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Clippers-Nets preview: A post-Celtics reunion

The Nets have struggled this season. Though they did manage a win in Phoenix last night, it came in overtime, while the rested Clippers have had two days off prior to this one.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season

November 16th, 2013, 7:30 PM
NBA-TV, Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Shaun Livingston
J.J. Redick SG Joe Johnson
Jared Dudley SF Paul Pierce
Blake Griffin PF Kevin Garnett
DeAndre Jordan C Brook Lopez Andray Blatche?
Advanced Stats (through games of Nov. 14)
98.1 (5th of 30) Pace 94.7 (15th of 30)
112.1 (2nd of 30) ORtg 99.6 (26th of 30)
108.0 (28th of 30) DRtg 105.2 (14th of 30)
Maalik Wayns (meniscus surgery) out
Andrei Kirilenko (back) doubtful

Deron Williams (ankle) out

Brook Lopez (ankle) out?

The Back Story (teams split two meetings last season):

-- 11/23/12 in Brooklyn | Nets 86, Clippers 76 | Recap | Box Score

-- 03/23/13 in Los Angeles | Clippers 101, Nets 95 | Recap | Box Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers' opening season schedule is very difficult; through games of November 14, they had the most difficult strength of schedule in the league. Based on actual record, their opponent tonight, the Nets, represents one of their easiest game so far -- but it's not like the Nets were supposed to be a bad team going into the season. The Clippers have done well to be 6-3 considering the difficult schedule, but they've actually had more trouble against bad teams than against good teams -- two of their losses have come to the Lakers and the Magic, and they gave up a big lead against the Kings before closing it out for the win. The Clippers have been particularly good at home, where they are 4-0 against four of the best teams in the Western Conference this season. A combination of factors -- the Nets are struggling and playing their second game in two nights, Deron Williams may not play -- could make the Clippers view this as an easy game and take it for granted. Let's hope that doesn't happen, because that's been trouble this season. I don't think that's going to happen, because there's a lot going on with this game -- it's the first game since the Matt Barnes ejection/tweet/fine thing, it's got the storyline of Doc Rivers facing his former players Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and then there's the fact that the Nets are something of a big deal, even if they're not playing well to start the season. I don't think the Clippers will take them lightly, so they should be able to run their home record to 5-0.

The Antagonist:

What is wrong with the Nets? The off-season trade of Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and MarShon Brooks for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry was always going to cost them money and present problems in the long term -- but it was universally viewed as a win in the short term, just a matter of how big a win. Basically, no one expected the Nets to be worse than last season from the get-go, let alone much worse. But that's exactly what has happened. With a starting lineup featuring five players that have all made the All Star team within the past two years plus another All Star coming off the bench, this team is obviously talented. So how do you take five guys who have been 20 point per game scorers in their careers and wind up with the fifth worst offense? It's hard to say for sure. Obviously it's early, and the Nets could very well figure things out at any moment, but there are some legitimate questions of fit and age at play here. Garnett is 37 and Pierce is 36 and Joe Johnson is 32. Pierce and Johnson were teammates in Boston -- 12 years ago! And there is just one ball to go around, so having five scorers on the floor necessarily means that some of them are going to get fewer chances. That's OK if the individuals are all good all around players who are contributing in lots of ways. But for players who are primarily scorers who need the ball in their hands -- which basically means all of the Nets starters except for Garnett -- then there's a point of diminishing returns of putting them on the floor at the same time.

