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Clippers-Wizards preview: Beware the cellar-dwellers

Chris Paul could make his return in this game, but either way the Clippers better be ready for the Wizards who are playing much better than their overall record would indicate.

Jeff Gross
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

January 19th, 2013, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Eric Bledsoe PG A.J. Price
Willie Green SG Bradley Beal
Caron Butler SF Martell Webster
Blake Griffin PF Emeka Okafor
DeAndre Jordan C Nene
Advanced Stats through Jan. 17
91.9 (11th of 30) Pace 91.6 (15th of 30)
110.5 (4th of 30) ORtg 96.7 (30th of 30)
100.8 (3rd of 30) DRtg 103.4 (8th of 30)
Chris Paul (knee) GTD
Trevor Booker (knee) out
Chauncey Billups (ankle) out
Cartier Martin (knee) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The Clippers won both meetings between the two teams last season.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers last three home losses have come to the Cavaliers, the Hornets and the Magic. Those three teams all have something in common -- they're all under .500 (way under .500, in fact). So here come the Washington Wizards into STAPLES Center, bringing with them the worst record in the NBA. So should we be worried? Hopefully not. Surely the Clippers have gotten the memo by now that they can't take night's off, even when they have to scroll down the standings a bit to find their opponent's name. It also doesn't hurt that the Wizards are on the second night of a very difficult back-to-back after beating the Nuggets in Denver last night. Oh, and in case the Clippers were inclined to take them lightly, maybe they should read that last line -- the Wizards beat the Nuggets in Denver last night. The Nuggets have the best home record in the NBA, and the Wizards just beat them. With John Wall back, Bradley Beal starting to display star potential and veteran bigs Nene and Emeka Okafor, this is NOT an 8-29 team. The Clippers may get Chris Paul back tonight. They managed to win three straight games on the road without Paul, which is great, but they'd still love to have their leader back on the court. If not, then hopefully Eric Bledsoe will bounce back well from his first bad start Thursday night.

The Antagonist:

The Wizards had big plans for this season. Owner Ted Leonsis may have even used the "P" word once or twice when talking about the team. Then they started the season with their two best players, John Wall and Nene, both hurt, and promptly lost their first 12 games. So much for the playoffs. But things are very, very different now. Wall returned to action four games ago, and the Wizards have won four of their last five, with the only loss coming by one point, so they've been every game lately. They even won their second road game of the season, improbably beating the Nuggets last night in Denver. Wall is still on a minutes restriction, and this is the first back-to-back the Wizards have played since his return, so it remains to be seen how much he'll play against the Clippers -- it's even possible that Randy Wittman will sit him out. If he does play, combined with the now-healthy Nene and rookie Bradley Beal who is beginning to tap his big time scoring potential, suddenly this is a very dangerous Washington team, maybe even the team they hoped they had back training camp. Still, it's a tall task the play the Clippers, the team with the second best record in the NBA on the second game of a back to back. If they can pull off the upset, then the Wizards will have accomplished quite the trifecta this month -- they beat the Thunder, the team with the best record in the NBA, on January 7th, then they went on the road to beat the Nuggets, the team with the best home record, last night. Adding a Clippers pelt would be give them quite the hat trick.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. Although they have been playing much better on the offensive end, over the course of the season the Wizards are last in offensive efficiency, by a ridiculous margin. I mean, no one is really close -- the Wizards score about four fewer points per 100 possessions than any other team.
  • On the Road with SB Nation. The official Wizards website,, in partnership with SB Nation, has been producing game preview videos as part of a series they call "On the road..." I taped a segment for them yesterday, which has not yet been posted as I type this, but keep checking as it should be up soon. [Note by Steve Perrin, 01/19/13 3:31 PM PST ] It's posted now.
  • Bledsoe and Wall. There's a lot up in the air with the status of Paul and we don't even know if Wall will play in the second game of a back to back so soon after his injury, but odds are we're going to see college teammates Bledsoe and Wall square off against each other tonight. They could even both be coming off the bench, which would likely put them on the floor opposite each other quite a bit. These guys are both major athletes and complete blurs in the open court. Having them against each other -- no doubt with something to prove, at least in Bledsoe's case since he had to move over to shooting guard to make room for Wall in college -- could produce something special. During their rookie seasons, the two went head to head and Wall put up 25 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists while Bledsoe went for 23, 8 and 6 -- maybe we'll get something like that in this one.
  • Bradley Beal. We're starting to see why the Wizards were willing to use the third pick in the draft on Bradley Beal. Through the end of December he was averaging about 12 points per game and shooting in the mid 30s from the field. In the month of January, he's up to 18.8 points and shooting 46 percent overall. But his three point shooting is the real story -- he's made 26-43 from beyond the arc in 2013. It's like he made a New Year's resolution to shoot better or something -- he missed his last 17 three pointers of 2012, and has been absolutely ridiculous since the calendar turned. Stay home on this guy.
  • Three point shooting. The Clippers have three home losses to sub .500 teams this season, and all three losses have a common theme -- the opponent made a lot of threes (11 or more), and a high percentage (44 percent or better). The good news there is that, other than Beal and Martell Webster, the Wizards aren't a good three point shooting team. In fact, they are 28th in the league in three point percentage, but of course that number doesn't really account for Beal's current torrid shooting.
  • Big front line. The Wizards have been starting Nene and Emeka Okafor together in the front court. Those are two big, long guys, so they have the size to match up with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. It's a common strategy to guard Griffin with length, and Washington has their choice of long defenders to put on him -- but Blake will enjoy a quickness advantage in either case, so he should look to face up and drive around them.
  • Revolving door. Between injuries and general futility, Randy Wittman has been desperately trying to find a combination that works in Washington. The Wizards have started 15 different players this season. The Clippers have only PLAYED 13 players, and have only started eight. The Clippers have only used four different starting lineups this season, with the most common one starting 32 of 40 games.
  • Shooting woes. The Wizards don't have a single player on their roster -- not one, not some scrub who's only played a few minutes, not a seven footer who only dunks, nobody -- shooting over 50 percent from the field. Perhaps more staggering, they only have two guys with effective FG percentage over 50. The Clippers have four guys with overall percentages over 50 and eight with effective percentages that high. No wonder the Wizards have the worst offense in the NBA -- it's hard to score if you can't make shots.
  • Connections. Caron Butler had his best NBA seasons in Washington where he was a two-time All Star. John Wall and Eric Bledsoe were teammates on Kentucky's national championship team that should have won a national championship in 2010, playing in the same backcourt together. Ronny Turiaf and Kevin Seraphin are both French and played in the London Olympics together for Les Bleus. Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza were teammates of Chris Paul and Willie Green in New Orleans.
  • Get the Washington perspective at Bullets Forever.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Pick of Destiny -- Tenacious D

    The wizard and the demon had a battle royale,
    The demon almost killed him with an evil kapow.
    But then he broke his tooth,
    and thus the demon said Ow.

    Cause it's the Pick of Destiny child,
    you know we will be rockin' and completely profane.
    It's just the Pick of Destiny child,
    you know our movie's better than a-Citizen Kane

    So Tenacious D isn't exactly included here for their musical chops. But they do make me laugh, and now that you've watched this video, you can pretty much skip the movie.