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Clippers-Pacers preview: No Hibbert helps

The Clippers catch a huge break in their game against the Indiana Pacers, and center Roy Hibbert will be serving a one game suspension. The Pacers vaunted defense will be less intimidating with Hibbert out.

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

February 28th, 2013, 4:00 PM
Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG George Hill
Chauncey Billups SG Lance Stephenson
Caron Butler SF Paul George
Blake Griffin PF David West
DeAndre Jordan C Ian Mahinmi
Advanced Stats through games of Feb. 27
91.8 (15th of 30) Pace 89.8 (26th of 30)
109.3 (7th of 30) ORtg 103.5 (21st of 30)
102.2 (5th of 30) DRtg 98.6 (1st of 30)
Eric Bledsoe (calf) DTD
Roy Hibbert (suspended by league) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The Pacers won the only meeting between the teams last season.

The Big Picture:

The Pacers are the lone NBA team the Clippers have yet to play, and until Tuesday it looked like the timing was terrible. Indiana was not too intimidating early in the season, playing .500 ball over the first six weeks. But since then they've been as good as any team in the Eastern Conference that doesn't have LeBron James, and they've been especially sharp lately. Their only two losses in February both came in overtime. But on Tuesday night the Clippers caught a break, as the fight between Roy Hibbert and David Lee during the Pacers' win over the Warriors resulted in a one game suspension for the 2012 All Star. Even without Hibbert the Pacers will be a tough out, and after facing one of the worst defenses against the Bobcats on Tuesday, the Clippers will have a very different experience against the incredibly stingy Indy defense tonight. It's true that they won't have Hibbert protecting the rim, but the Pacers also have incredibly length on the perimeter and they make things very tough on opposing teams. Chris Paul will need to be sharper than he has been lately to help the Clippers' offense get going, but the big advantage for L.A. should come inside, where Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will be dealing with some combination of David West, Ian Mahinmi and Tyler Hansbrough, which is not the same as Hibbert. The Clippers bench should get a boost as well with the return of Jamal Crawford to the lineup. Eric Bledsoe may be back as well, but he'll likely be a game time decision.

The Antagonist:

The Pacers are 25-10 since mid-December, a record that is comparable to the top teams in the league. They are 24-5 at home, the fifth best home record in the league after the likes of San Antonio, Denver, Miami and Oklahoma City. I'm not sure that anyone thinks of Indianapolis as being as tough a place to play as those other cities, but this season it has been. With New York and Chicago and Atlanta all fading, the Pacers are emerging as the only viable threat to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference playoffs (depending to some extent on what happens with Derrick Rose of course). The Pacers feature four players who are current or former All Stars, including the new minted All Star Paul George who has emerged this season as their best player. They get their points from George and Chris Paul's old buddy David West, but that's not how they win. They win with defense, sporting by far the stingiest defense in the league. Hibbert, the fourth best shot blocker in the league and a force on the interior, will be missed on the defensive end, but they'll still harass the Clippers all over the floor with their insane length. The Pacers will try to do what Charles Barkley says will beat the Clippers -- they'll try to take away easy buckets, get back on defense to cut down on fast breaks, and force the Clippers to play half court basketball. We'll see if it works.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers are back up to fifth in defensive efficiency with their recent improved play. Getting back into the top five on the offensive side may be tougher, simply because there are about six teams (the Heat, Thunder, Spurs, Rockets, Knicks and Nuggets) that are offensive juggernauts this season. The Pacers are only actually in the bottom third of the league on offense -- but man do they defend.
  • Home record. The Pacers are 24-5 in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Two of those home losses came in November and a third came in early December. The final two losses were earlier this month, and both came in overtime, so it's been almost three months since the Pacers lost a home game in regulation. So don't expect anything about this game to be easy, even without Hibbert.
  • Granger's back. Danny Granger, a 2009 All Star and the team's highest paid player, made his season debut over the weekend after missing the season to this point following knee surgery. Ostensibly one of their best players, the Pacers could be even tougher in the playoffs with a healthy Granger. So far however he's been pretty terrible. In two games back, he has made just 2-17 shots, which is not good no matter how long you've been out. Hopefully it will be at least one more game before Granger works out the kinks in his game.
  • Length over strength. If you play Bridge, you may be familiar with the saying "length over strength" which means you'd rather have more cards in the trump suit than big cards in the trump suit. Length is also the new mantra in the NBA in the past five or ten years, and the Pacers are LONG. Hibbert is a big part of that of course, and he's out of this game, but George (6'8), Stephenson (6'5) and Hill (6'2 with crazy long arms) give them long defenders on the perimeter, and West has long arms as well. It's Indiana's length, along with good schemes and good discipline of course, that make them such a great defensive team.
  • The 2010 wings. In the 2010 draft, the Clippers needed a wing, preferably a small forward. The consensus among draft watchers was that Evan Turner and Wesley Johnson were the best available wings, and with the Clippers picking eighth, they knew they'd have no shot at them. That left the Clippers to choose from a group that seemed difficult to differentiate -- Al-Farouq Aminu, Gordon Hayward, Xavier Henry, Luke Babbitt and Paul George were all considered good but not great prospects. The Clippers went with Aminu at eight and the other four were snapped up with picks 9, 10, 12 and 16. Two seasons into their careers, Johnson is a bust and Turner is approaching bust status; Hayward is a solid player who has done well; and Aminu, Henry and Babbitt are all projects at best. But George, picked 10th, after Turner, Johnson, Aminu and Hayward, is an All Star. The Clippers shouldn't feel too bad about the 2010 draft though -- they did get Eric Bledsoe at 18, after all these guys.
  • Milestones. There are a couple of potential milestones for the Clippers in this game. A win would give them 42 on the season, assuring them of a winning season with 22 games remaining to be played. It would be the first time in the team's California history that they will have posted a winning record in consecutive seasons (when they went to back-to-back playoffs in the early 90s, the second team was 41-41). A win would also put the team 24 games over .500, the high water mark for the season and indeed in franchise history.
  • Three point shooting. Given the Clippers' difficulties defending the three at times this season, it always makes sense to pay attention to three point shooting. The Pacers are slightly below the league average in both attempts and percentage; so they're a threat, but it's not a major part of their game usually. George and Hill both take quite a few and shoot a decent percentage.
  • Griffin's career game. Blake Griffin's career high came against the Pacers in a game in L.A. in January of his rookie season. Griffin started the game making absolutely everything, and finished with 47 points on 19-24 shooting. That was however against a pre-David West Pacers team, and West has always been a tough-as-nails post defender. Nothing is going to come easy tonight.
  • Crawford back. The Clippers will get Jamal Crawford back for this game after the birth of his baby girl, and they may need him. Against a defense as tough as Indiana's sometimes you just need someone to make a tough shot, and Crawford is the best tough shot maker on the team, not to mention one of the best tough shot makers in the league.
  • A dozen dunks. Against Charlotte, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan combined for 12 dunks. Somehow I don't think that's happening tonight.
  • Chasing OKC, holding off Memphis. The Thunder are coming to town Sunday to face the Clippers, but not before the visit the Nuggets in Denver. If the Clippers win tonight and tomorrow and get some help from the Nuggets, they'll have a chance to catch the Thunder on Sunday. On the other hand, Memphis is red-hot riding a franchise record eight game winning streak (against some pretty weak competition, but still). The Grizzlies are a game and a half back of the Clippers, but tied in the loss column. So L.A. could go up or down in the standings in the near future.
  • Connections. I don't have a lot on this one. Paul and West were long time teammates in New Orleans of course. For any Gauchos among the citizenry, rookie Orlando Johnson from UCSB made the Pacers roster this season against all odds and has been on the fringe of the rotation, appearing in 27 games. Ian Mahinmi and Ronny Turiaf are both French and have no doubt played together for Les Bleus (though Mahinmi was not on the Olympic team this summer). Anyone have anything else?
  • Get the Indiana perspective at Indy Cornrows.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Brick -- Ben Folds Five

    They call her name at 7.30
    I pace around the parking lot
    Then I walk down, to buy her flowers
    And sell some gifts that I got

    Can't you see
    It's not me you're dying for
    Now she's feeling more alone
    Than she ever has before

    She's a brick and I'm drowning slowly
    Off the coast and I'm heading nowhere
    She's a brick and I'm drowning slowly

    I really like Ben Folds Five, but for some reason I have nothing else to say about them.