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Clippers-Bulls preview: Will seven be lucky this time?

The Clippers haven't had a winning streak longer than six games in 21 years. They go for their seventh straight tonight in Chicago against the Bulls formidable defense.

Stephen Dunn
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

December 11th, 2012, 6:30 PM
United Center
Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Kirk Hinrich
Willie Green SG Marco Belinelli
Caron Butler SF Luol Deng
Blake Griffin PF Carlos Boozer
DeAndre Jordan C Joakim Noah
Advanced Stats through games of Dec. 9
92.1 (14th of 30) Pace 90.3 (26th of 30)
110.5 (4th of 30) ORtg 103.6 (19th of 30)
102.1 (7th of 30) DRtg 100.5 (3rd of 30)
Chauncey Billups (ankle) out
Derrick Rose (ACL surgery) out
Grant Hill (knee) out
Richard Hamilton (plantar fasciitis) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
Kirk Hinrich (elbow) probable

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The last time the Clippers left on a four game road trip they were riding a five game winning streak. That trip started great, with a win in San Antonio and quickly went south from there. At the start of this trip, the Clippers are on a six game winning streak -- their second such streak of the still young season -- and heading into Chicago. This trip has the potential to be very different for a few reasons. First of all, the competition is not nearly as good. After Chicago, the Clippers play three Eastern Conference teams who all missed the playoffs last year. In addition to the schedule, Blake Griffin has started to play more like the Griffin we knew from his first two seasons in the league. The Bulls are missing their starting backcourt of Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich is hurting as well. This game is there for the taking. Can the Clippers get their first seven game winning streak in over 20 years?

The Antagonist:

The Bulls have weathered the storm of missing Derrick Rose very well so far. At 11-8 the team sits in the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference, which has got to be beyond their hopes heading into the season without the 2011 NBA MVP. Rose is still weeks away from being able to practice, but his rehab is progressing. If the Bulls can get him back integrated into the lineup at the end of the regular season so that he's rounding into shape for the playoffs, this could still be a very dangerous team in the East. The Clippers catch a scheduling break to be playing the Bulls twice in the first six weeks of the season before any potential Rose return. With Rose out, the Bulls rely on their formidable defense (third best in defensive efficiency in the NBA) and on their still impressive front court of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng with Taj Gibson off the bench. The Bulls offense struggles without Rose -- but the defense is so good that it will likely keep them afloat until they get their star back.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. After facing some of the worst defenses in the league in their last couple of games, the Clippers will now face one of the best.
  • A Tribe Called Bench. I'm not sure I'm down with the nickname, but you have to love what the Clippers reserves have been doing. Eric Bledsoe is quite simply one of the most productive players in the league during his limited minutes (he's got the eighth best PER in the NBA among players playing more than 200 minutes) and Jamal Crawford is a scoring savant. With Matt Barnes providing the glue, Lamar Odom rounding into shape and Ronny Turiaf quietly playing great ball, the Clippers bench has quite simply won the last two games, breaking open close ones in the fourth quarter and giving the starters the rest of the night off. Chicago doesn't play their reserves nearly as much, but it should be no contest when both benches are in.
  • ESPN game. Last week we pointed out just how great the Clippers have been in nationally televised games this season. Hopefully that trend will continue tonight. The game is on ESPN, and the Clippers have tended to put on a show when they've been on the worldwide leader.
  • Lawler's Law. The Clippers have broken the century mark, thereby invoking Lawler's Law, in all six games of their current winning streak. They are 12-3 when scoring over 100 this season, 2-3 when held under 100. The Bulls on the other hand have only given up 100 points five times this season (once to the Clippers) and are 2-3 in those games. They've only given up 100 once at home.
  • December to remember. The Clippers are undefeated, 6-0 in December. With a December schedule devoid of upper echelon opponents, they have a chance to put together one of their best months in franchise history. More importantly, they can get some separation with their division rivals (they could go six full games up on the Lakers tonight, though the Warriors remain right on their heels) and make up ground in the Western Conference as well.
  • Griffin on the loose. After shooting .495 from the field in the first 16 games, Griffin has made close to 64 percent of his field goals over the last four, raising his field goal percentage on the season to .527. He's been attacking the basket like we remember from his first two seasons, but also hitting jumpers and showing great patience at the same time. Against Carlos Boozer he should be able to do pretty much anything he likes.
  • Playing time discrepancy. The minutes distribution for these two teams could scarcely be more different. Luol Deng and Joakim Noah are first and second in the league in minutes per game at approximately 41 and 40 minutes respectively. The Clippers on the other hand are led in playing time by Chris Paul -- at 33.4 minutes per game, which is tied for 50th in the league. With Hamilton and Rose hurt, the Bulls have essentially an eight man rotation -- the Clippers continue to play ten every game, even with Billups and Hill out. The irony here is thatVinny Del Negro supposedly ran into trouble in Chicago for playing Noah too many minutes (albeit when Noah was returning from injury). Looks like Tom Thibodeau is doing the same thing.
  • First meeting. The Clippers dominated the first meeting of the season between these two teams, winning every quarter and never trailing after the first quarter. But as usual, it was the bench who really got things going. L.A. broke the game open with a 15-4 start to the second with all five starters on the bench. Jamal Crawford scored 17 points in the quarter against his old team on his way to 22 in the game and Griffin scored 26. The Bulls were pretty awful all game long, shooting less than 34 percent from the field. They won't be that bad in this one.
  • Depleted Bulls backcourt. With starters Rose and Hamilton out, the Bulls have depth issues in the backcourt. In fact, in addition to the big minutes from Deng and Noah, Marco Belinelli has played 40 or more in each of the last three games in the absence of Hamilton. Hinrich hurt his elbow in their last game but is expected to play in this one, which is good news, as they'd be down to two healthy guards beyond rookie Marquis Teague otherwise.
  • Clippers-Bulls recent history. The Clippers have had very good success against Chicago over the last dozen seasons or so. In their last 24 meeting, the Clippers are 17-7. Of course with this being the team that let Vinny Del Negro go a couple season's back, you can be fairly certain that the team will be well prepared for this game. Vinny's not likely to let them come out flat against Thibodeau and the Bulls.
  • Connections. Jamal Crawford played his first four seasons in Chicago. Eric Bledsoe and Derrick Rose and Marquis Teague all played for John Calipari in college. Rip Hamilton and Caron Butler both played for Jim Calhoun at Connecticut. Ronny Turiaf and Joakim Noah are both French -- Turiaf was the starting center for Les Bleus this summer in London as Noah missed the Olympics with an injury. Vladimir Radmanovic of the Bulls played for the Clippers 2006 playoff team. And of course Del Negro coached the Bulls to the playoffs for two seasons before becoming the head coach in L.A.
  • Get the Chicago perspective at Blog a Bull.
  • Lyrical reference:

    A punch-up at a wedding -- Radiohead

    Hypocrite opportunist
    Don't infect me with your poison
    A bull in a china shop
    When I turn 'round you stay frozen to the spot
    You had the pointless snide remarks
    Of hammerheaded sharks
    The pot will call the kettle black
    It's a drunken punch-up at a wedding

    This song comes from Radiohead's Hail to the Thief album. After the experimentation of Kid-A and Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief moved a bit back in the direction of accessibility. But while OK Computer managed the high wire act of being almost immediately enjoyable despite it's complexity, these albums all require some getting used to. This is not what you would call easy-listening music, verging at times on the self-indulgent -- Yorke and Greenwood making music for themselves and no one else. But after a while you start to get it.