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Clippers-Warriors preview -- The earliest must-win game in the history of the NBA

The Clippers need to work on rebounding and defending against three point shooting -- two things the Warriors do very, very well. So let's be optimistic and assume we see terrific progress tonight after a bad loss on opening night.

Ezra Shaw
2013/2014 NBA Regular Season

October 31st, 2013, 7:30 PM
TNT, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
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Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Stephen Curry
J.J. Redick SG Klay Thompson
Jared Dudley SF Andre Iguodala
Blake Griffin PF David Lee
DeAndre Jordan C Andrew Bogut
Advanced Stats (2012-2013 Season)
91.1 (19th of 30) Pace 94.5 (4th of 30)
110.6 (4th of 30) ORtg 106.4 (11th of 30)
103.6 (8th of 30) DRtg 105.5 (14th of 30)
Maalik Wayns (meniscus surgery) out
Harrison Barnes (foot) out

Festus Ezeli (knee surgery) out

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

On Tuesday the Clippers lost to the Lakers by 13. Yesterday, the Lakers lost to the Warriors by 31. Tonight, the Clippers face the Warrior, and my computer like mind tells me that -- the Clippers will win! Unless they lose by 44. Not a lot went right for the Clippers on Tuesday, but they don't seem to be panicking (unlike the citizens of Clips Nation, who seem ready to trade pretty much anyone on the team based on a single game). After the game, and Wednesday in practice, they were talking about trusting the defensive system, trusting their teammates, not breaking down and reverting to old habits. Given that one of their old habits is to defend three point shooters poorly, they'd best start trusting and executing things pretty darn soon, or the Warriors will rain threes on them. In the new upside-down Pacific Division, the Clippers and Warriors are expected to finish first and second as they did last season, when the two teams played some crazy games against each other. The last three games between these two teams have featured one massive blow out for each team, and two absurd shooting displays by the king of the absurd shooting display, Steph Curry. Honestly, it's anybody's guess as to what happens next.

The Antagonist:

