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Clippers-Sixers preview: Time to right the ship

The Clippers woke up this morning in fifth place in the Western Conference standings for the first time since the second week of the season. They can climb back up to third or fourth with a win tonight.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

March 20th, 2013, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jrue Holiday
Matt Barnes SG Damien Wilkins
Caron Butler SF Evan Turner
Blake Griffin PF Thaddeus Young
DeAndre Jordan C Spencer Hawes
Advanced Stats through games of March 19
91.5 (17th of 30) Pace 90.8 (21st of 30)
110.0 (5th of 30) ORtg 101.5 (27th of 30)
103.1 (8th of 30) DRtg 105.4 (13th of 30)
Chauncey Billups (groin) doubtful
Andrew Bynum (knee surgery) out
Eric Bledsoe (calf) doubtful
Jason Richardson (knee surgery) out
Ronny Turiaf (knee) questionable

The Back Story:

-- February 11, 2013 in Philadelphia | Clippers 107, Sixers 90 | Recap | Box Score

    The Big Picture:

    The Clippers need something to get them back in a good groove, and maybe it will be a game against the 76ers, a team they destroyed in Philadelphia last month. Then again, they had destroyed Sacramento earlier in the season and that didn't keep the Kings from hanging a 38 point fourth quarter on the Clippers last night. In the ridiculously tight race for third in the Western Conference, a win tonight for the Clippers coupled with a Memphis loss to the Thunder would move the Clippers back up to third from their current position in fifth (actually it would tie them with Denver, but the Clippers win the first tie-breaker by virtue of being a division-winner). But a win over the Sixers is not going to get them into the post-season position they want -- they have to find some sort of rhythm or the Nuggets and Grizzlies and going to start pulling away, which would leave the Clippers at significant risk of losing in the first round of the playoffs. Chris Paul had a terrible game in Sacramento, shooting 2-10 and turning the ball over seven times -- it goes without saying that he needs to play well for the Clippers to be at their best.

    The Antagonist:

    The Sixers were imploding a few weeks back. Their loss to the Clippers started a seven game losing streak and a stretch in which they lost 12 of 13. Their coach was calling them out in post game news conference, saying that they didn't care. Now all of a sudden in their last four games they are 3-1, with wins over Brooklyn, Indiana and Portland and the lone loss by a mere four points against the invincible Heat. Of course those games were all at home, and the Sixers have just six road wins all season, tied for second fewest in the NBA, but still, they have been playing better. It's been a dreadful season in Philadelphia for several reasons, but the biggest reason will soon have surgery on both of his knees. The Sixers traded All Star Andre Iguodala and several picks and prospects for Andrew Bynum and Jason Ricardson during the offseason. Richardson played in just 33 games before undergoing knee surgery -- and that was 33 games more than Bynum played in. It's hard to remember the original timeline on Bynum, but he's had one setback after another keeping him off the court, and me made the decision last week to have surgery on both his knees, ending his season before it began. Bynum is a free agent this summer, leaving the Sixers in the unenviable position of having to either pay big money for a player who has been injured off and on his entire career, or let him go elsewhere and get nothing in return for Iguodala, Vucevic and Harkless. Ouch.

