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Clippers-Heat preview: Game time decisions

The Clippers are hoping to get some combination of Billups, Griffin, Crawford and Paul back in their lineup, while Bosh, Wade and Allen of the Heat are all dealing with the flu, so who plays will be the story of this game.

Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

February 8th, 2013, 5:00 PM
AmericanAirlines Arena
Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Eric Bledsoe PG Mario Chalmers
Willie Green SG Dwyane Wade
Caron Butler SF LeBron James
Lamar Odom PF Shane Battier
DeAndre Jordan C Chris Bosh
Advanced Stats through games of Feb. 7
91.7 (14th of 30) Pace 90.8 (21st of 30)
108.7 (7th of 30) ORtg 111.3 (3rd of 30)
101.6 (4th of 30) DRtg 105.1 (12th of 30)
Blake Griffin (hamstring) GTD
Chris Bosh (flu) GTD
Chris Paul (knee) GTD
Ray Allen (flu) doubtful
Chauncey Billups (ankle) GTD
Dwyane Wade (flu) GTD
Jamal Crawford (shoulder) GTD

Trey Thompkins (knee) out

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

Which Clippers team will the fans in Miami see tonight? The same venue that hosted a national TV game against a San Antonio Spurs team missing Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green could end up watching the only visit of the Clippers this season but not see Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and Chauncey Billups. Billups, who has played only three games all season, is the most likely to play tonight, followed by Griffin, Crawford and Paul, but all four missed the Clippers last game with various injuries. Frankly, it's difficult to imagine the Clippers having any chance without all three of their leading scorers (that's Griffin, Crawford and Paul) and it might be wise to just pint toward the game against New York on Sunday. If Griffin does play, then the Clippers will have an advantage inside where the Heat have been playing Chris Bosh at center much of the season. In pre-season and again in the first regular season meeting, DeAndre Jordan overpowered Bosh in some of the most impressive moves of his career. But without Paul running the show (and he seems the least likely to play at this point, not wanting to rush back after what happened last time) it's hard to imagine the Clippers winning in Miami.

The Antagonist:

The Heat have not been world beaters this season. Their record is only percentage points better than that of the Clippers, and they were several games back of the LAC before Paul was injured 14 games ago. But they are 20-3 at home, second best in the NBA, and more importantly they seem capable of "flipping a switch" and blowing teams out when they are properly motivated. At home, on a national TV, against a well-hyped Clippers team that beat them in L.A., they should have plenty of motivation. In a way, it would almost be better if Paul sat out, to see if the Heat then had a let down. If the Clippers come out with all their horses, Miami will be pumped. The Heat are not without flaws. They play small in the front court, which shows up in poor rebounding and in some big games from opposing bigs. But what's really surprising is that their defense has been only slightly better than average on the season. With long uber-athletes all over the floor, Miami's title last season owed as much to their swarming defense as it did to the impossible mismatches they pose on offense. For whatever reason, they've only played that same defense intermittently this season. Unfortunately, I have a feeling tonight is going to be one of the times they play it. However, one factor may change everything -- the flu. Chris Bosh missed Miami's last game with it, and he, Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade all missed the team's shootaround Friday morning because of it. According to Brian Windhurst, Allen is likely out and Wade and Bosh are game time decisions. Now imagine being those Miami fans, and possibly watching the Heat play the Clippers, minus four all stars and each team's sixth man.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. As I mentioned, the Heat have taken a pretty big step back in defensive efficiency this season, which has to be a concern for Eric Spoelstra. They were 4th in the league last year, but are down to 13th this year. Of course, they did play Joel Anthony more last season, and have made a commitment to a more "small ball" approach which leaves the defensive specialist Anthony on the bench. But that doesn't explain all of the drop off.
  • Funny thing. Before the Denver-Chicago game last night, the Clippers were fifth in offensive efficiency and fifth in defensive efficiency. After the game, in which the Nuggets hung 128 points on the vaunted Bulls defense, the Clippers fell to seventh on offense (behind Denver) and rose to fourth on defense (ahead of Chicago).
  • Miami's rebounding. Miami's rebounding is not good, but it's not really that bad. While it is true that they are last in the league in total offensive rebounds, that is probably the most misleading statistic in basketball. In order for an offensive rebound to happen, you have to miss a shot, and Miami leads the league in shooting percentage at 49%. Offensive rebound percentage tells us that Miami still isn't very good at crashing the offensive glass, ranking 27th in the league -- but then again, San Antonio is 30th in offensive rebounding percentage, so apparently you can be a very good team without getting a ton of offensive rebounds. On the defensive glass Miami is much better. Still below average, but only slightly worse than the Clippers.
  • Remember 2010? It's seems a bit quaint now, but remember when the Big 3 decided to take their talents to South Beach? At the time there seemed to be an open question as to who would be the top dog for the Heat. Wade had spent his entire career there, so it seemed reasonable to think that perhaps he'd want to be the main man with the game on the line. And for that first season, Miami did seem to struggle a bit figuring out a pecking order. Well that's not a problem anymore. This is LeBron James' team. He leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and minutes per game. He takes the big shots with the game on the line. He wins MVPs. He's indisputably the man, and Wade is a (fantastic) supporting player on more or less the same level as Bosh.
  • Defending the wing. Willie Green, Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Matt Barnes and Grant Hill will have their hands full tonight trying to defend James and Wade. The good news is that the Clippers have more above average perimeter defenders, a few with decent size, to throw at these Miami matchup nightmares than they have in years past. The bad news is that you can't really stop them. Depending on who is healthy, you could see Eric Bledsoe take a turn on Wade as well. Maybe we'll even get a replay of this.
  • Three point shooting. Uh oh. The Clippers have consistently lost games this season when opponents have lit them up from beyond the arc. The Heat are fourth in the NBA in three point percentage, and with James and Wade commanding so much defensive attention, shooters like Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Rashard Lewis get plenty of open looks. In the "it's-just-not-fair" department, James is hitting a career high from deep as well, over 40%. That's what you call unguardable. The Clippers defensive approach is built on helping on penetration, sealing off the lane. That works well against a lot of teams, but it is vulnerable to perimeter shooting, as we have seen. The magic number seems to be 10. If Miami hits more than 10 threes, they will almost certainly win the game.
  • James. He was already the best player in the NBA, and believe it or not, he's now better. Maybe even a lot better. His shooting percentages are at career highs, by a wide margin. He's at .556 from the field and .408 from beyond the arc. That's just mean. Last season he established a career high in true shooting percentage at .605. So far this season, he's a .625. Here's the thing -- volume scorers don't shoot have TSPs over .600. They take a lot of shots, and some of them aren't great shots, and it brings their percentages down. To be a top five scorer shooting over .600 in TSP just doesn't happen -- not for perimeter guys. Unless you're LeBron James or Kevin Durant.
  • More James. He's averaging 26 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists this season. Only four players in NBA history have averaged 25/8/7 for an entire season: Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.
  • Jamesian. Blake Griffin will never be the playmaker James is, but he is establishing himself as an almost as unique combination of talents. Griffin doesn't play as many minutes as James, but on a per 36 minute basis, they are the only two players in the league averaging 20 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists per game. That's pretty good company for Griffin to be in.
  • Speaking of minutes. Chris Paul's minutes on the season are now being held down by injury, but even when healthy the Clippers have been one of two teams in the top group of contenders (the Spurs being the other one) to keep their stars minutes relatively low. LeBron is fourth in the league in minutes per game at 38.7. Meanwhile, Paul and Griffin play 33.5 and 32.7 which is a pretty significant difference. Will it make a difference in terms of injuries and "fresh legs" when the playoffs come around? We'll see.
  • Speaking of playoffs. If the Clippers are thinking title this season (and when healthy they certainly have the numbers to support the idea) then there's a very strong possibility that they will have to face the Heat in the Finals. The West has three strong contenders and a couple of dark horses beyond them, but in the East, it's still pretty much Miami (depending on what happens with Derrick Rose and Chicago). Which means this game could end up being significant. The teams are currently separated by percentage points in the standings. The winner of this game will be ahead of the loser. And if the Clippers do manage to pull off the win, they'll also take the season series two games to zero. I'm not really counting on it, but it could be big if it happens.
  • Good against good teams, good on TV. The Clippers have been very good against good teams this season, and they've been very good on national TV games. However, those factors are more than canceled out by injuries. If Paul or other significant players can't go, or even if they are limited, I really don't expect the Clippers to be able to pull this game out.
  • Clippers-Heat rivalry. In recent years, the Clippers have done very well against the Heat in L.A. However, that success has not translated to South Beach. In the LeBron era, the teams have held their serve in every game.
  • Mini-LeBron. Clipper Eric Bledsoe has earned the nickname mini-LeBron from his teammates, and you can see why. Bledsoe has developed a similar penchant for chase down blocks, and is a physical specimen similar to James, only five or six inches shorter. Looking at Bledsoe's per 36 minute averages next to LeBron is very interesting -- he's not nearly the scorer, but he's in the neighborhood in rebounding and assists, while getting significantly more steals and blocked shots. If Bledsoe wants to take the nickname to heart and work as hard as LeBron has. When James came into the league, he was a mediocre shooter. He's improved his shooting percentage every season he's been in the league except for one. If Bledsoe can developed his shot in a similar fashion, he can truly be a mini-LeBron.
  • Crawford, Heat-killer? During the China games we were listening to the Miami announcers on NBA-TV and they went on and on about how Crawford has owned the Heat over the years. While it's true that Crawford scored his career high of 52 against the Heat, his career average of 16.6 in 34 career meetings is only slightly better than his overall average. Still, if Crawford wants to be a Heat-killer tonight it's fine with me. He scored 22 in the first meeting, helping put the Heat away in the fourth quarter.
  • Get the Heat perspective at Hot Hot Hoops
  • Lyrical reference:

    Bulletproof, I Wish I Was -- Radiohead

    Limb by limb and tooth by tooth
    Tearing up inside of me
    Every day every hour
    I wish that I was bulletproof

    Wax me
    Mould me
    Heat the pins and stab them in
    You have turned me into this
    Just wish that it was bulletproof

    Yes, that's right, another Radiohead song. You got a problem with that?