The Subplots

  • Lopez and Williams out. [Note by Steve Perrin, 11/16/13 9:38 AM PST ] It's official on Williams being out with his ankle injury. But it gets worse for the Nets, as Brook Lopez, by far their most productive player in the early part of the season, is out with an ankle problem as well. Of course, the Clippers have had their biggest issues this season (not to mention in prior seasons) when they've been flat against lesser opponents, so all these injuries may not be good news. We'll see.
  • Or not? [Note by Steve Perrin, 11/16/13 11:03 AM PST ] OK, so it's kind of complicated on Lopez. Don't be shocked if the Clipper-killer plays after all. Williams is definitely out.
  • Clips Nation Night! It's a big night citizens. Before the game, we're meeting in Hyde Lounge on the suite level in Staples Center for pre-game drinks. Afterwards, we're playing basketball on the STAPLES Center court. Everything starts at 6:00. You can get all the details here, and find out what team you're on if you signed up to play here. And if you are playing, please fill out the waiver form in advance. Stop and do it now. You've seen that link several times now and you've said to yourself, "I need to remember to do that later." Well do it now, before you forget. Fill out they waiver. You can finish reading the preview after that.
  • The Questionable Blogger. Dennis Velasco of the massively popular Nets blog NetsDaily answered some questions I had about the Nets. He also does a thing he calls E-mailing with the Enemy which is a more back-and-forth format, but the same basic idea. Be sure to NetsDaily to check it out.
  • Comparison of key metrics. It's hard to imagine that the Nets are 26th in the league in offensive efficiency, but that's what they are. But the Clippers' porous defense might help them raise that. (The Clippers are at least getting better -- from 30th, to 29th to 28th in the last few games. Progress!)
  • Williams. Deron Williams, who has been hurting all season which has probably contributed to his poor start, left the game in Phoenix last night after turning his ankle in the first quarter and did not return. There's no official word yet, but I'd be pretty shocked if he played in this one. Watching the play, it wasn't a really bad sprain, but given the issues he's had and the fact that this is a back-to-back, I just don't think the Nets are going to push it.
  • Kidd the coach. Jason Kidd when straight from the court at Madison Square Garden to the coach's office at Barclay's Center. Obviously, playing basketball is very good training for coaching basketball -- better than say, being a lawyer or a fireman. But being an assistant coach, or being a college coach, or being SOME KIND OF COACH would seem to be good additional training. Of course, Mark Jackson is having success at Golden State in his first coaching position of any sort, and Clippers coach Doc Rivers never coached until he took the head job in Orlando, and he has turned out OK. So maybe it's fine. One thing all those guys have in common -- they were all point guards when they played.
  • Celtics reunion. This game of course represents a reunion of sorts for Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Nets players Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (and technically Jason Terry, but come on). Boston made the tough decision to move on an rebuild for the future, and releasing Rivers from his contract so he could coach the Clippers (and getting a first round draft pick in return) was the first domino to fall in that process. Shortly afterwards, Garnett and Pierce and Terry found themselves in Brooklyn where the Nets timeframe for winning (NOW!) syncs up with their ages. Garnett, Pierce and Rivers won a championship together in Boston and were extraordinarily close. It's sure to be an emotional night for Doc coaching against his former players.
  • Garnett and Jordan. A huge part of the drama this summer surrounding the process of Rivers coming to the Clippers was the proposed trade of Garnett for Jordan. The league determined that the trade was linked to the Rivers deal, which is a no-no, and decreed that the deal, and indeed any deal between the Clippers and Celtics, could not be done at the same time as the Rivers agreement. The Nets stepped in with a different offer, and that was that. At the time, it seemed that Garnett would be a big upgrade over Jordan, but about three weeks into the season, Garnett has been terrible and Jordan has been pretty darn good, so it seems like the Clippers dodged a bullet, thanks to David Stern. Garnett, whose career PER is over 23 and who hasn't posted a PER below 19 for a season in 16 seasons, currently has a PER around 6. He's shooting about 30% from the field. Jordan on the other hand is posting a career high PER of over 18. Whenever Stern gets involved in trades, somehow it always works out well for the Clippers.
  • Back-to-back. The Nets played in Phoenix last night and had to go to overtime to pull out their third victory. Joe Johnson played 45 minutes and Paul Pierce played 41. Road back-to-backs are already hard. The second game of a road B2B after an overtime game is really not fair.
  • Oligarch money. For years, Mark Cuban, who made his money in the dotcom boom and is worth about $2.5B, ran the Dallas Mavericks with total disregard for the NBA's dollar-for-dollar luxury tax. But the more punitive tax that started kicking in with the last CBA and which is being fully implemented for the first time this season seems to have gotten his attention, as well as profligate owners of the Knicks and Lakers. But Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov continues to flaunt the luxury tax. Brooklyn's team payroll is over $100M (the 'cap' is around $58M) and all told their luxury tax bill is estimated to be in the $80M range. Prokhorov is worth $13B -- that's the difference between dotcom money and Russian oligarch money. Of course, Paul Allen, the owner of the Blazers is worth even more (15.8B -- that's Microsoft money) and Portland pays attention to the bottom line; someday the Nets may decide that they will be better off spending smart rather than just spending.
  • Brook Lopez. Nets Center Brook Lopez has always killed the Clippers. In eight career meetings, Lopez has shot .608 against the Clippers, his second highest career percentage against any team (he has shot .609 against the Pistons). And unlike Clipper center DeAndre Jordan, Lopez isn't maintaining that shooting percentage with a bunch of dunks and layups -- he hits face up jumpers and tough jump hooks at an amazing rate whenever he plays the Clips. Jordan has been better this season defensively, but Lopez is a tough cover any time, and especially the way he usually plays against the Clippers.
  • Reggie Evans. Former Clipper Reggie Evans is barely in the Nets rotation this season (just four minutes last night in Phoenix in an OT game with Kirilenko hurt) after being a starter for them last season. The Clippers would love a hard-nosed defender and rebounder for their front court -- and Reggie would actually fit into their trade exception. Not to mention that between the various and sundry luxury tax penalties, getting rid of Evans'$1.7M contract would actually be worth about half a billion dollars to the Brooklyn (that's a rough estimate and I may not have it exactly correct). I don't think it's going to happen, but you could see how it might be a good idea for both teams.
  • Livingston. Former Clipper Shaun Livingston is thriving as the Nets backup point guard this season, and has been called on to play big minutes a couple of times because Deron Williams has been gimpy, including last night in Phoenix where Livvy played 37 minutes and had 18 points and 6 assists. Shaun was always a popular Clipper, and it's good to see him doing well. I'm sure he'll get a warm reception in STAPLES Center tonight.
  • Paul and Williams. Williams ankle will probably deprive of us another Paul-Williams showdown, but ever since they were picked third and fourth in the 2005 draft, the two have been linked. As Steve Nash aged, the question was which of them would be given the title of best point guard in the NBA. Paul has more or less ended the debate on that subject over the last few seasons, but Williams is no slouch, and the one area where he has consistently bested Paul is head-to-head, where Williams' teams have won 14 of their 19 meetings including two of the three meetings since Paul's been a Clipper.
  • Connections. Reggie Evans was a key member of the Clippers two seasons ago. Shaun Livingston began his career with the Clippers, and was well on his way to stardom when a horrific knee injury ended his season, his time in L.A., and almost ended his career. Obviously, Pierce and Garnett were coached by Rivers on the Celtics for many years. Ryan Hollins was their teammate in Boston for part of a season.
  • Get the Brooklyn perspective at Nets Daily.
  • Shakespearean reference:

    Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene 2 -- Servant

    Find them out whose names are written here! It is
    written, that the shoemaker should meddle with his
    yard, and the tailor with his last, the fisher with
    his pencil, and the painter with his nets; but I am
    sent to find those persons whose names are here
    writ, and can never find what names the writing
    person hath here writ. I must to the learned.