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Clippers-Cavaliers preview: Breaking through in Cleveland

The Clippers can tie the record for most road wins in franchise history against the Cavs tonight, but they haven't won in Cleveland in almost 11 years.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

March 1st, 2013, 4:30 PM
Quicken Loans Arena
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Kyrie Irving
Chauncey Billups SG Dion Waiters
Caron Butler SF Alonzo Gee
Blake Griffin PF Tristan Thompson
DeAndre Jordan C Tyler Zeller
Advanced Stats through games of Feb. 28
91.7 (15th of 30) Pace 92.1 (13th of 30)
109.3 (6th of 30) ORtg 105.8 (13th of 30)
102.2 (5th of 30) DRtg 109.3 (28th of 30)
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) GTD

Anderson Varejao (knee surgery) out

Omri Casspi (appendectomy) out

Daniel Gibson (personal) out

The Back Story:

November 5, 2012 in Los Angeles | Cavs 108, Clippers 101 | Recap | Box Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers will be looking for a measure of revenge when they visit Cleveland tonight. In the fourth game of the season, the Cavaliers stole a game in L.A. and don't think the Clippers have forgotten. During his post-game interview in Indianapolis last night, Chris Paul mentioned both the November game and the fact that the Clippers lost in Cleveland last season. In fact, the Clippers haven't won in Cleveland in more than 10 years, and Paul is hyper-aware of all of those futility streaks, having already put an end to the vast majority of them in his season and a half with the franchise. This one is quite strange -- losing in Cleveland while LeBron James was playing there was to be expected, but the Clippers are 0-2 in Cleveland in the post LeBron era; that needs to end. The Clippers got big games from all three of their top scorers last night in Indiana, with Paul (29), Jamal Crawford (23) and Blake Griffin (18) all looking sharp, but the rest of the team was very sub-par, and hopefully they can turn that around tonight. In particular, it would be nice to hit some open three pointers. The Clippers got plenty of great looks from deep against the Pacers, but shot just 1-14 in the first half and 4-23 on the game. The Pacers have the best defense in the league -- the Cavs have the third worst. Open shots will be there, but you have to knock them down.

The Antagonist:

