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Clippers-Sixers preview: Salvaging the trip

The Grammy's are over (yay Fun.) and the Clippers Grammy trip will be over after today in Philadelphia where the Clippers can salvage a 4-4 trip with a win over a Sixers team missing three starters.

Kevork Djansezian
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

February 11th, 2013, 4:00 PM
Wells Fargo Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jrue Holiday
Chauncey Billups SG Nick Young
Matt Barnes SF Evan Turner
Blake Griffin PF Lavoy Allen
DeAndre Jordan C Spencer Hawes
Advanced Stats through games of Feb. 10
91.6 (15th of 30) Pace 90.7 (22nd of 30)
108.7 (7th of 30) ORtg 101.2 (29th of 30)
102.0 (5th of 30) DRtg 104.2 (11th of 30)
Caron Butler (back) GTD
Andrew Bynum (knees) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
Jason Richardson (knee surgery) out

Thaddeus Young (hamstring) out

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The Clippers won the only meeting of the season last year on a buzzer beater by Chris Paul.

The Big Picture:

This is the final stop on the Clippers season long "Grammy" road trip, and after opening the trip 1-3 and then 2-4, the Clippers now have a chance to salvage a .500 trip, which would be more than acceptable considering that they've played most of the games without Chris Paul. Paul returned to action on Friday in Miami, but he returned to form Sunday against the Knicks, when he scored 25 points on 10-17 shooting and also had seven assists, six rebounds and four steals. After this final stop in Philadelphia, the Clippers return to L.A. for a couple of games and then they head into the All Star break. It's a busy schedule -- four games in five days -- but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. After eight games away, they be thrilled to be home, and then they just have to push through one last back to back (with the second game officially being a road game against the Lakers) before they get to breathe a bit. But first things first -- end the road trip on a positive note with a win over the Sixers, even the trip at 4-4, and start building some momentum for the final two months of the season. With the team at close to full strength for the first time this season, they are well-positioned to make a strong stretch run.

The Antagonist:

