -- Lord
    Hence comes it that your kindred shuns your house,
    As beaten hence by your strange lunacy.
    O noble lord, bethink thee of thy birth!
    Call home thy ancient thoughts from banishment,
    And banish hence these abject lowly dreams.
    Look how thy servants do attend on thee,
    Each in his office ready at thy beck.
    Wilt thou have music? Hark! Apollo plays, [Music]
    And twenty caged nightingales do sing.
    Or wilt thou sleep? We'll have thee to a couch
    Softer and sweeter than the lustful bed
    On purpose trimm'd up for Semiramis.
    Say thou wilt walk: we will bestrew the ground.
    Or wilt thou ride? Thy horses shall be trapp'd,
    Their harness studded all with gold and pearl.
    Dost thou love hawking? Thou hast hawks will soar
    Above the morning lark. Or wilt thou hunt?
    Thy hounds shall make the welkin answer them
    And fetch shall echoes from the hollow earth.
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