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Clippers-Pistons preview: The holy grail, 10 straight

The Clippers have never won 10 consecutive games since leaving Buffalo in the 70s. They have a chance to do just that tonight, when they face a Pistons team that has lost four straight and has only one win over a team with a winning record this season.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

December 17th, 2012, 4:30 PM
The Palace at Auburn Hills
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
See Chris Paul and Blake Griffin
Buy Clippers Tickets today
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Brandon Knight
Willie Green SG Kyle Singler
Caron Butler SF Tayshaun Prince
Blake Griffin PF Jason Maxiell
DeAndre Jordan C Greg Monroe
Advanced Stats through games of Dec. 16
91.9 (17th of 30) Pace 90.6 (24th of 30)
110.8 (4th of 30) ORtg 103.0 (20th of 30)
101.7 (7th of 30) DRtg 106.6 (21st of 30)
Chauncey Billups (ankle) out
Grant Hill (knee) out

Trey Thompkins (knee) out

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The Clippers won in overtime in the only meeting between the teams last season.

The Big Picture:

I've been a Clippers fan for a long time. Not quite the entire time they've been in Los Angeles (I was interested, though not exactly a fan when they first arrived), but not long after. That whole time I've never seen them go on a 10 game winning streak. Ten game winning streaks happen -- they don't happen every day, but they happen. And not just for great teams. Mediocre teams get hot or catch some breaks or happen to have a bunch of patsies in a row or whatever and go on 10 game win streaks. But the Clippers never have. I've longed for the 10 game streak. The Clippers might be five games under .500, two-thirds of the way through the season, and you think "if they could just run the table for the next three weeks they'd be right back in the playoff race." But it never happens. Never until maybe tonight. A win in Detroit -- and the Clippers have won nine straight while the Pistons have lost four straight, so it seems like a good possibility -- would give the Clippers their first ever 10 game winning streak, and would put them on the brink of breaking the franchise record for consecutive wins set by the Buffalo Braves in 1974. If they play say half as well as they did in Milwaukee on Saturday the game is pretty much a lock.

The Antagonist:

The once-mighty Pistons have fallen on very hard times. They haven't had a winning record since 2007-08, which not coincidentally was the last full season for Chauncey Billups in Motown. Now five seasons into the post Billups/Wallace/Hamilton rebuilding phase, they're really not getting anywhere. They opened the season 0-8 and after a less terrible stretch where they won half of 14 games, they've now lost four straight. Their record against teams with winning records is 1-10. They're record against the Western Conference is 2-12. The good news is that they may have gotten one of the better players in the draft when they picked up Andre Drummond with the ninth pick. The bad news is that he more or less plays the same position as another promising youngster, Greg Monroe, and the further bad news is that the rest of the team has looked pretty bad. Other than Drummond and Monroe, I'm not really sure there's another keeper on the roster, though to be fair at least point guard Brandon Knight has played better in this his second season.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Pistons are bottom third of the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. That's not good.
  • Clippers on top. By at least one metric, the Clippers are currently the best team in the NBA. Basketball-reference uses a thing they call the Simple Rating System (SRS) which really is pretty simple as the name implies -- it's just margin of victory (MOV) plus strength of schedule (SOS). The Clippers currently have the second best MOV in the NBA, outscoring their opponents on average by a whopping 8.39 points per game. That's better than San Antonio (7.76), New York (7.13) or Memphis (6.29) and trails only Oklahoma City (9.30). But the Clippers have played the sixth toughest schedule so far, while the Thunder have played the fifth easiest and when you add those numbers in the Clippers come out on top in the SRS. Truth be told, the SRS probably doesn't take schedule strength into consideration quite enough, but at least it tries. Of course, none of this matters much, since championships are won in June, not in December. But the point is there is plenty of empirical evidence to support the position that no team has played better than the Clippers to this point this season.
  • Gaining ground. Amazingly, though the Clippers have gained in measures like margin of victory, so many of the other teams in the west have been playing so well that progress in the standings has been slow. Golden State appears to be absolutely for real, having just completed a 6-1 road trip that included wins at Miami, Atlanta and Brooklyn. OKC is the only team with a longer win streak than the Clippers. And while Memphis and San Antonio had the decency to lose some games recently, they're still tied with the Clippers in the loss column. But a little after the Clippers tip off against the Pistons tonight, the Spurs and the Thunder have a showdown, and one of them will have to lose, so hopefully the Clippers are guaranteed to make up a game on one of them tonight provided they take care of their own business.
  • Every win is a new record. The Clippers are in the unique position right now of setting a new record or two with every additional. They're already on the longest win streak in their west coast history, so each win extends that of course. By Friday we could be talking about the franchise mark. Also, 17-6 is the best start in franchise history, so each additional win sets a new mark there as well. With such a dismal history setting the bar pretty low, there are no doubt many more records waiting to be broken this season by what is almost certainly the most talented Clipper team ever.
  • Drummond. Drummond, the young center from UConn who fell to the Pistons in the ninth spot because many teams were worried about his maturity, has been a monster on the boards this season. On a per minute basis, he's the seventh best rebounder in the NBA, and the fourth best offensive rebounder, getting over 5 offensive boards per 36 minutes. He comes off the bench for the Pistons so he may not be matched up with DeAndre Jordan much, but it will be interesting to watch if they do end up facing each other. He is the second youngest player in the NBA, less than 19 and a half, 47 days older than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
  • The advantages of garbage time. Sometimes garbage time is just that. It can be terrible, and it can even be a problem if it re-enforces bad habits for players, or worse yet if someone gets hurt (as Eric Bledsoe may have on Saturday). But garbage time is also a chance for players to practice things that they need to improve on in game situations. One of the perceived benefits of bringing in Lamar Odom was that compared to DeAndre Jordan or Reggie Evans or Kenyon Martin, he could hit a perimeter jump shot. Lamar's not what you would call a stretch four, but he's a better shooter than anyone the team could pair with Griffin last year. Unfortunately Lamar has been abysmal from the outside this season. Until garbage time in Milwaukee on Saturday. He made a perimeter shot for the first time in weeks in the fourth quarter, and then proceeded to drain two straight three pointers -- doubling his season total of threes in a matter of minutes. It really looked like a case of "getting the lid off the basket" -- that first jumper rattled around and didn't look like it wanted to stay in even though it did, but once it went, those threes were pure.
  • Speaking of Bledsoe. Bledsoe landed hard on his hip on a garbage time play and had to leave the game. According to Broderick Turner in the LA Times, he was sore in practice yesterday, but is expected to play today. I'd expect nothing less from Bledsoe.
  • Connections. Some days I have to dig pretty deep to come up with some pretty tenuous connections between the Clippers and their opponent. This is not one of those days. Both Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups were major stars for the Pistons -- it may or may not happen, but you could make an argument for retiring either one's jersey in Detroit. Hill was among the best in the league, but his time in Detroit ended badly, with a career threatening injury that was exacerbated by team doctors giving him bad advice. Billups of course was the Finals MVP when the Pistons won the title in 2004 and made it at least as far as the conference finals six straight seasons in Detroit. And then there's Corey Maggette -- Maggette will eventually be remembered as one of the great Clippers of all time, though we're a little too close to some of his foibles to appreciate him at this point. Maggette had (and has) his flaws, but he always played hard, and he could score the ball. He is the fourth leading scorer in franchise history.
  • Griffin on the all time list. In case you were wondering, Blake Griffin is already, early in his third season as a Clipper, 22nd on the franchise's all time scoring list. That's one of the advantages of playing for a franchise with such a dismal history, especially when it comes to retaining talent. Barring injury, he'll be in the top 20 within a couple months and in the top 15 by the end of the season.
  • Get the Detroit perspective at Detroit Bad Boys.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Baby Got Going -- Liz Phair

    Baby got goin' on a southern train, you know
    Fired up the pistons driving below
    And the whole vibration, seat upholstery
    Silky underwear, oh conductor, let's roll, roll, roll, roll
    Let's roll, roll, roll, roll, roll...!

    I have kids and nieces and nephews and such that I get to talk music with which is nice. And when I come across one of their friends that likes to listen to a Lily Allen or a Kate Nash, I get the distinct pleasure of introducing them to Liz Phair (who is woefully underappreciated, though gratifyingly I do come across some of the younger crowd who know her). 1993's Exile in Guyville is still a go to album for me. Something about a pretty girl with a potty mouth, I dunno.