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Clippers-Sixers preview: Please don't lose in Philly

The Clippers are winless on the road against the Eastern Conference, in a season where every other West team beats every East team all the time. Can they get their first road win in frigid Philly?

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
Philadelphia 76ers (2010 - Pres)

December 9th, 2013, 4:00 PM
Wells Fargo Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Tony Wroten
Willie Green SG Evan Turner
Jared Dudley SF Hollis Thompson
Blake Griffin PF Thaddeus Young
DeAndre Jordan? C Spencer Hawes
Advanced Stats
98.06 (8th of 30) Pace 101.65 (1st of 30)
106.1 (4th of 30) ORtg 98.2 (25th of 30)
101.9 (14th of 30) DRtg 105.3 (28th of 30)
J.J. Redick (wrist) out
Michael Carter-Williams (infection) out
Matt Barnes (torn retina) out
Arnett Moultrie (ankle surgery) out
Reggie Bullock (sprained ankle) out
Nerlens Noel (knee surgery) out
DeAndre Jordan (strained arch) GTD
Jason Richardson (knee surgery) out
Maalik Wayns (meniscus surgery) out
Elliot Williams (back) questionable

The Back Story (Clippers swept both games last season):

-- 02/11/13 in Philadelphia | Clippers 107, Sixers 90 | Recap | Box Score

-- 03/20/13 in Los Angeles | Clippers 101, Sixers 72 | RecapBox Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are falling off the pace of the best teams in the Western Conference, the Spurs and the Thunder and the Blazers. The single biggest difference? The Blazers are 8-0 against Eastern Conference competition, the Spurs are 7-1 and the Thunder are 4-0. The Clippers on the other hand are 3-5 -- no West team has lost more games to the East this season (Utah is 1-5). The Clippers certainly have plenty of problems, but they'd be right in the thick of things overall if they could just take care of business against the same East teams that everyone else handles with ease. The last thee losses have come since J.J. Redick's injury, and the team has been pretty terrible in his absence. While it's obvious that Redick's off-the-ball movement was a key to the team's offensive flow, it's not clear why no other players on the team are capable of moving without the ball. One problem that we can hope is temporary is the team's inability to make outside shots. They made nine straight three pointers in the second half in Memphis -- taking out that streak, they are 13-65, exactly 20 percent, on the road trip. They were 7-35 in Cleveland, and while 35 is a lot of three pointers to take, success in the modern NBA is more or less dependent on the ability to shoot the long ball. If teams give it to you, you have to take it -- but it turns out, you have to make more than one in five also. The Clippers have four more road games on this trip, all against East foes currently below .500. If they can make some threes and win some games against the supposedly weak East, life will start to look up in a hurry.

The Antagonist:

The Sixers are a grand experiment. They allowed Andrew Bynum to walk away via free agency without him ever playing a game in Philly, and then traded their best player to New Orleans for two lottery picks, one who is injured and one in the future. No player over the age of 25 has played a minute for them this season. Their team payroll is, by my math, currently about $4M below the league MINIMUM as specified in the CBA. With two lottery picks in one of the most enticing drafts of all time, the Sixers seemed to be following the most explicit tanking strategy in NBA history. And then they went and screwed it up by winning their first three games. They've settled back into being bad since then, but even a 4-14 record in their last 18 is much better than people expected from this group, which seemed to have the potential to be among the worst of all time. But Michael Carter-Williams is the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year so far, and Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner are each having career years, and new coach Brett Brown (a Gregg Popovich disciple) has them playing fast and loose, and the Sixers may have the best of both worlds: young and exciting players developing now, but plenty of losses for those precious ping pong balls in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes. The Sixers have surprised some teams at home -- including Miami, Chicago and Houston -- and the Clippers have yet to win on the road against the East, so this game is far from a given for the Clippers.

