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Clippers-Knicks preview: The big stage

The Clippers badly need a win today, playing on the biggest stage in the NBA, in Madison Square Garden versus the Knicks playing in a game being televised on ABC.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

February 10th, 2013, 10:00 AM
Madison Square Garden
ABC, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Raymond Felton
Chauncey Billups SG Jason Kidd
Caron Butler SF Iman Shumpert
Blake Griffin PF Carmelo Anthony
DeAndre Jordan C Tyson Chandler
Advanced Stats through games of Feb. 9
91.6 (15th of 30) Pace 90.3 (24th of 30)
108.6 (7th of 30) ORtg 111.5 (3rd of 30)
102.0 (6th of 30) DRtg 105.7 (15th of 30)
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
Marcus Camby (foot) out

Rasheed Wallace (foot) out

The Back Story:

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

The Big Picture:

The ugly loss in Miami on Friday may not have felt great, but it served a purpose. The Clippers were able to get four key players back on the court, who all seemed no worse for the wear after the game. So even though they were blown out, it was (a) unlikely the were going to win in Miami, where the Heat are now 21-3, anyway and (b) inevitable that it would take some time to shake the rust off and integrate so many new bodies smoothly. Whether they'll be full strength and fully meshed in this game is another question, but in theory they should be closer. The hand-wringing in Clips Nation is completely unwarranted -- IF the team starts winning again now that Chris Paul is back (not to mention all the others). It's not news that the Clippers aren't as good without Chris Paul, so losing eight of 11 while he was missing or hurting is not relevant. What is relevant is how he's feeling now, and how the Clippers play with him back. The Clippers are 2-4 six games into this eight game trip. Wins in New York and Philadelphia would allow them to salvage a .500 trip, which would be a huge accomplishment.

The Antagonist:

