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Clippers-Wizards preview: desperate for a win

The Clippers are 1-2 on their season-long eight game road trip, and this has been the easy part. Things start getting tougher soon, so they can ill afford to lose to the Wizards.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

February 4th, 2013, 4:00 PM
Verizon Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Eric Bledsoe PG John Wall
Willie Green SG Garrett Temple
Caron Butler SF Martell Webster
Blake Griffin PF Emeka Okafor
DeAndre Jordan C Nene
Advanced Stats through February 3
91.6 (15th of 30) Pace 92.1 (12th of 30)
109.3 (4th of 30) ORtg 97.1 (30th of 30)
101.9 (5th of 30) DRtg 102.5 (6th of 30)
Chris Paul (knee) DTD
Trevor Booker (wrist) questionable
Chauncey Billups (ankle) out
Bradley Beal (wrist) doubtful
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
Cartier Martin (knee) out

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have lost six of their last eight games. There's no great mystery as to why they're slumping -- Chris Paul has played in just one of those eight, and he limped through that one. But while the Clippers are clearly better with Paul in the lineup, they've still managed to lose in frustrating ways. At Portland they gave up a nine point lead late and lost by a single point. In Boston yesterday they dug a big hole during a dreadful second quarter and eventually fell just short in their comeback bid. And they were simply terrible in losing to the Raptors. We don't know when Paul will be back (though we hope it will be soon) so the rest of the players need to get their act together in the meantime. The good news is that Blake Griffin has been playing well; the bad news is that in the first meeting with the Wizards he had one of his worst games of the season against their very physical collection of bigs.

The Antagonist:

The Wizards opened the season with 12 straight losses playing without John Wall and Nene. They recently went on a run where they won 7 of 10 with a healthy roster, but they've now lost four straight again. Still, despite the four game losing streak, this is not the worst team in the NBA, even if they are tied with the Bobcats for the worst record. Wall is a blur in the open court and has had some big games against the Clippers in his brief career. Their front court features a selection of big bodies who they can use to push and shove Griffin, from Nene to Emaka Okafor to Kevin Seraphin to Trevor Booker. They have a wing defender in Trevor Ariza they can stick on Jamal Crawford. If they can manage to hit some shots -- a big if as they remain the poorest shooting team in the league -- they will be a handful.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. While the Wizards have been ridiculously bad on offense (see below) Randy Wittman does at least have them playing very good defense. In fact, the Wizards are sixth in the NBA in defensive efficiency, just behind the Clippers and ahead of the Celtics.
  • How bad is the Wizards offense? Small differences mean a lot when you're talking about points per possession. In terms of offensive efficiency, the amounts separating the 30 NBA teams tend to be measured in tenths of a point per 100 possessions -- or thousandths of a point per possession if you prefer. Among the 30 NBA teams, there are currently only three instances where more than a point separates one team from the next closest. The Clippers trail the Heat by 1.9 points in the gap between third and fourth in offensive efficiency. The Blazers trail the Raptors by 1.6 points in the 12 and 13 spots. And the Wizards are 4.7 points worse than the Sixers for dead last. No other team comes close to the Wizards in offensive inefficiency.
  • Green on the road trip. Willie Green may miss Chris Paul more than anyone. Paul commands so much attention, and is so good at finding the open man and delivering the perfect pass, that Green gets plenty of wide open spot up jumpers with Paul on the court. But Green is just 2-11 in the first three games of the road trip, 0-7 from three point range. He's scored four points -- total -- in three games.
  • Barnes regressing to the mean. Matt Barnes has been a big part of the Clippers success this season, and specifically his three point shooting has helped tremendously. He started the season slowly from deep, but hit 43% of his threes during the undefeated December. He has since cooled off considerably, and is just 7-31 in the Clippers last 10 games. Barnes too may be feeling the impact of Paul's absence, or he may just be regressing to the mean. He's a 33 percent shooter from beyond the arc on his career.
  • Big front line. The Wizards have been starting Nene and Emeka Okafor together in the front court. Those are two big, long guys, so they have the size to match up with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. It's a common strategy to guard Griffin with length, and Washington has their choice of big, long defenders to put on him. They also have Kevin Seraphin off the bench (Trevor Booker missed the Wizards game Saturday and is doubtful for this one). When the Clippers played the Wizards two weeks ago, Griffin was held to 5-18 shooting, one of his worst games as a pro. The Clippers could be in trouble if Griffin struggles again. He needs to use his quickness against this team, face up and go quickly. He also needs to look for DeAndre Jordan when he first catches the ball -- the second Wizard big does a good job of rotating to Griffin on the pick and roll, but that will leave Jordan alone at the rim for an instant.
  • Who'll step up? The Clippers have become far too dependent on Griffin and Crawford since Paul has been out. Too many possessions become nothing more than isolating one of those guys and hoping for the best. But between their stable of bigs and Ariza on the wing, the Wizards contained both Griffin and Crawford in the last meeting, holding them to 8-31 from the field combined. Odom or Barnes or Butler or Bledsoe -- someone -- needs to step up for the Clippers in this game.
  • Bledsoe and Wall. Two weeks again when these teams met, Bledsoe and Wall both came off the bench. Wall was not fully back from his injury, and Paul had made his brief return to the lineup before again sitting out with the bruised knee cap. Today the two former college teammates will square off from the opening tip, leading their respective teams. One presumes that Bledsoe will have some extra motivation against Wall, the guy who pushed him to shooting guard at Kentucky, the guy who got all the attention in college. There aren't many more athletic point guards in the NBA and it should be entertaining to watch them go at it.
  • Bradley Beal. The Wizards rookie made 32 of 63 three pointers in January and was named the Eastern Conference's Rookie of the Months. The Clippers may have caught a break though, as Beal has a sprained right wrist (his shooting hand) and is doubtful for this game. Without Beal, the Wizards are down to two players who made more than a third of their three pointers, Martell Webster and Jordan Crawford.
  • Three point shooting. Many of the Clippers losses this season have featured a barrage of three pointers from the opposition. The Wizards are near the bottom of the league in three point percentage, and that's with Beal. Without him, they're even worse. Then again, until yesterday the Celtics were worse than the Wizards and that didn't stop them from hitting 11-18.
  • Shooting woes. The Wizards don't have a single player on their roster -- not one, not some scrub who's only played a few minutes, not a seven footer who only dunks, nobody -- shooting over 50 percent from the field. Perhaps more staggering, they only have two guys with an effective FG percentage over 50, and one of them is hurt. The Clippers have four guys with overall percentages over 50 and eight with effective percentages that high. No wonder the Wizards have the worst offense in the NBA -- it's hard to score if you can't make shots. What's all the more amazing about this is that Nene led the entire league in field goal percentage just two seasons ago, his last full year in Denver. Then he signed a big contract and his efficiency fell off the table.
  • Connections. Caron Butler had his best NBA seasons in Washington where he was a two-time All Star. John Wall and Eric Bledsoe were teammates on Kentucky's team that should have won a national championship in 2010, playing in the same backcourt together. Ronny Turiaf and Kevin Seraphin are both French and played in the London Olympics together for Les Bleus. Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza were teammates of Chris Paul and Willie Green in New Orleans. Former Clipper Sam Cassell is Wizards assistant coach.
  • Get the Washington perspective at Bullets Forever.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Hotwax -- Beck

    Sawdust songs of the plaid bartenders
    Western Unions of the country westerns
    Silver foxes looking for romance
    In the chain smoke Kansas flashdance ass pants
    And you got the hotwax residues
    You never lose in your razor blade shoes
    Stealing pesos out of my brain
    Hazard signs down the Alamo lanes
    Radar systems using the souls
    You never get caught with the wax so rotten
    All my days I got the grizzly worms
    Hijacked flavors that I'm flipping like birds

    Yo soy un disco cabrado
    Yo tengo chicle en cerabo

    "who are you?"
    "I'm the enchanting wizard of rhythm."
    "why did you come here?"
    "I came here to tell you about the rhythms of the universe...."

    Yo soy un disco cabrado, yo tengo chicle en cerabo. Correct me if I'm wrong citizens, but I believe that translates as "I'm a broken record, I have gum in my brain." Ah, Beck. What a perdedor.