Cleveland is probably about where they want to be right now in the post-LeBron rebuilding project. Thanks to the Baron Davis trade with the Clippers, they lucked into the first overall pick in the 2011 draft and first overall pick Kyrie Irving is clearly destined for superstardom, if in fact he's not there already. He's an incredibly rare combination of quickness and handle and pure shooting that makes him basically unguardable. But without their second best player Anderson Varejao for most of the season, the Cavs are still looking at a lottery pick in the draft, and some of their other young players seem to be producing as well, so the rebuild is on course. The Clippers may have caught a break for the second game in a row as Irving has missed the last two contests with a hyperextended knee. He's listed as a game-time decision for this one, but certainly the Cavs don't have a ton of incentive to rush him back out there. Surprisingly the Cavs managed to win their last two games without Irving. In the first meeting between these teams Irving scored 24, but it was his backcourt mate rookie Dion Waiters who did the most damage, scoring 28 points while making 7-11 on three pointers.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. Recently the Clippers have played against both terrible defensive teams (Charlotte is 29th) and great ones (Indiana is first). We're back to terrible tonight, with the 28th place Cavs.
  • Clippers road record. It's hard to argue with the conventional wisdom that Miami (reigning champs), Oklahoma City (the other Finalist) and San Antonio (best record in the NBA) are the top three teams right now. But I find it surprising that the Clippers are rarely even included in the conversation when you consider the actual results. For instance the Clippers have the second best road record in the NBA at 19-12 behind only the 23-11 Spurs, ahead of the 16-11 Heat and Thunder. They also have the second best record in the league against winning teams at 20-11, again behind only the 21-11 Spurs.
  • Clippers road record, part 2. A win tonight would tie the Clippers all time record for road wins in a season at 20; the Cassell-Brand Clippers went 20-21 in 05-06. Last season's team was 16-17 during the lockout shortened season. In fact, the Clippers have never had a winning road record for a season in franchise history. A win tonight and they'll be within one win of accomplishing that with nine road games remaining.
  • Waiters' November night. In his fourth game as an NBA player, Dion Waiters scored 28 points on 10-17 shooting, making 7-11 three pointers, including some absolutely crazy heat check makes. It felt like a total outlier at the time -- and indeed it has been. He's never made more than four three pointers in a game since, though he did establish a new career high with 33 points in January. On the season he's shooting .410 from the field and .314 from deep.
  • Livingston. Our old pal Shaun Livingston signed with the Cavs around Christmas and has been their back up point guard ever since. He has started the last two games with Irving out, scoring a season high 15 points in each. It's hard to believe that it has been over six years since the horrific knee injury that ended his career with the Clippers and threatened to end his career period. It's been a long road back for Shaun, trying to make teams each year, playing in six different cities in the last five years, but he's playing his best post-injury basketball right now. It will be good to see him play tonight.
  • Luke Walton. Speaking of L.A. players whose careers were over, Luke Walton has recently re-emerged in Byron Scott's rotation. He's in the final year of that crazy 6/$30M deal the Lakers gave him in 2007, and after playing 20 minutes in all of November, he's averaged 18 minutes per game off the bench since the new year. I always liked Walton -- I have a soft spot for guys who can pass -- but that contract almost killed his basketball career. It will be interesting to see if teams have any interest in signing him as a free agent, even at the NBA minimum, this summer.
  • Bad losses. The Clippers' last three losses to the Cavs have all been inexcusable. Their was the home loss in November of course. Back in February of 2012 the Clippers lost 99-92 to a bad Cavs team playing without Irving. But the worst was February 2011, when the Cavs were on a NBA-record 26 game losing streak. The Clippers lost in overtime, becoming the answer to a trivia question they should want no part of. Hopefully all of these losses are eating at the Clippers.
  • Last time the Clippers won in Cleveland. The last time the Clippers won in Cleveland was March 20, 2002, almost 11 years ago. Blake Griffin was 12 years old. Tremaine Fowlkes started at small forward for the Clippers and Jeff McInnes started at point guard. Andre Miller was still with the Cavs. But at least the current Clippers can ask Lamar Odom how it feels to win in Cleveland. He was injured for the 2002 victory, but was part of a Clippers road win over the Cavs in 2001.
  • Big night. The Clippers could find themselves within a half game of second place in the Western Conference by the end of the evening. The Thunder, who have won one road game against a winning team this calendar year, are playing in Denver against the Nuggets, who have the best home record in the Western Conference. If the Clippers win and the Thunder lose, it sets up Sunday's national TV showdown in STAPLES Center between the teams as a chance for the Clippers to pass the Thunder in the standings (though even then OKC would still lead in winning percentage).
  • New Cavs. The Cavs were only to happy to help out Memphis when they were looking to trim salary in February, taking on Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington who have immediately become key members of the Cleveland rotation. Speights probably remembers Eric Bledsoe from the playoffs last season.
  • Three point defense. The Cavs made 14-29 threes against the Clippers in L.A. with Waiters obviously doing most of the damage. On the season the Cavs are a so-so three point shooting team, but will be much worse if Irving can't play. Ellington definitely adds a deep threat for them, and then of course there's Waiters who is .314 on the season, but made seven against the Clippers last time.
  • Connections. Shaun Livingston was drafted by the Clippers and played his first three seasons in L.A. where he has always been a favorite of the fanbase. Kyrie Irving was drafted by the Cavs with the Clippers 2011 lottery pick, though the Clippers don't mind too much since the trade that sent Baron Davis to Cleveland was part of a series of moves that has them where they are today. Coincidentally Irving's coach, Byron Scott, was also a Clippers draft pick, sent to the Lakers as part of a trade for Norm Nixon. Ryan Hollins spent a season and a half in Cleveland. Walton, Odom and Turiaf were all teammates with the Lakers.
  • Get the Cleveland perspective at Fear the Sword.
  • Lyrical reference:

    It's the End of the World as We Know it -- R.E.M.

    Six o'clock - TV hour. Don't get caught in foreign towers.
    Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn.
    Locking in, uniforming, book burning, blood letting.
    Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate.
    Light a candle, light a votive. Step down, step down.
    Watch your heel crush, crushed.
    Uh oh, this means no fear cavalier. Renegade steer clear!
    A tournament, tournament, a tournament of lies.
    Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline.

    It's the end of the world as we know it.
    It's the end of the world as we know it.
    It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

    Be honest, how many of those words did you ever know from this song? Other than It's the end of the world as we know it of course. The next verse Michael Stipe runs through an eclectic list of names with the initials LB -- Leonard Bernstein, Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs -- I've always wondered about the significance of the initials LB. By the way, I've been forcing my kids to listen to R.E.M. lately. It's important.