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Clippers-Raptors preview: the trip continues

The Clippers have won two straight, including the first stop on their season-long eight game road trip. The second game of the trip takes them to frigid Toronto, where the Raptors will be short-handed between injuries and their recent trade.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

February 1st, 2013, 4:00 PM
Air Canada Centre
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Eric Bledsoe PG Kyle Lowry
Willie Green SG Alan Anderson
Caron Butler SF DeMar DeRozan
Blake Griffin PF Amir Johnson
DeAndre Jordan C Aaron Gray
Advanced Stats through games of Jan. 31
91.7 (15th of 30) Pace 90.1 (24th of 30)
109.8 (4th of 30) ORtg 106.4 (12th of 30)
101.5 (5th of 30) DRtg 108.6 (26th of 30)
Chris Paul (knee) DTD
Andrea Bargnani (elbow) out GTD
Chauncey Billups (ankle) out
Jonas Valanciunas (finger) out GTD
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
Linas Kleiza (knee) out
Matt Barnes (suspended by league) out
Mickael Pietrus (knee) out

Rudy Gay (trade) out? IN

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The last time the Clippers played the Raptors, they made them their sixth victim in what would eventually be a 17 game winning streak. That streak followed four straight losses you may recall. Once again, the Clippers are early in a win streak after four defeats, and they'd love to keep it going, though 17 straight is no doubt asking too much. Still, in game 2 of a very long eight game road trip, they can ill-afford to lose to a severely short-handed Raptors team that's not all that good even at full strength. The Clippers will again be without their own leader, Chris Paul, who will miss his sixth straight game with a sore knee. There's little incentive to rush him back, but one presumes that he'll play at some point on this road trip. Blake Griffin has been on a tear, averaging 23.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists in his last six games, he best stretch of the season.

The Antagonist:

We'll likely be seeing a shell of the Raptors tonight, and we'll have to wait until Sunday and beyond to get a feel for the freshly remade team. The newly acquired Rudy Gay arrives in Toronto later today and will still have to pass a physical before he can join the team. There's a very remote possibility he could be in uniform, but even if they get the physical done, he won't have been through a practice, so it's not likely. The team is also missing their starting front court of Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas, but again they are both close to returning from their respective injuries, and there's a very slight possibility they'll be back tonight -- but don't count on it. That will leave the Raptors with just nine players in uniform, and without two of their most productive players on the season, Jose Calderon and Ed Davis, who left Canada in the Gay trade. With Calderon gone, the team is now indisputably in Kyle Lowry's hands. Lowry was acquired from Houston this summer, but has been splitting time with Calderon until now. Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Alan Anderson will have to carry the scoring load for the Raps tonight, because the Toronto bigs in the absence of Bargnani and Valanciunas are limited to say the least.

