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Clippers-Heat preview: Taking on the Champs

The Clippers are 5-2 overall and 4-0 against playoff teams from last season as the Heat come to town Wednesday. L.A. has played their best against the best, and the Heat are the defending Champs.

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Jeff Gross
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

November 14th, 2012, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Mario Chalmers
Willie Green SG Dwyane Wade
Caron Butler SF LeBron James
Blake Griffin PF Shane Battier
DeAndre Jordan C Chris Bosh
Advanced Stats through Nov. 13
94.4 (5th of 30) Pace 92.8 (15th of 30)
108.2 (3rd of 30) ORtg 113.6 (2nd of 30)
99.7 (9th of 30) DRtg 108.0 (25th of 30)
Chauncey Billups (Achilles surgery) out
Dexter Pittman (quadriceps) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out

Grant Hill (knee) out

The Back Story:

The teams have yet to meet this season. They split their two meetings last season, each winning at home. They also split a pair of preseason games in China in October.

The Big Picture:

No opponent other than the Lakers captures the attention of Clips Nation, nor indeed of the Clippers themselves, like the defending champion Miami Heat. Since 2010 when LeBron James made "The Decision" to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach, the Heat have been elevated to that Lakers/Celtics echelon that the rest of the league loves to hate. And while the Clippers can still even now feel like an afterthought in L.A., what with that other team signing all the future hall of famers and firing coaches and not hiring coaches and hiring coaches, it's worth noting that on the national stage, Clippers-Heat is a big deal: big enough that the NBA sent the teams to China, big enough that ESPN will broadcast this game (and promote the crap out of it too). The Clippers have been very good against the Heat in STAPLES Center in recent years, winning four straight including their only two L.A. meetings with the LeBron Heat (for more on that recent history be sure to check out Lucas' fine post on those games). The teams also split their China games back in October. The game could come down to a question of which team is able to enforce their will on the other. Miami has gone to a small ball lineup without a true center, playing Bosh at the five and Shane Battier and James at the forwards. In the first game in China, DeAndre Jordan looked a bit lost, perhaps owing to jet lag (not to mention that he did not have Chris Paul throwing him lobs); in the second game, he destroyed Bosh, who simply isn't big enough to handle a guy DJ's size. So which team forces the action tonight?

The Antagonist:

The Heat tried forever to find a big man to play with their big three -- Erick Dampier, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard, Jamaal Magloire, Ronny Turiaf and Eddy Curry among others have been in Miami over the past couple of seasons. And finally they just gave up. They decided to just put more shooters around the big three (signing Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis this offseason), and not worry about playing a center. It worked great in the playoffs last year -- against teams that were just as willing to get another wing on the floor and play donut basketball (with a hole in the middle). Is it the way of the future? We'll find out. Of course, not every team has players the caliber of James, Wade and Bosh to fall back on in their unorthodox approach. James has won three of the last four MVP awards including last season, and if anything he's been even better this year, seemingly making everything he shoots.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Heat are second in the NBA in offensive efficiency and the Clippers are third -- but the Heat score 5.4 points more per 100 possessions than the Clippers! That's a crazy big difference for one spot, and just tells you how well the Heat have been scoring this season. (The only reason they're second and not first is because the Knicks have been even more ridiculous.) The Heat defensive efficiency number definitely looks problematic on the surface -- they certainly didn't win an NBA title last year by having a defense in the bottom fifth of the league -- but when you're outscoring people so easily, you may tend to slack off a bit defensively. Still, 25th is pretty terrible and they clearly should and will be better than that as the season wears on.
  • Good against good teams. The Clippers two losses this season have come against teams that missed the playoffs last season. Against teams that made the playoffs, they are 4-0, with an average margin of victory over 13. The Heat, as defending NBA champs, definitely get the Clippers "A" game, which could spell trouble for Miami.
  • Paul and Griffin. So far the Clippers have managed to beat some good teams without Griffin playing his best, and with Paul picking and choosing his moments. I'm not sure that will work against the Heat. This is an awfully talented Miami team, and the Clippers will need their best players to play well.
  • Well rested. The Clippers are in a strange little lull in their schedule where they have two days off between games for a bit. They should be well rested and fully prepared for the Heat tonight. The Clippers are also still in the midst of an incredibly home-friendly start to the season which seems them play eight of their first nine in L.A. and they have yet to leave the pacific time zone. The Heat on the other hand are on game four of a six game Western road trip, tied for their longest trip of the season. They are also in game three of a tough four games in five nights stretch.
  • Tough stretch. While the pace is somewhat leisurely, the opposition is anything but. The Heat are followed by the Bulls and then a trip to Oklahoma City and San Antonio. That's four straight games against the four best records in the league last season.
  • Giant killers. The Knicks are undefeated. After that, there are two teams in the NBA with just one loss, the Spurs and the Grizzlies. And the Clippers are the team that handed those two teams their only loss.
  • Chasing rings. In the off-season Miami signed two former All Stars, both of them three point specialists, to help them repeat as champions. Ray Allen is the NBA's all time leader in three point field goals and he turned down the chance to stay in Boston for more money in order to come to Miami to win another title (he won with the Celtics in 2008). Lewis is being paid almost $14M this season -- by the New Orleans Hornets; he's being paid the minimum by Miami. Last season he had the third highest salary in the entire NBA behind only Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. What's maddening is that both Allen and Lewis could be great additions in Miami, where Wade and James and Bosh get so much attention and anyone playing with them is bound to get plenty of open three point looks. So far they're doing exactly what they were brought in to do -- they've made 29 of 55 three pointers between them in eight games.
  • Three point defense. The Clippers have been pretty terrible at defending the three point line this season. The three ball was a big part of their two losses, and it has kept a couple other opponents in games. Opponents have made almost 36 percent of their threes against the Clippers, which is a bit over the league average, while Miami is third in three point percentage at 42 percent. Miami is currently tied for the league lead in three pointers made at 71, almost nine makes per game. On the other hand, Miami has been even worse defending the three than the Clippers have, while L.A. has been better than expected shooting the three. This game figures to be tight overall, so if one team can create an advantage from deep it could make a big difference.
  • Matching up. There will be strange matchups all over the floor in this one. LeBron is the toughest cover in the league, and the Clippers will assign Caron Butler to him to begin with, but you can expect to see a LOT of Matt Barnes, as Del Negro will trust him with the assignment more than anyone else. Of course, that leaves Wade to be accounted for as well. Willie Green will draw the initial assignment, but without Grant Hill available, the Clippers' choices will be limited -- Barnes is probably the best choice for both of Miami's stars. Expect to see Eric Bledsoe checking the much taller Wade at some point -- which could be great fun. Jamal Crawford has been incredible on offense for the Clippers this season, but his defense will be exploited against this team. The Clippers will try to hide him on Battier or one of the spot up shooters when he's in, but that will have a ripple effect on the rest of the matchups. Down the stretch, if the Clippers go with Crawford and Barnes for Green and Butler as is often the case, does that leave Blake Griffin on LeBron?
  • More on matchups. At the outset Miami will try to defend Griffin and Jordan with Battier and Bosh. That should not work -- those guys are just giving away far too much size. The Heat will stunt and double the ball, and they have the athletes and the length to recover. How the Clippers punish the Heat for their lack of size, and/or handle the double teams will likely determine this game.
  • Jordan and Bledsoe. Clippers youngsters Jordan and Bledsoe are perhaps the best reasons for optimism in Clips Nation two weeks into the season. Chris Paul is more or less a given, and Blake Griffin has been a tad disappointing so far (though he'll be fine). But Jordan and Bledsoe have made great progress, which was perhaps more expected from Bledsoe than from Jordan. At any rate, either one of those guys can be a major factor in any given game for the Clippers.
  • Crawford, Heat-killer? Jamal Crawford continues to lead the Clippers in scoring and has been incredible so far. During the China games we were listening to the Miami announcers on NBA-TV and they went on and on about how Crawford has owned the Heat over the years. While it's true that Crawford scored his career high of 52 against the Heat, his career average of 16.5 in 33 career meetings is only slightly better than his overall average. Still, if Crawford wants to be a Heat-killer tonight it's fine with me.
  • Get the Heat perspective at Hot Hot Hoops
  • Lyrical reference:

    The Cure -- Hot! Hot! Hot!

    Hey hey hey!!!
    But I like it when that lightning comes
    Hey hey hey!!!
    Yes I like it a lot
    Hey hey hey!!!
    Yes I'm jumping like a jumping jack
    Dancing, screaming, itching, squealing, fevered
    Feeling hot! hot! hot!

    Not strictly speaking a "Heat" lyric, but I couldn't resist the relationship to the Hot Hot Hoops blog name, plus it allows me to bring the Cure into the conversation. In the 80s, there was probably no single band more important to me than The Cure and the Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me double album was easily the most important in my Cure collection. Not because it was the best -- it's a great album, but Head on the Door is more consistent from top to bottom. Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me was simply vital because of the timing -- it was released when Robert Smith and the Cure were riding high and were still very much at the top of their game, and the combination of anticipation and payoff for me was amazing. I looked forward to that album's release for months, and it did not disappoint.