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Clippers-Magic preview: the get-away trap game

The Clippers are tied for the best record in the NBA and leave on a three game road trip that starts a month where they spend almost all of their time on the road. The Magic have lost 10 in a row. Can you say "trap game"?

Sam Greenwood
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

January 12th, 2013, 12:30 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
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Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jameer Nelson
Willie Green SG DeQuan Jones
Caron Butler SF Arron Afflalo
Blake Griffin PF Andrew Nicholson
DeAndre Jordan C Nikola Vucevic
Advanced Stats through games of Jan. 10
92.1 (10th of 30) Pace 91.5 (16th of 30)
110.2 (4th of 30) ORtg 102.6 (24th of 30)
100.7 (3rd of 30) DRtg 106.0 (17th of 30)
Grant Hill (knee) GTD
Hedo Turkoglu (hand) out
Chauncey Billups (ankle) out
E'Twaun Moore (elbow) questionable
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
Glen Davis (shoulder) out

Gustavo Ayon (thigh) out

Al Harrington (knee surgery) out

The Back Story:

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

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have won 20 of their last 22 games and are tied for the best record in the NBA. The Magic have lost 10 in a row, the longest active losing streak in the league and are missing their second leading scorer. So why am I worried about this game? There could be a tendency for the Clippers to come out flat in this game. They were lackluster in the win over Dallas on Wednesday, the game is a 12:30 tip which is always a little screwy. (I actually wonder why they didn't move the tip to later -- I assume there was originally a hockey game scheduled in the evening but that was cancelled long ago. Maybe the Clippers wanted the early tip so they could head to Memphis and have more time before their showdown with the Grizzlies.) Oh yeah, did I mention that the Clippers go on the road Monday for games in Memphis, Houston and Minnesota? So yeah, a day game against a struggling team at home directly before a tough trip? It's a trap. Hopefully the Clippers don't fall in, and come out with a sense of purpose from the opening tip. Their record home winning streak and the best record in the league are both on the line. Take care of business here before worrying about Memphis on Monday.

The Antagonist:

It's been a bit of a roller coaster for the Magic this season. After the four team trade that saw Dwight Howard leave the Magic kingdom, the roster looked to be among the worst in the league. In a four team trade, if three of the teams come out ahead on talent, then you know that the fourth one came out way, way behind. Still, against all odds they opened the season with a couple of wins -- and then they lost seven of eight. Then in mid-December they won seven of 10 including an emotional win over Howard and the Lakers in L.A. And since then they've lost 10 straight. Losing Glen Davis to a shoulder injury didn't help, and they've had several other injuries as well. There has been good news. Arron Afflalo has been pretty good (though is still laughable as the centerpiece in a trade involving Howard) and second year pro Nikola Vucevic (also included in the Howard trade) has been better than expected as their new starting center, especially on the boards. Rookie Andrew Nicholson has provided great production for the 23rd pick in the draft, and has been their best scorer on a per minute basis this season. But let's face it, we're looking for scraps in the aftermath of the Howard trade here. This team was the Eastern Conference champ four years ago, and now they just don't have the talent to compete on a nightly basis. It's more than a little sad.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers are third in defensive efficiency and fourth in offensive efficiency. Only the Spurs come close to being as good on both sides of the ball, and they trail the Clippers in both categories.
  • Best record in the NBA. As long as the Clippers keep winning they'll maintain their lead over the Thunder for best record in the NBA. But the Thunder are keeping the pressure on, and once again equaled the Clippers with their win over the Lakers last night.
  • The road beckons. After this game the Clippers will have played 22 home games compared to 15 road games, passing Oklahoma City for the most home-friendly schedule in the NBA to this juncture. That changes in a hurry heading up to the All Star break. The Clippers hit the road for most of the rest of January, and then of course there's the annual Grammy trip at the beginning of February. All told, the Clippers play 15 of their next 19 games on the road. Wow. I guess the good news is that (a) the Clippers have been pretty good on the road this season and (b) if they make it to the All Star break in good shape, the remaining schedule will be comparatively easy.
  • Bledsoe. One little remarked upon stat from the last Clippers game was the season-low 8 minutes from Eric Bledsoe. With just two games scheduled for the week and his team playing poorly and trailing the Mavs, coach Vinny Del Negro eschewed his usual rotation and played Chris Paul the entire second half. I get it -- leaving Paul in the game, in a situation where he had plenty of rest before and could get plenty of rest after, makes a ton of sense. But it just points out all the more blatantly the misuse of resources that results from starting Willie Green. The idea that every extra minute Paul plays is a minute Bledsoe doesn't play is problematic when you consider that these are the first and third most productive players on the team. And playing Green (one of the least productive players on the roster) 15 minutes while playing Bledsoe 8 minutes is beyond problematic -- it's flat dumb.
  • Record against the West. In an unexpected twist, the Magic have been much better this season against teams in the Western Conference than they have against the East. That's opposite the league-wide norm, which has the West winning 60% of inter-conference games. The Magic are just 5-15 against teams in their own conference, but 7-8 against the West, including wins over the Nuggets, the Lakers, and twice over the Warriors. Actually, the Clippers should probably send them a nice thank you note for that last bit.
  • Keeping games close. Like the Clippers last victim the Dallas Mavericks, although the Magic have lost 10 straight, they've been very close in many of those games. In their last five games, the biggest final margin was eight points, they have two overtime losses, and two other losses of two and three points. Wednesday night in Denver they led the Nuggets most of the way before finally losing in the fourth quarter.
  • Bruin-Trojan combo. For the second game in a row, the Clippers will face a team starting one UCLA Bruin and one USC Trojan. Dallas (with Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo) and Orlando (with Afflalo and Vucevic) are the only teams who can make that claim, not surprisingly. Afflalo was born and raised in L.A. playing his high school ball at Centennial High in Compton before matriculating to Westwood. Vucevic is Montenegrin but played one year of high school ball in Simi Valley before winding up at USC.
  • Vucevic on the boards. A couple Mondays back Vucevic grabbed 29 rebounds in a game against the rebounding-challenged Miami Heat. It was an Orlando Magic -- which is remarkable considering that both Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard were dominant centers in Orlando for many, many years. Vucevic is currently sixth in the NBA in rebounds per game, which is surprising for a guy who was drafted as a shooter. Orlando may have gotten more in the deal than we first suspected.
  • Grant Hill. Grant Hill, who has yet to play a regular season game this year, has had several full speed practices at this point and could make his Clippers debut tonight. Of course we said the same thing on Wednesday, and obviously the Clippers are being conservative with him, but this seems like a good night for him to make his debut. It would be nice to get him on the court, as he could be a valuable defender against Rudy Gay on Monday or James Harden on Tuesday.
  • Turkoglu. Hedo Turkoglu missed 28 games with a broken left hand, but returned to the Orlando lineup in late December. However he has not played well, and was held out of Wednesday's game in Denver apparently because the hand is still not completely healed. It seems likely that the Magic will hold him out of this game as well.
  • DeQuan Jones. I don't follow college hoops as closely as I once did, but I pay some attention. I certainly pay attention to draft prospects, and consequently, it's highly unusual for any player to show up on an NBA roster with whom I don't have at least a passing familiarity. But who the hell is DeQuan Jones? Jones played four seasons for the University of Miami where last year he averaged 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds. Those stats aren't typos. And currently he is starting for the Magic. It's an unlikely story.
  • Choose your adventure. There are three ways this could go today. The Clippers could jump on them early and blow them out from wire to wire. Or they could let the Magic hang around, get serious late and secure the win, similar to the Dallas game. Or finally they could let them hang around, never snap out of it and suffer a really bad close loss. Unfortunately, I think these three scenarios are all about equally likely.
  • Connections. Grant Hill spent seven forlorn seasons in Orlando. He played just 47 of a possible 328 regular season games in his first 4 seasons in Orlando and only had two seasons in seven where he played more than 30 games for the Magic. Matt Barnes was a starting small forward for the Magic in one season of his well-traveled NBA career. Ryan Hollins and Arron Afflalo were UCLA teammates for two seasons. Ish Smith of the Magic is the third best Wake Forest point guard currently in the NBA, behind Jeff Teague and one other guy whose name escapes me.
  • Get the Orlando perspective at Orlando Pinstriped Post.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Good Morning, Mr. Magpie -- Radiohead

    You got some nerve, coming here
    You got some nerve, coming here
    You stole it all, give it back
    You stole it all, give it back
    Good Morning, Mr. Magpie
    How are we today?
    And now you stole it, all the magic
    took my memories

    Are you tired of Radiohead references in this sections yet? I'm not.