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Clippers-Cavaliers Preview: That's why they're called traps

The Clippers came crashing back to earth in game 3, losing to a team they should have beaten against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night. And now here come the Cavaliers in another trap game.

David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

November 5th, 2012, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Kyrie Irving
Willie Green SG Dion Waiters
Caron Butler SF Alonzo Gee
Blake Griffin PF Tristan Thompson
DeAndre Jordan C Anderson Varejao
Advanced Stats (2011/2012)
89.2 (27th of 30) Pace 91.3 (14th of 30)
108.5 (4th of 30) ORtg 101.1 (24th of 30)
105.7 (18th of 30) DRtg 108.9 (26th of 30)
Chauncey Billups (Achilles surgery) out
Luke Harangody (ankle) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out

Grant Hill (knee) out

The Back Story:

The teams have yet to meet this season. Cleveland won their only meeting last season, 99-92.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers began the season with back to back wins over the Grizzlies and the Lakers -- so naturally they lost to the Warriors in in the third game. When it was announced that Andrew Bogut would not play in that one, the game officially achieved trap status, and the Clippers walked right into it, as is their wont. A similar thing happened last year in the only meeting between the Clippers and the Cavaliers. Eventual Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving did not play, and the Clippers proceeded to lose to a shorthanded and just plain bad Cavs team, 99-92. Let's hope that the combination of having lost a trap game two days ago, plus having lost a trap game the last time the played this team, will mean that the Clippers will be fired up tonight and will avoid another let down. After Saturday's poor performance, they have plenty of room for improvement: defense, rebounding, shooting and turnovers were all a problem against the Warriors -- and most of those have to do with focus and hustle.

The Antagonist:

I must admit, I have yet to see Kyrie Irving play a full game. As I mentioned, he didn't play against the Clippers last season, and Cleveland was not exactly a team I sought out to watch. I will say this -- Irving had better be awfully good if Cleveland thinks they're on the right track, because the rest of the lineup around him is not particularly impressive. Anderson Varejao is a excels at everything except scoring, but the rest of their starting lineup consists of a second year power forward who shot 44% as a rookie, a rookie shooting guard who most people think was a reach with the fourth pick, and a small forward who has spent much of his professional basketball life in the D-League. And it gets really ugly on the bench. Irving is off to a hot start on the season, averaging almost 24 points per game in the first three. Varejao has more rebounds than any other player on the young season, with 45 total in just three games, including individual games of 23 and 17.

The Subplots

  • Video preview with Fear the Sword. Later today I'll be discussing the game with Conrad from SB Nation's Cavs blog Fear the Sword. Stay tuned for more information on that, and feel free to leave questions for myself or Conrad in the comments here.
  • Comparison of key metrics. Cleveland wasn't good last season, but they were consistent. They were bad both on offense and on defense.
  • Getting Griffin going. Blake Griffin, who has averaged more than 20 points per game in each of his first two seasons in the NBA, has yet to score as many as 20 in any game so far this season. It's early yet, but so far Griffin is struggling to finish around the basket, something that he has always done well. He's shooting just 38% from the field over the first three games. Seems like maybe he's due for a breakout game.
  • A lean stretch. The Clippers have only beaten the Cavs once in their last 11 meetings over the past six seasons. For four of those seasons, the Cavaliers had a guy named LeBron James. But even in the last two seasons since James has been gone, and even while the Cavs were setting a losing streak record, the Clippers have somehow managed to lose to them. It doesn't make a lot of sense.
  • Bench strength. The Clippers beach should definitely dominate the Cavs second unit when they come in. Of course that's what we said about the Warriors game too.
  • Last year. In last season's Clippers loss in Cleveland, Antawn Jamison scored 27 and Ramon Sessions scored 24. Those guys are no longer with the Cavs, so I guess that's good news.
  • Ryan Hollins. New Clipper big man was with the Cavaliers when the teams met last season, but Hollins did not appear in the game. Hollins appeared in 24 games with the Cavs last season before being waived and picked up by the Celtics.
  • Jamal Crawford. Crawford has been the Clippers best offensive player so far this season (I won't say best player, as his defense definitely leaves much to be desired). He's led the team in scoring in all three games (tied with Chris Paul on Saturday) and is averaging almost 26 per game. The Clippers are clearly a better team with him on the floor right now.
  • The Two Guard. We knew the issue would arise prior to Chauncey Billups' return and indeed it has: what exactly is the point of starting Willie Green at shooting guard? Crawford clearly needs big minutes, and Eric Bledsoe needs to do more than simply back up Chris Paul at the point. I can see no good reason not to take the minutes currently going to Green and distribute them among Crawford, Bledsoe and Matt Barnes. Green will be out of the rotation soon enough once Billups (and even Grant Hill) are healthy, but I'd vote for sooner rather than later if it were a democracy. Green was minus 13 in just 16 minutes of playing time in a four point loss Saturday. Ouch.
  • Bad losses. The mark of good teams is that they avoid letdowns. Playing at home against a team that is missing key players is a game good teams have to win. Their home loss against the Warriors last season was one of the Clippers worst losses of the season. Let's hope Vinny Del Negro and especially Chris Paul remember that game and take care of things tonight.
  • Get the Cavs perspective at Fear the Sword.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Michael Jackson -- She's Out of My Life

    It's out of my hands, It's out of my hands
    To think for two years, she was here
    And I took her for granted, I was so cavalier
    And the way that it stands
    She's of of my hands

    I was not the biggest Michael Jackson fan by any means, but it's difficult to understate the importance of the Off the Wall album to my generation. Thriller sold more copies -- though it was an inferior album frankly -- but Off the Wall was the one that really established Michael. Then it all got weird of course.