I have absolutely no feel for the Knicks. They started the season as the hottest team in basketball. But then again, their early three point shooting seemed unsustainable -- I mean, they can shoot, but not like that. They've had injured players coming and going -- Raymond Felton, Carmelo Anthony and Jason Kidd (among others) all missed games, and meanwhile Amare Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert returned from injuries that had held them out at the beginning of the season. The Knicks are still hard to figure -- when they fired Mike D'Antoni last season, Mike Woodson seemed to reinvent the team as a hard-nosed defensive unit -- but in his second season, he's suddenly the second coming of D'Antoni, with the Knicks hoisting a ridiculous 29 threes per game, which would be an NBA record if they keep it up all season. The Knicks offense revolves around Carmelo Anthony and those three pointers. Anthony is tasked with creating shots in the half court, they spread the floor with shooters, and Tyson Chandler cleans up around the basket. It doesn't seem like much, but it's had the Knicks in the top two in the East all season, so it's working.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. Sadly, after playing sub-par basketball for a few weeks, the Clippers have finally dropped out of the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. It wouldn't take a lot to climb back up if they start playing well again.
  • Nor'easter. A huge snowstorm hit the East coast this weekend, and neither the Knicks (who were playing in Minnesota) nor the Clippers (who were in Miami) could get to New York until Saturday. We'll see if either team looks tired from their travel ordeals.
  • Three point shooting. There may not be any other factor worth mentioning in this game. The Clippers have allowed their opponents to make more than 10 three pointers while hitting better than 40% from deep on 11 occasions this season, and they are 0-11 in those games. In case you hadn't figured it out, that means they are 35-6 in the 41 games when they don't get lit up from deep. The Knicks on the other hand have had 21 games this season where they have made more than 10 three pointers at better than 40% and they are 17-4 in those games. Heck, they actually AVERAGE 11 makes per game. The Knicks are on pace to break (really crush) the NBA season season record in both attempts and makes from beyond the arc, and are fifth in the league in three point percentage at .383. Little else matters -- the Clippers must defend the three point line if they want to win.
  • Sixth men. Jamal Crawford of the Clippers and J.R. Smith of the Knicks are first and second in the NBA among players who have not started fewer than 10 games this season. Crawford and Smith are frequently mentioned as leading Sixth Man Award candidates, both second in scoring on winning teams, but frankly there's really no comparison between them right now. Smith, after starting the season white hot, is actually having one of the worst shooting season's of his career, with a true shooting percentage below .500, which is really bad. Crawford is scoring more, and much more efficiently, so there's little question of who has been the better Sixth Man between the two. Jarrett Jack and Kevin Martin have cases -- not Smith. And frankly any All Star team talk for J.R. was just silly.
  • Anthony. In contrast to Smith, Anthony is having one of the most efficient scoring seasons of his career. He's shattering his career high in three point shooting at almost 41%, and is at career highs in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. Consequently he's also at a career high level in PER this season. Basically, he's a great player having a career year.
  • Defending Anthony. Which presents the Clippers with a problem. The Knicks essentially start three guards and Anthony at the power forward. Ignoring other matchups, the Clippers would probably want to stick Caron Butler on Anthony, but that would leave Blake Griffin defending Jason Kidd or Iman Shumpert - not good. But can Griffin hang with Anthony, and more to the point, do the Clippers want Griffin expending that kind of energy on the defensive end? Anthony presents a serious matchup nightmare. Of course, Carmelo is going to have to contend with Griffin on the other end as well.
  • Felton and Crawford. Felton and Crawford were teammates in Portland for a single season last year, and it was a disaster for all concerned. Crawford shot under 40% from the field, Felton was only a little better, and they both got out of town this summer. To the chagrin of Blazer fans, they both have played much better in their new homes. As it happens, Felton is still struggling from the field, but at least he's hitting his threes (36% vs. 30% in Portland). Crawford is having one of the best season's of his career.
  • Chandler and Jordan. I've long maintained that Tyson Chandler should be DeAndre Jordan's role model, and the two will go up against one another today. There are many similarities. They are first and second in the NBA in field goal percentage (though Chandler is way ahead at a ridiculous 67 percent). They both have found themselves at the other end of Chris Paul lobs on many occasions. And if you're looking for reason to believe that Jordan will continue to improve, consider that Chandler was selected to his first All Star game this season in his 12th season in the league. Jordan has been in the league five years. After five years, Chicago gave up on Chandler and traded him to New Orleans for the 37 year old P.J. Brown (and J.R. Smith as it happens, though Smith was promptly waived). Chandler was not the defensive force his is now really until he'd been in the league 8 or 9 seasons. Perhaps Jordan will continue to develop in a similar manner.
  • Old, old Knicks. The Clippers have some old guys on their team like Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom. But it's nothing compared to the Knicks. Kurt Thomas is the only player in the NBA older than Grant Hill, and Jason Kidd is just behind at 39. Meanwhile Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace (both hurt, what a surprise) are both 38. Even New York's rookies are old -- Argentine point guard Pablo Prigioni became the oldest rookie in the history of the league this year when he signed with the Knicks at the age of 35.
  • Jacking threes. The Knicks have an astounding five players on their roster who attempt at least four three pointers a game. The Clippers, who aren't exactly prude about shooting, have one (Jamal Crawford). Anthony is fourth in the league in three point attempts per game, which I would have said was a massive waste of his skills in years past, but now that he's making 41% of them it makes sense. Kidd and Steve Novak are essentially one trick ponies -- they are two of only six players in the league for whom 75% or more of their field goal attempts come from behind the arc. That's a lot of threes.
  • Novak. Novak, the former Clipper, was chosen last week to participate in the three point shooting contest on All Star Saturday and I couldn't be happier. After several contests featuring what were frankly mediocre shooters with big names (Kevin Love? please), having Novak and Steph Curry in this year's contest will be great. Those are the two purest shooters in the league in my book, and I think they'll put on a show next week.
  • Tough week. The schedule-makers certainly aren't doing the Clippers any favors. Not only are the finishing an eight game road trip -- they head into All Star weekend on a "four games in five days" stretch, in New York Sunday, in Philly Monday, home against Houston Wednesday and at the Lakers Thursday. The consolation is that today is a day game so they have extra time before the Sixers tomorrow night, and there's no travel for their Wednesday-Thursday back-to-back.
  • Rotation. With thirteen bodies available for the first time this season on Friday, coach Vinny Del Negro seemed a little perplexed as to what to do. Part of the problem was that Ryan Hollins had played very well in Orlando on Wednesday, and VDN decided to slot him ahead of Ronny Turiaf in the rotation. But that doesn't explain the absence of Grant Hill in a game where wing defenders were at a premium. Once again today in New York wing defenders will be needed, so hopefully Hill will get off the bench.
  • Griffin and the Knicks. We all remember Blake Griffin's first game against the Knicks, which was his break out game. Two iconic dunks, the Mozgov and the Gallinari came out of that night. He scored 44 in that one, and has had subsequent games of 21 and 29. His 31.3 point per game average is his highest against any team in the NBA.
  • Connections. Steve Novak and Marcus Camby spent two seasons together with the Clippers where they were teammates with DeAndre Jordan and an injured Blake Griffin. Chauncey Billups went to New York as part of the Carmelo Anthony trade; when the Knicks later amnestied him, the Clippers picked him up. Jamal Crawford spent four-plus seasons in New York, his longest stint with any team in his rather well-traveled career. Ronny Turiaf spent a season with the Knicks. Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith were teammates of Chris Paul with the Hornets. Grant Hill and Jason Kidd were co-rookies of the year 18 years ago in 1995. Knicks coach Mike Woodson played two seasons for the Clippers.
  • Get the Knicks perspective at Posting and Toasting.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Billy Liar -- The Decemberists

    Billy Liar's got his hands in his pockets
    Staring over at the neighbor's, knickers down.
    He's got his knickers down.

    So the summer is eternity for you?
    Sleeping in until your father's shaking you down
    He's shaking you down.

    And the mailroom shift gets a real short shrift
    As you dole out the packages, no-one seems to want you around
    All skulking around.

    Finding lyrical references to Knicks or Knickerbockers, without using direct references to the team, figured to be very difficult. So how happy was I to come up with a "knickers" reference from one of my favorite bands?