    The Subplots

    • Comparison of key metrics. Last night's opponent was average on offense and terrible on defense. Tonight's is average on defense and terrible on offense. Another similarity that works in the Clippers favor tonight -- the Sixers, like the Kings, are much better at home than on the road.
    • Big minutes for Paul? Chris Paul played 44 minutes in Sacramento last night, his season high in a non overtime game. If Eric Bledsoe continues to rest his strained calf muscle and Chauncey Billups sits out with the groin injury he suffered last night, Paul will again be asked to play big minutes. That's because his only backups will be Malik Wayns, an undrafted rookie on a 10 day contract, and some combination of non-point guards Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill. Hopefully the Clippers can take control of the game early, build a big lead, and get Paul some rest.
    • The Howard trade. Has there ever been a multi-team trade that turned out so poorly for so many teams? With a month left in the season, three of the four teams involved have significantly worse records this year than they did last year. Only the Nuggets have a better record, and you could argue that their improvement has little to do with Iguodala. Injuries to Bynum and Howard have of course been a big factor, and Orlando is no doubt happy with the trade -- they're terrible this season, but they wanted to be terrible this season.
    • Bynum to the Sixers, Walton to the Clippers. I was trying to think of a similarly disastrous acquisition for a franchise, and a few came to mind. Grant Hill signing in Orlando has some of the characteristics in that he was supposed to be a franchise player but was immediately injured. But that wasn't as bad as the Bynum situation, simply because Hill was a free agent, so he cost the Magic money but not players. Bill Walton to the Clippers is probably the closest parallel. Both Walton and Bynum are big men who can be dominant (though Walton of course was much better and had less downside other than injuries). Both had significant injury history at the time of the acquisition -- Walton had missed the entire season when the Clippers signed him. Back in the 70s, the league would compensate the other team for free agent signings, so although Walton was a free agent, it cost the Clippers a couple of starters and a first round pick to sign him. Walton then played 13 games in his first three seasons in San Diego.
    • Fifth place. The Clippers haven't been as low as fifth place in the standings since they were 4-2 on November 8, less than two weeks into the season. They were tied for the best record in the NBA on January 20th, and have plummeted to fifth in the West, sixth overall, in a matter of two months.
    • Del Negro teams. The good news, if you believe in patterns, is that the current funk of the Clippers is typical of Vinny Del Negro coached teams, but they always snap out of it. In two seasons in Chicago and again last year, Del Negro's teams have gone through a lull in the next to the last month of the season, before closing strong in the final month. Last year the Clippers turned it on with 19 games left, going 14-3 before dropping their last two while Chris Paul was hurt. In 2010 the Bulls lost 10 straight in early March, then went 10-4 in their final 14. Del Negro has a way of getting his teams out of the doldrums late in the season -- let's hope that he can do it again.
    • Griffin. After struggling against the Sixers in the first three games of his career, Blake Griffin had 20 points on 9-14 shooting last month. The absence of former Clipper Elton Brand, who seemed to take particular pride in roughing up Griffin, probably had something to do with that. Thaddeus Young also missed that first meeting, and he'll be back for this one, but I don't think Young has the strength to contend with Griffin in the post.
    • Dunkfest. The game in Philadelphia last month was a Lob City dunkfest. Check it out.
    • Nick Young. I have to apologize to Jamal Crawford. The Clippers got a three month rental on Nick Young last season (which proved to be a very important acquisition for the team) and when he left this summer while the team signed Crawford, I admit that I questioned exactly how much of an upgrade that was. I believe I even called Young a poor man's Crawford. Well, while that may be nominally true, Young is way below the poverty line in the comparison. He's a destitute man's Crawford; indigent, impoverished, impecunious even. Yes, they are both chuckers at some level, but Crawford is a world class chucker, and Young is just not anywhere close to the same talent level. So I'm sorry, Jamal.
    • Starting two. If Billups is sidelined it will be interesting to see what Vinny Del Negro does at the starting two guard spot. Early in the season he used Willie Green there as a placeholder in order to keep the second unit intact. But last night in Sacramento he went with Matt Barnes to start the second half. That might have been because Barnes was warm while Green was not. Or it might have been because the second unit is already scrambled with the absence of Bledsoe, so there's no point in using Green as a placeholder. Or it might simply be that as we get closer to the end of the season, Del Negro is through messing with Green, who is clearly no higher than the 11th man on a healthy Clipper roster. Of course this being the second game of a back-to-back, Grant Hill may not be an option. Green would have to play some minutes if Bledsoe, Billups and Hill are all unavailable.
    • Connections. Nick Young played 22 games and 11 playoff games for the Clippers last season after a deadline trade. He was instrumental in the Clippers' defeat of Memphis in the first round. Clipper Willie Green spent seven seasons in Philadelphia.
    • Get the Philadelphia perspective Liberty Ballers.
    • Lyrical reference:

      76 Trombones -- The Music Man

      76 trombones led the big parade
      With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand.
      They were followed by rows and rows of the finest virtuosos,
      the cream of ev'ry famous band.

      76 trombones caught the morning sun,
      With a hundred and ten cornets right behind.
      There were more than a thousand reeds springing up like weeds,
      there were horns of ev'ry shape and kind.

      There just aren't a lot of options for 76ers, so we're going with this over the top march of a show tune from the classic musical The Music Man. Robert Preston is absolutely great as Professor Harold Hill and who doesn't love Mrs. Partridge and Opie?