The Sixers have got to be considered, along with the Timberwolves and maybe the Lakers, for the title of most injury-plagued team of the season. Just missing franchise center Andrew Bynum to this point puts them in the running in and of itself. But in addition to Bynum, the player they traded for and hoped to build around, they've recently lost Jason Richardson for the season to knee surgery and Thaddeus Young is currently out with a strained hamstring. That's three starters missing for this game, and this is not a particularly deep team. The silver lining on Philly's season has been the emergence of Holiday, who is averaging over 19 points and almost 9 assists per game. Holiday is having a breakout season, he's a leading candidate for most improved player, and next week he'll play in his first All Star game despite playing for a sub-.500 team. In addition to Holiday, the Sixers can beat you with their defense, which is among the stingiest in the NBA. But this team is pretty short-handed right now.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Sixers have struggled to score all season, and losing their second and fifth best scorers to injury recently certainly isn't helping matters: they were already ranked 29th out of 30 teams in offensive efficiency.
  • Three point shooting. Given the Clippers struggles defending the three point line this season, this is always go a consideration. The Sixers are not particularly active shooting the three, nor are they particularly good at it. They take about 17 a game, which is 26th in attempts, and shoot .348 from deep, 19th in the league just behind the Clippers. With Richardson out now, they're even less of a threat.
  • The Howard trade. Has there ever been a multi-team trade that turned out worse for all involved? Obviously we're only part way through the first season of the trade, but three of the four teams involved have significantly worse records than they did last season while Denver's improvement is attributable to a lot of factors OTHER than Andre Iguodala, who's having the worst season of his career. Orlando, dealing from a position of weakness, clearly took a bath from a talent perspective, but may have done as well as anyone given what has transpired. It's still possible at this point that the Lakers will lose Howard and the Sixers will lose Bynum, as both bigs are free agents this summer. Wow.
  • Bynum. There's not a lot to say about Bynum. He's been injury prone in his career, and the worst case scenario for the Sixers seems to be playing out -- he's not healthy enough to play, and no one is even really sure what's wrong or how to fix it. So if you're the Sixers, and Bynum misses the entire season, which is beginning to seem like a real possibility, what do you do with him this summer? He's a top two center talent when he's healthy -- but that doesn't happen a lot. And then you have to deal with the other Bynum issues, while not even having him on the court.
  • Butler's back. Caron Butler missed the second half in New York because of a tight back. It does not appear to be anything serious -- he says he just slept on it wrong. But on the second game of a back to back during a long road trip, I'd be surprised if the Clippers play him in this one. Better to give him the day off and let him rest the back some. How the 40 year old Grant Hill responds to a back-to-back if Butler is unavailable is another question.
  • USC-UCLA. This is the third time this season the Clippers will face a team with one starter each from USC and UCLA, which is at least a little unlikely since there are only five Trojans in the NBA and only three of them usually start. But with Richardson out former Clipper, former Trojan Nick Young is starting at shooting guard next to former Bruin Holiday. It's one of two Bruin/Trojan starting backcourts in the league right now along with Collison and Mayo in Dallas. For what it's worth, Vucevic and Afflalo start together in Orlando as well.
  • Young. I have to apologize to Jamal Crawford. The Clippers got a three month rental on Nick Young last season (which proved to be a very important acquisition for the team) and when he left this summer while the team signed Crawford, I admit that I questioned exactly how much of an upgrade that was. I believe I even called Young a poor man's Crawford. Well, while that may be nominally true, Young is way below the poverty line in the comparison. He's a destitute man's Crawford; indigent, impoverished, impecunious even. Yes, they are both chuckers at some level, but Crawford is a world class chucker, and Young is just not anywhere close to the same talent level. So I'm sorry, Jamal.
  • Sixers bench. Given their recent injuries, in their last game (a win over Charlotte) the Sixers played only eight men. Coming off the Philly bench were Dorell Wright (a solid veteran wing three point range), Arnett Moultrie (a rookie from Mississippi St. who has now played 118 minutes in the NBA) and Jeremy Pargo (playing his first game with the Sixers after they signed him to a 10 day contract). Yeesh.
  • Sixers off-season. We probably shouldn't be surprised that the bench is so depleted. Four of the team's top eight players, both in terms of scoring and minutes played, are gone from last season's team -- and they have nothing to show for those departures. They amnestied Elton Brand who signed with Dallas, and allowed Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks to leave as free agents. Meanwhile, Iguodala left in the trade that brought them the injured Bynum and the now injured Richardson. Which makes their big off-season acquisition Nick Young. They also lost Vucevic and their lottery pick (Moe Harkless) in the Bynum trade. It was, in short, a disastrous off-season, and the fact that the Sixers are in ninth in the East is kind of amazing. It either says a lot about Holiday, or a lot about Doug Collins as a coach, or a lot about how bad the East is. (Hint, the answer rhymes with least.)
  • Griffin against the Sixers. In yesterday's preview I pointed out that Griffin had a higher scoring average against the Knicks than against any other opponent. Well, he has his lowest average against the Sixers, just 16.7 per game on 36% shooting in three games. Brand always did a good job on Griffin -- a job which included roughing him up with very hard fouls every chance he got. With Brand gone and Young hurt, it's up to Lavoy Allen and the rookie Moultrie to cope with Griffin. I have a feeling Griffin is going to boost his average a bit in this one.
  • Stop Holiday, stop the Sixers. This is a bad offensive team that has gotten even worse with their recent injuries. If you can contain Holiday's penetration, then they really don't have anywhere else to go. So it's up to Paul and Bledsoe, with some help from their friends, to stay in front of Holiday and keep him out of the lane. If they can do that, the Clippers should finish the trip 4-4.
  • Back-to-back. The Clippers are playing the second game of a back-to-back and the eighth game of a long road trip, while the Sixers last played on Saturday. But the good news is that the Clippers had a day game in New York, giving them an extra six hours versus a standard back to back, and the trip from New York to Philadelphia is one of the shortest in the league. So hopefully the Clippers won't be too tired.
  • Connections. Nick Young played 22 games and 11 playoff games for the Clippers last season after a trading deadline trade. He was instrumental in the Clippers' defeat of Memphis in the first round. Clipper Willie Green spent seven seasons in Philadelphia.
  • Get the Sixers perspective at Liberty Ballers.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Philadelphia Freedom -- Elton John

    `cause I live and breathe this Philadelphia freedom
    From the day that I was born Ive waved the flag
    Philadelphia freedom took me knee-high to a man
    Yeah gave me peace of mind my daddy never had

    Oh Philadelphia freedom shine on me, I love you
    Shine a light through the eyes of the ones left behind
    Shine a light shine a light
    Shine a light wont you shine a light
    Philadelphia freedom I love you, yes I do

    Look, finding a "76er" or even a "Sixer" reference that isn't specifically talking about the basketball team is not going to be easy. When the teams meet in L.A. I may be reduced to 76 Trombones from The Music Man, which is a fine musical and all but not really in the spirit of this feature. So I went with a Philadelphia song, and since I'm more of an Elton John guy than a Bruce Springsteen guy, this gets the nod. This is not a good song, by the way, but Elton John has become so overrated that he's simultaneously underrated for some of his early stuff. Madman Across the Water and Captain Fantastic (both from a little before this song) are great albums that hold up very well today. I also have to admit that in the summer of 1975 when this single was released, I was on a multi-month "Bicentennial" trip with my family, stuck in the car with my sister and an AM radio for an eternity. The top hits of that summer are seared into my brain. And while Philadelphia Freedom is not a great song, it's a helluva lot better than Shop Around by The Captain and Tennille.