The Warriors finished last season with 47 wins, their second highest win total in 19 years. They then went on to upset Denver in the first round of the playoffs, before putting a scare into the Spurs, the eventual Western Conference champs. In the process, they actually scared every team in the NBA, as in "Holy crap, if those guys are making shots there's no stopping them." The Warriors' backcourt of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson is one of the best shooting duos in the history of the league. Truthfully, Curry and Air Bud would be in the discussion for best shooting backcourt in the league -- the fact that some people argue that Thompson is a better pure shooter than Curry (he's not by the way, but he is awfully good) tells you just how devastating they are collectively. Complementing the Curry/Thompson backcourt, the Warriors have David Lee (a 2013 All Star), Andre Iguodala (a 2012 All Star and 2012 Olympian) and Andrew Bogut (a 2010 3rd Team All NBA selection); this is one loaded roster.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. You tend to think of the Warriors in terms of their offense, and given their deadly shooters it's understandable. But Golden State was actually slightly above average as a defensive team last season, a significant improvement over the year before. The addition of Iguodala and the improved health of Bogut has the potential to make them an even better defensive team.
  • The Questionable Blogger. I exchanged a few questions with Nate Parham of the SB Nation Warriors blog Golden State of Mind earlier in the week. Be sure to read Nate's answers to my questions, and check over there for my answers to his questions.
  • A rivalry is born. The Clippers and Warriors are historically two of the least successful franchises in the NBA. Since the 1994-95 season, the Clippers have been to the Playoffs four times -- and the Warriors have been twice. Think about that for a moment. The Clippers have twice as many Playoff appearances as the Warriors in Lucas Hann's lifetime. No other NBA franchise has had less success over the same time period. But in the new, upside-down Pacific Division, these are the new Division powers, and it figures to be that way for awhile. The Clippers and Warriors each went to the playoffs last season, and they each have young, talented cores signed for the long term. Meanwhile, the Suns, Kings and Lakers are at three distinctly different stages of the rebuilding process -- the Suns just blew it up, the Kings blew it up a couple years ago and hope they're on the right path but are far from their destination, and the Lakers are about to blow it up. The Clippers and Warriors have the dance floor to themselves for awhile.
  • This is a perfect time to panic. The Clippers and their fans should definitely be in a full-blown state of panic over their loss to the supposed-to-struggle Lakers without Kobe Bryant. And the Miami Heat and their fans should definitely be panicking over their loss to the supposed-to-be-one-of-the-worst-teams-in-the-history-of-the-league 76ers. And the Bulls who got Derrick Rose back should panic over their embarrassing loss to the Heat. Basically, we're two days into the season, and everyone needs to panic.
  • Chris Paul. Paul was 5-13 for 15 points on opening night. He was outscored by Jordan Farmar of the Lakers. Paul hates to lose, especially when he feels he hasn't played well, and he was far from his best on Tuesday. He'll have a chip on his shoulder tonight, you can count on it.
  • Blake Griffin. One amazing thing about Griffin is that even when he is playing poorly, he can usually put together some numbers just on easy plays. He led the team with 19 points on Tuesday -- but he certainly didn't have a good game. The Clippers desperately need for things to start clicking with Griffin again if they hope to reach their potential this season.
  • Closing out shooters. It goes without saying that you have to close out on Curry and Thompson. Actually, that's not correct, because closing out on them implies that you left them at some point, which you can't do. Curry set the all time NBA single-season record with 272 three pointers last season and he has the second highest career three point percentage in NBA history (.446). Thompson was third in the NBA last season in three pointers made with 211, and is .406 for his career. I guess the good news, if there is any, is that with Harrison Barnes currently hurt, the Warriors don't really have other guys who will kill you from deep, so you can really focus on Curry and Thompson. It does not however bode well that the Lakers made 14-29 threes against the Clippers, nor that Thompson made 5-7 against the Lakers.
  • Making shots. You can analyze matchups all day long, dissect strengths and weaknesses. There's little question in my mind that the Clippers are the better team between these two and would win more games than they would lose over time. But any individual game may come down to how the Warriors shoot. Curry and Thompson are the kinds of shooters who can make shots no matter how well you defend. Some nights they make everything -- other nights, the ball doesn't go in as much. If the Warriors are making shots, they're tough to beat, and the game may just come down to that simple fact.
  • The Warriors and injuries. As Nate Parham pointed out, the Warriors have two important starters that have had a troubling history of injuries. Curry has injured his ankles numerous times since coming into the league, and ankle injuries kept him out of 56 40 games two seasons ago (though tanking for a draft pick that ended up being Barnes was certainly a factor there as well). Bogut, who the Warriors just signed to a 3 year/$36M extension, has suffered myriad injuries in recent years, and has missed 180 games in the past five seasons. If those guys are healthy and productive, life is good in Oakland. If not? Less so.
  • The Lee conundrum. David Lee puts up stats. He led the league in double-doubles last season, and is a darling of various advanced metrics like PER and Wins Produced. But when Lee was injured in Game 1 of the first round series against Denver last year, the Warriors went on to win four out of five games without him, after losing the game he started. Lee is a talented offensive player who can score around the basket, hit a face up jumper, and is a fine passer. But he's also a famously bad defender, who was embarrassingly singled out in a research paper at the Sloane conference last year. I'm not prepared to say that the Warriors are better without him on the floor -- but when you win your playoff series AFTER your team's only All Star selection is injured, it doesn't speak well of said All Star.
  • Rebounding woes. The Lakers were a terrible rebounding team in pre-season. On Tuesday, the outrebounded the Clippers by 12. The Warriors were a very good rebounding team last year and outrebounded the Lakers by 9 on Wednesday. The Clippers need to fix their three point defense and their rebounding pretty much immediately or it's going to be a long night. It doesn't help that Griffin has been declining as a rebounder each year -- and that Doc Rivers played only two bigs in the first game.
  • Mulligan. Maybe the Clippers should ask for a do over on signing Byron Mullens. When they signed him, I wasn't sure how much they were going to get out of him this season -- but I wasn't figuring on nothing. Mulligan did not figure in Rivers' opening night rotation as Rivers went small whenever Griffin or Jordan weren't on the floor. For all of his quirks and terrible shot selection, he's actually not a bad rebounder -- not much worse than Griffin on a per minute basis last season. Maybe trot him out there for a few minutes, Doc.
  • The bright spot. DeAndre Jordan had 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots Tuesday and seemed to "get it" on defense. There's a long way to go obviously, but he's been a bright spot at every step so far -- camp, pre-season, and opening night.
  • Connections. Clippers super sub Jamal Crawford spent most of a season in Oakland between his stints in New York and Atlanta. Matt Barnes really solidified himself as a viable NBA player on the We Believe Warriors of the 2007 playoffs. Newest Clippers Antawn Jamison began his career in Oakland 15 years ago. Warriors coach Mark Jackson was a Clipper back in the early 90s. The two coaches tonight were traded for each other back in 1992, with Rivers leaving and Jackson joining the Clippers. Harrison Barnes (who won't play tonight) and Clippers rookie Reggie Bullock (who probably won't play either) were teammates for a season at North Carolina when they were both freshman. The Clippers can thank the Warriors for DeAndre Jordan's current contract, as he signed an offer sheet with Golden State in 2011 which the Clippers matched.
  • Get the Warriors perspective at Golden State of Mind.
  • Shakespearean reference:

    Sonnet XXV

    Let those who are in favour with their stars
    Of public honour and proud titles boast,
    Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
    Unlook'd for joy in that I honour most.
    Great princes' favourites their fair leaves spread
    But as the marigold at the sun's eye,
    And in themselves their pride lies buried,
    For at a frown they in their glory die.
    The painful warrior famoused for fight,
    After a thousand victories once foil'd,
    Is from the book of honour razed quite,
    And all the rest forgot for which he toil'd:
    Then happy I, that love and am beloved
    Where I may not remove nor be removed.

    Now, who can tell me some of the characteristics of a Shakespearean sonnet? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? They have ... how many lines....? ... 14 ... And they're in iambic ... what? Anyone? Not schmiambic schmentameter but .... that's right, iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter. Good.