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Clippers-Hornets preview: In the Hornet's nest

After a disappointing and disheartening overtime loss in Dallas last night, the Clippers find themselves in a must-win situation tonight in New Orleans.

Harry How
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

March 27th, 2013, 5:00 PM
New Orleans Arena
Prime Tickets, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Brian Roberts
Willie Green SG Eric Gordon
Caron Butler SF Al-Farouq Aminu
Blake Griffin PF Anthony Davis
DeAndre Jordan C Robin Lopez
Advanced Stats through games of March 26
91.4 (17th of 30) Pace 88.4 (29th of 30)
109.9 (5th of 30) ORtg 105.9 (14th of 30)
102.9 (8th of 30) DRtg 109.6 (27th of 30)
Chauncey Billups (groin) GTD
Greivis Vasquez (ankle) GTD

Eric Gordon (ankle) probable

Jason Smith (shoulder surgery) out

Austin Rivers (hand surgery) out

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers need to put last night's overtime loss to Dallas behind them. Of course that may be easier said than done, because if if they manage to move past it mentally, the physical aspect may be tougher. It's bad enough playing a road back-to-back -- playing it after an overtime game, with an earlier tip off, is really bad. It was about 10 PM Pacific time when the Mavs game ended last night -- the Hornets game starts today at 5 Pacific, 19 hours later. Not to mention that Chris Paul played 39 minutes on a sore knee that almost kept him out of the Dallas game. Then again Paul wasn't the problem in Dallas, he was pretty much the only solution, scoring a season-high 33 on 12-15 shooting, despite Rick Carlisle's decision to run double teams at him all over the floor down the stretch. Blake Griffin continued to slump, Jamal Crawford had a terrible game, and the Clippers missed their last 14 three pointers after starting the game 10-19. Ouch. Still, a win in New Orleans gives them a split this first back-to-back while Memphis and Denver are on the road against tough opponents tonight, so if all goes well the Clippers could be back in third by themselves at the end of the evening. Then again, if it goes badly they could be in fifth.

The Antagonist:

New Orleans has done the Clippers two huge favors in their last two games, beating both the Grizzlies and the Nuggets.It would be quite an accomplishment for the Hornets if they could beat all three of the West's second tier in consecutive game. If the Clippers let them do that all the benefit of those surprising Memphis and Denver losses will be completely undone. The Clippers have lost ten straight on the road to the Hornets, and it's been longer still since they beat the team in New Orleans. Of course, all of those losses except one game last season came while Chris Paul was playing against the Clippers, not for them. Hopefully Ralph Lawler will remember to tell Paul about this losing streak -- these streaks tend to end once Paul is aware of them.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. Last season the Hornets were terrible on offense and average on defense. This season they are are on offense and terrible on defense -- which doesn't seem to make sense for a Monty Williams coached team, but there it is.
  • The trip. The Clippers are 0-1 on this all-important four game trip, losing to a team with a sub-.500 record. After tonight it's all playoff teams, with games in San Antonio and Houston, so a loss in this one portends disaster. This game is pretty close to a must-win if the Clippers want to finish third.
  • The race. When Memphis and Denver lost to teams with losing records on Monday night, the Clippers were alone in third place, and ahead in the loss column. But they gave back that advantage in Dallas last night. The Grizzlies are in New York tonight and the Nuggets play at the Spurs, so they are both underdogs tonight while the Clippers are favored. If Vegas knows what it's doing, the Clippers will retake the lead in the race for third tonight.
  • Vasquez. New Orleans point guard Greivis Vasquez, who has been having his best season in his first year as a full time starter, missed the Nuggets game with a tweaked ankle. He's listed as a game time decision, but participated in the shootaround this morning, so I'm guessing he'll play. Of course, Brian Roberts had a career high 18 assists starting in his place against Denver, so maybe the Clippers would rather see Vasquez.
  • Three point shooting. The Clippers and Hornets have played twice this season, both meeting in LA. In the first game, the Hornets made 15-25 three pointers and won a close one. In the second meeting they made 2-19 three pointers and were blown out. They also made 14-25 against Denver Monday, but those are outliers really. The Hornets average about 18 three point attempts per game, which is in the bottom third of the league. But obviously they are capable of making a bunch.
  • That's why they keep averages. If you take New Orleans three point shooting from the first two Clipper games, you get 17-44, which is .386 -- which is still above their season average of .368. That's despite 2-19 in the second meeting, which tells you how hot they were in the first meeting. Basically, if the Hornets had hit a normal percentage in each game, the Clippers would be 2-0 against them this season.
  • What's wrong with Griffin? Griffin had been on a tear since late January, shooting better than 60% from the field in 25 games through last week. But in the last three games he has gone 2-9, 4-11 and 4-14, about 31%. He didn't take a shot in the fourth quarter or most of overtime in Dallas last night, and appeared reluctant to do so, seemingly anxious to pass the ball as soon as he got it. If Griffin is mediocre, the Clippers are in trouble. He needs to find his mojo again, and fast.
  • Eric Gordon. Former Clipper Eric Gordon was the centerpiece of the package New Orleans received from the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade. This summer they matched a maximum offer for Gordon from the Suns, locking up what they hoped would be a cornerstone piece for their rebuilding project. Unfortunately, injuries have sidelined Gordon 97 out of 137 games since his arrival in New Orleans. Even more unfortunately, he's been pretty ordinary when he has played, posting a PER of 14.5 in 31 games this season (a PER of 15 is considered an average player). When Gordon was a Clipper I would periodically praise his high efficiency scoring, but his effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage have each decreased each season he's been in the league. As a rookie, Gordon posted a TSP of .593 -- this season he's at .519. Yikes. It's not clear that EJ wants to be in New Orleans -- he openly lobbied to be allowed to Phoenix -- but at this point, they seem to be stuck with each other. Hopefully he can have a fully healthy season next year and regain his shooting stroke.
  • AFA. The other former Clipper sent to New Orleans in the Paul trade, Al-Farouq Aminu, has had an up and down season. He began the season as the starter, then briefly feel completely out of the rotation -- he did not appear in the last meeting between the teams. But he's once again the starting small forward. He does some things well -- he's been a terrific rebounder from the three spot this season, he's a long defender who gets a lot of deflections, and he's hitting a better percentage of his shots this season. But it doesn't appear that he's ever going to be much of a scorer at the NBA level, and it's not clear that he's got the motor to thrive as a rebounder/defender on the wing. I guess the jury's still out.
  • Sideshow Bob. Hornets center Robin Lopez seems to love playing against the Clippers. He scored a career-high 30 against them while with Phoenix and went for 22, the sixth highest scoring game of his career, in the last meeting between these teams. This is a guy who has a career average of 7. When asked about the Clippers, Lopez said "I just try to take what the defense gives me -- and then I'm going to KILL BART SIMPSON!"
  • The trip. The importance of this road trip really can't be overstated. When it's over, the Clippers will only have three more road games remaining, and only one two game trip. But with four games in five nights against three teams fighting for playoff position and the dangerous Hornets (who have helped the Clippers by beating the Nuggets and Grizzlies back-to-back), this trip could go very wrong, very quickly. Currently on two days rest and playing a Mavs team that has struggled against top teams all year, it's vital to get the trip off to a good start with a win tonight.
  • Milestones. The Clippers are still looking for a couple of milestones that they did not reach in Dallas last night. No Clipper team has ever had a winning road record, and the next road win will be their 21st, assuring the team of a winning record away from home this season. A win also ties the franchise's single season win record with 49, equaling the high water mark set 40 years ago in Buffalo.
  • Connections. Largely because of the Paul trade, there are loads of connections between the Clippers and the Hornets. There's Paul and Gordon and Aminu of course. Hornets rookie Austin Rivers was chosen using a draft pick that was included in that trade. Since his arrival in L.A. Paul has influenced the acquisition of his former New Orleans teammate Willie Green and assistant coach Robert Pack made the switch from the Hornets to the Clippers as well. DaJuan Summers, currently on his second 10 day contract in L.A. played 15 games for the Hornets last season.
  • Get the New Orleans perspective At the Hive.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Fits Like a Glove -- Kiss

    Ain't a cardinal sin, baby lemme in, girl I'm gonna treat you right
    Well goodness sakes, my snake's alive and it's ready to bite
    Hornet's nest, lay me down to rest, ooh I wanna shed my skin
    I got the urge to merge, you're cold as ice, baby won't you lemme in
    Night scenes, wet dreams, enough to make you drool
    And fire, fire, fire for the fuel

    Don't like to dress, talk too good, but I found my queen
    Not too clean, know what I like, if you know what I mean

    Am I being ironic, going with a Kiss song? Am I really a closet glam metal fan? Or is there simply a terrible dearth of 'hornet' lyrics from bands I care about? (Oh man, are these some bad lyrics, btw. My snake's alive and it's ready to bite? Really? Was this song written by Beavis and Butthead?)