The Subplots

  • The Questionable Blogger. If you haven't already, be sure to check out today's edition of "The Questionable Blogger" with Scott Campsall from Raptors HQ answering my Raptorian questions. And then head over their to read my answers to his questions.
  • Comparison of key metrics. Toronto's offense is surprisingly efficient (12th in the league) when you look at the personnel. But Calderon, a hyper-efficient point guard who is always among the league-leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio, was certainly a part of that.
  • Barnes suspended. Matt Barnes was suspended by the league for this game after his altercation with Greg Stiemsma in Minnesota Wednesday. Without Barnes, Vinny Del Negro will be without two (or even three) of the players he likes to have on the floor at the end of games -- Paul, Barnes and sometimes Billups. In his absence, Grant Hill, Caron Butler, Jamal Crawford and even Eric Bledsoe will likely play more minutes (Bledsoe because Hill is usually the point guard with the second unit, but will now be forced to play small forward). Butler got the closer minutes in Minny Wednesday and he responded well.
  • Gay to play. [Note by Steve Perrin, 02/01/13 12:52 PM PST ] So apparently Gay and all the other trade participants have completed their physicals and Rudy will be in uniform against the Clippers tonight. How much he plays, having had zero practice time with the team, remains to be seen. The loss of Barnes hurts more with Gay playing, but Butler and Hill should be able to do the job considering that Butler and Nick Young did OK on Gay in the playoffs last year.
  • Game time decisions? [Note by Steve Perrin, 02/01/13 12:57 PM PST ] I can't remember a more eventful day-of-game morning. Matt Barnes was suspended, Gay was cleared to play, and word out of Toronto's shootaround now is that Bargnani and Valanciunas are game time decisions. And all of this happened today. There were vague whispers out there that they might be able to play, but this is the the strongest indication yet that it could happen. The Raptors could go from "severely shorthanded" to "kind of loaded" in the course of a morning here. This game got a WHOLE LOT MORE INTERESTING.
  • Streaky Raptors. The Raptors opened the season 4-19. They then won 10 of their next 13, about the time Bargnani got hurt -- coincidence? Since that good run, they've now lost seven of nine.
  • Unlucky Raptors. To their credit, the Raptors have been competitive lately, even as they've been piling up losses. Among their last six losses, three came in overtime and two more were by a single point. The team's record in close games this season seems statistically impossible. How do you stay close for 45 minutes of basketball and then lose 19 of 20 in the final three minutes? That's just amazing. Statistically, the Raptors should be right in the hunt for the eighth playoff spot in the East, but all of those close losses have them 6.5 games out.
  • Lowry and Bledsoe. Lowry and Bledsoe, who will face off against each other for the lion's share of tonight's game in the absence of Calderon and Paul, are the two best rebounders under 6'1 in the NBA. Bledsoe is more athletic than Lowry, but Lowry is a better shooter and distributor. They both are incredibly strong for their size, and it should be quite a battle between the two of them.
  • Griffin. The Raptors will be very thin in the front court, with Amir Johnson as the only healthy player on the roster who can come close to matching up with Blake Griffin, but even Johnson's giving away a lot of size to Griffin not to mention that he is foul prone. Aaron Gray is plenty big but is one of the slowest players in the NBA, and after Johnson and Gray they're down to rookie Quincy Acy in the front court (unless Bargnani or Valanciunas makes a surprise return). Griffin and also DeAndre Jordan should have big games.
  • Three point shooting. Since so many Clippers losses this season have been the result of hot three point shooting/bad perimeter defense (pick one) I feel compelled to look at that issue prior to most games. The Raptors take almost 22 threes per game, which is quite a bit above the league average. But they only make .349 from deep, which is below the league average. And as it happens, Calderon was their best three point shooter. With Calderon gone and Bargnani hurt, they really won't have that many people who are going to shoot from out there, though both Lowry and Anderson are threats.
  • Raptor rookies. The Raptors have three intriguing rookies. Valanciunas, the impossibly long 20 year old Lithuanian, is recovering from a broken finger and will be back soon, but almost certainly not tonight. He was Toronto's 2011 lottery pick but stayed in Europe one more season before making the jump to the NBA. This year's lottery pick, Terrence Ross, is an athletic wing from Washington who has had some promising moments this season. And Quincy Acy, a second round pick from Baylor, has put up some solid per minute numbers this season in limited action -- so far, he's been a monster on the offensive glass, plus he's got an All-NBA beard.
  • Calderon. Although he's no longer on the Raptors, I can't help musing about Jose Calderon a bit. He signed a big (not huge, just big) contract a few years back and suddenly his reputation went from underpaid/underappreciated to overpaid/cap anchor. But he's always been very productive, even compared to his pay grade, on the offensive end. He scores efficiently, he's a great distributor, and he is always among the best in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio. Detroit traded for him primarily to get Tayshaun Prince's contract off their cap, and though he could be useful to them as a mentor for Brandon Knight, he won't be there next season. It will be fascinating to see what he can get in free agency this summer, because he's still very good running a team on offense (though he defense is another matter).
  • Alan Anderson. I find these kinds of stories endlessly fascinating. Alan Anderson was undrafted in 2005 out of Michigan State where he averaged a not particularly impressive 13.2 points per game as a senior. He made 38% of this threes that final college season. He managed to stick in Charlotte for a season-plus of uneventful, six points per game seasons before being waived in November 2006. Since then, he's been kicking around the globe playing ball -- the D-league, Russia, Israel, Italy, Spain, China. And now here he is, back in the NBA (if not the US), starting for the Raps. He has scored 27 on two separate occasions this season. He was out of the league for six years, and now he's a major contributor at age 30, having played 70 NBA games prior to this season. Amazing.
  • Connections. Clippers guard Chauncey Billups, who is currently out with tendinitis in his ankle, spent the second half of his rookie season with the Raptors after being traded there by Boston. He played 29 games for them before being traded once again. That's it. That's all I got.
  • Get the Toronto perspective at Raptors HQ.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Ein Seltener Vogel -- Einstürzende Neubauten

    zum beispiel
    das pteranodon ist nicht mehr dabei
    zum beispiel
    archaeopterix ist nicht mehr dabei
    zum beispiel
    selbst der shenzhouraptor ist nicht mehr dabei
    zum beispiel
    sowieso sind nach dem regen die meisten nicht mehr dabei...

    Interesting lyrical references with the word Raptor are few and far between -- so we're going with German Experimental Industrial today. Just out of curiosity, any Einstürzende Neubauten fans out there?