The Subplots

  • The Questionable Blogger. It's a particularly strange exchange in the Questionable Blogger this week. Michael Levin answers my questions about the Sixers, and I answered his fragments of questions over at Liberty Ballers as well.
  • Comparison of key metrics. The good news, if you're looking for the silver lining, is that after the game in Cleveland on Saturday, the Clippers officially entered the "better than NBA average" category of defensive efficiency, and are now 13th in the league. Of course, that improved defense has only come at the cost of horrendous offense, as if the two are related. I always thought that good defense led to good offense and vice versa -- easy baskets come from steals and stops, it's harder to score when you're inbounding after a make and going against a set defense, that sort of thing. Maybe the Clippers offense has been so bad that it's contagious -- so many missed jumpers, and so little offensive rhythm, is throwing off the rhythm of the opponent also. Probably not though. Philadelphia on the other hand is bad on offense and worse on defense, as you might expect. They do however play at the fastest pace in the NBA, so maybe if the Clippers can make some shots we'll see some scoring.
  • The weather. Not that it should really matter, but did you see that snowstorm during the Eagles game yesterday? I have not heard about the Clippers travel to Philadelphia -- hopefully it wasn't too problematic. Mike Smith said during the Cavs broadcast that he was planning on going to the Eagles game -- I bet he changed his mind.
  • Injuries. Reggie Bullock and DeAndre Jordan both limped out of the game in Cleveland. Bullock has a sprained ankle and is officially listed as doubtful, but I can't imagine he would play based on how he went down. Jordan wanted back into the game on Saturday, and he's listed as questionable. That's in addition to three other injured Clippers, most notably starting shooting guard J.J. Redick and backup small forward Matt Barnes. The Sixers likewise could be without five players. All of which means that when the game tips off tonight, there will essentially be three sets of players -- nine or ten players wearing a Clippers uniform, nine or ten players wearing a Sixers uniform, and nine or ten players wearing street clothes.
  • Wing rotation. The loss of Bullock presents a major issue on the wing for the Clippers. It was the deepest position on the team heading into the season, but you simply can't take three injuries in the same spot and not feel it. Willie Green and Jared Dudley will start, and Jamal Crawford is essentially the backup for both of them. Dudley of course is playing with sore knees and Green is, well, not that great to begin with -- so neither of them should really be playing big minutes. We'll likely see Darren Collison play a lot of minutes with Chris Paul, and I suspect that if the game is close, Rivers will close with Paul, Collison and Crawford on the floor together.
  • MCW. Sixers rookie Michael Carter-Williams has been the most exciting rookie in the league this season by a pretty wide margin. In his first NBA game he came pretty darn close to a quadruple double, with 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals, and he had his first triple double last week. It's hard not to look at the long, lean, pass first point guard and think about former Clipper Shaun Livingston, who similarly had star written all over him before his horrific knee injury. Unfortunately, MCW will probably not play tonight, as he is battling knee soreness and was also in the hospital with a skin infection (yikes). He's out of the hospital, but did not participate in the team's shootaround today, and I seriously doubt he'll play.
  • Evan Turner. Evan Turner is averaging over 20 points per game so far this season. Now, the Sixers play at the fastest pace in the league, and Turner plays over 37 minutes per game and takes a lot of shots, so it's not the most impressive 20 ever. But still. Turner was the second overall pick in the 2010 draft and was a borderline bust for his first three seasons. In a way, this season of low efficiency scoring might be the worst thing that could have happened to the Sixers -- Turner's entering restricted free agency, and that 20 ppg might bring a big offer sheet from another team, but is he part of the future in Philly or not? Tough call.
  • Rock bottom. The Sixers didn't just lose Iguodala in the Bynum trade. They also lost back-to-back first round draft picks, Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless. The pick before that was Turner (see above). The pick before that was Jrue Holiday, who they traded this off-season. Wouldn't Vucevic look nice in a lineup with MCW? Considering how thoroughly screwed the team was in that Bynum deal, they are actually sitting in a decent position right now. MCW is the steal of the 2013 draft, and Noel was the presumptive first overall pick prior to his ACL injury, so if he can return from that in anything like his prior form, he's another keeper. And they are looking at two lottery picks in the ultra-loaded 2014 draft (theirs and the Pelicans'). They will have to do well in the draft, but they could be starting four lottery picks under the age of 23 next season. Turning Jrue Holiday -- a nice enough point guard who was vastly overrated by comparison to the weak competition in the Eastern Conference -- into two lottery picks was an absolute steal.
  • Dunkfest. The meeting in Philadelphia last season between these two teams was a Lob City dunkfest. Check it out.
  • Connections. Clipper Willie Green spent seven seasons in Philadelphia. Maalik Wayns is a Philly guy, born and raised there, played high school ball, went to Villanova, began his pro career with the Sixers. Rookie Brandon Davies spent summer league, training camp and pre-season with the Clippers before finally being waived just before the season started -- he was then picked up by the Sixers, and has appeared in 18 games.
  • Get the Philadelphia perspective Liberty Ballers.
  • Shakespearean reference:

    As You Like ItAct II Scene 7 -- Jacques

    All the world's a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players;
    They have their exits and their entrances;
    And one man in his time plays many parts,
    His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
    Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
    Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
    And shining morning face, creeping like snail
    Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
    Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
    Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
    Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
    Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
    Seeking the bubble reputation
    Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
    In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
    With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
    Full of wise saws and modern instances;
    And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
    Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
    With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
    His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
    For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
    Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
    And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
    That ends this strange eventful history,
    Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
    Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing.

    Finding a reference to seventy-six, let alone seventy-sixer, is difficult enough under any circumstances. I'm therefore pretty pleased to have "seven" and "six" in one line of Shakespeare, and a famous line no less, "All the world's a stage" from As You Like It.