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Clippers-Bucks preview: Taking care of business

The Clippers suffered a tough loss on Sunday and have a tough game looming tomorrow, but they have to take care of business tonight against the Bucks.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

March 6th, 2013, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
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Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Brandon Jennings
Chauncey Billups SG Monta Ellis
Caron Butler SF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Blake Griffin PF Ersan Ilyasova
DeAndre Jordan C Larry Sanders
Advanced Stats through games of March 5th
91.7 (15th of 30) Pace 94.6 (4th of 30)
109.5 (7th of 30) ORtg 103.2 (22nd of 30)
102.3 (7th of 30) DRtg 103.9 (10th of 30)
Trey Thompkins (knee) out

The Back Story:

-- December 15 in Milwaukee | Clippers 111, Bucks 85 | Recap | Box Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers suffered a painful defeat to the Thunder on Sunday -- literally painful at least for Blake Griffin. But the season moves on, and they need to put that loss and Serge Ibaka out of their minds and go out and win the next game. The next game happens to be against the Milwaukee Bucks, who have won four straight with the newly acquired J.J. Redick. The Clippers have not been having any problems against anything other than the best teams recently. They've only lost three games since Chris Paul returned from injury almost four weeks ago, and those three losses were to the Heat, the Spurs and the Thunder. So based on that trend, the Clippers shouldn't have much trouble with the Bucks. Milwaukee doesn't really have anyone to match up physically with Blake Griffin, nor do they have a great perimeter defender to assign to Paul. If Paul and Griffin dominate their matchups as they should, the Clippers should win this game without much trouble.

The Antagonist:

The Clippers destroyed the Bucks back in December, but this Milwaukee team is different -- not only have they added Redick, but they also have a new coach. Scott Skiles stepped down as coach back in January and was replaced by Jim Boylans. The coaching change hasn't had much impact -- they were 16-16 under Skiles, they're 14-12 under Boylans thanks to a four game winning streak. They do appear to be playing better since acquiring J.J. Redick to be their sixth man. Redick has only played five games with the team and they've won four of them. On paper, the Bucks look like a flawed but nonetheless dangerous team. Their backcourt rotation features three guys (Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and Redick) who could easily go for 30 points on any given night. Ersan Ilyasova is another gifted player who is capable of big nights, while Larry Sanders and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are impact players on the defensive end. But it's something of a mish-mash in Milwaukee, with interesting but ill-fitting pieces, and it's difficult to imagine the Bucks as currently constituted as anything other than first round playoff fodder.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. With a back court featuring Jennings and Ellis, you might expect this Milwaukee team to be better on offense than on defense, but by efficiency measures the opposite is true. Skiles and now Boylans have always been defense-first coaches, while Jennings and Ellis may be scorers, but they're not the most efficient scorers. Hence the Bucks offense is rated in the bottom third of the league, while their defense is ranked in the top third. Having by far the best shot blocker in the NBA on your roster helps on the defensive end.
  • First meeting. When the Clippers traveled to Milwaukee back on December 15, they were in the midst of their 17 game winning streak playing great basketball, and they proceeded to play perhaps their most impressive game of the season. They jumped on the Bucks from the opening tip, led by 20 at halftime and cruised to a 26 point win. It is tied for the most lopsided road win of the season, and tied for fifth in franchise history.
  • Better Bench. The Bucks should at least have a better bench for this game than they did for that first meeting. Redick will be the first guard off the bench of course, but our old pal Mike Dunleavy (junior, not senior) will be there as well. He missed the first game, but he's actually having a pretty good season, hitting a career high 43% of his three pointers.
  • Three point shooting. With the presence of Redick, the Clippers can't help but think about their January loss to the Orlando Magic. Redick scored 21 in that game, making four three pointers including the dagger in the final minutes. The Magic as a team made 11-25 threes, part of a trend of Clipper losses due in large part to opponent three point shooting. Milwaukee's season numbers from deep aren't very impressive -- they're below average in percentage and in attempts -- but the addition of Redick changes things some. Redick (.388), Jennings (.375), Dunleavy (.428) and Ilyasova (.432) are all dangerous from deep. If the Clippers do lose this game, I can almost guarantee it will be because the Bucks hit a bunch of threes. They hit 10 Monday in their win over Utah.
  • Defending Griffin. Mbah a Moute (LRMAM) is a terrific defender, but is more of a small forward and gives away a lot of size to Griffin. Sanders is a great shot blocker, but is willowy and probably doesn't have the strength to deal with Griffin one on one. As for Ilyasova, there's this. Basically, I don't think the Bucks have anyone that can handle Griffin.
  • Bucks against the west. I crunched some numbers recently on conference winning percentages. The West has been stronger than the East for better than a decade now, but it may be more pronounced than ever this season. The West's winning percentage against the East this season is .576; that represents about a two game swing over the course of a season. That is to say, a team that you would expect to be 41-41 against the other 29 NBA teams in a balanced schedule, will go 43-39 in the East and 39-43 in the West given the conference-centric schedules played in the NBA. The Bucks are a good example of this phenomenon. They are 21-17 against East teams this season -- 9-11 against the West. And that's after having won three straight against West teams. They were 6-11 about a week ago. Bottom line -- this team would be battling with Portland for lottery position in the Western Conference.
  • Playoff position. Continuing the thought above, instead of battling for ping pong balls in the West, the Bucks are fighting for playoff positioning in the East. There's basically no chance that they don't make the playoffs (Hollinger's playoff odds calculator has them at better than 95% at this point), not because they're so good but because the bottom seven teams in the East are so very, very bad. (The Sixers meltdown is a shame for several reasons, not least because it destroyed any semblance of a playoff race over there.) But no one, and I mean NO ONE wants to be the eight seed in the East. If the Bucks can catch the Celtics they can avoid the mighty Miami Heat and give themselves a change to make it out of the first round. If they can catch the Hawks, then they can avoid the Pacers, the only other East team that's even playing well right now. A six seed in the East gives you a decent chance to get to the second round, where you'd have at least a puncher's chance against Indiana. Milwaukee is currently a game and a half back of the Celtics, two and a half behind Atlanta.
  • Rested Clippers. The Clippers haven't played since a day game on Sunday. Having played a league high 62 games so far, L.A. will have a fairly leisurely schedule the rest of the way. That includes an extra day off for this game, but unfortunately, in its infinite wisdom, the NBA also managed to squeeze in six back-to-backs as well, including one tomorrow night in Denver (more on that below). Amazing, right. With 20 games left over 43 days, the 30% of the Clippers remaining schedule consists of back-to-backs. Thank you, NBA schedulers.
  • Denver Thursday. The Clippers can't look ahead, but I can. At the conclusion of tonight's game, they board a four two hour flight to Denver -- I'd say they'll get to their hotel about 4 AM local time. They'll then take the floor at Pepsi Center about 12 hours after going to bed and get crushed by the Nuggets on national TV, while Charles Barkley talks about how "turrible" they are, and no one will mention that this is a textbook schedule loss. Thanks again, NBA schedulers and TNT schedulers as well. Maybe, maybe the Clippers can get a big lead, rest Paul and Griffin a ton and give themselves a chance against the Nuggets. But frankly, short of flying them to Denver before the Milwaukee game starts, it's hard to imagine overcoming the massive disadvantage they'll have tomorrow night. Might as well expect a 1-1 split of these games and make sure to get the first one.
  • Ellis and Jennings. The Bucks are a unique team, with two small guards leading them in scoring. Ellis was paired with Steph Curry (a scoring point from the 2009 draft in Golden State) and that wasn't working out so they shipped him out to Milwaukee where he's paired with Jennings (a scoring point from the 2009 draft). You almost feel sorry for Ellis as he continues to find himself in less than ideal situations. His true shooting percentage this season, never a strong point, is a career low .480, which is dreadful. Paired with Jennings with a TSP of .507, the Bucks have two high volume, low efficiency shooters in their backcourt. That's why Redick, an incredibly high efficiency scorer with a TSP of .596 this season, is such a good acquisition for them. BTW, remember when the question in Golden State was which guy to keep, Ellis or Curry? I guess they made the right choice, eh?
  • Bucks at the trade deadline. Everyone expected Josh Smith to be traded out of Atlanta at the trade deadline a couple of weeks ago, and almost everyone expected him to wind up in Milwaukee, which seemed to be the team most interested. But in the end, the Bucks weren't willing to part with anything other than expiring contracts and spare parts, and Atlanta passed, even though they'll no doubt lose Smith this summer. Instead the Bucks acquired Redick for some of those spare parts.
  • Bucks outlook. It's hard to know what is going to happen with this team going forward. Ellis has an early termination option for next season and he'd like to go elsewhere so most suspect he'll opt out, but I wonder if he's going to get $11M from any other team. Meanwhile, Jennings will be a restricted free agent, and the Bucks will no doubt get a big offer sheet from someone. Will the Bucks match it? So this is probably the final year of the Ellis/Jennings backcourt -- I can't imagine that they'll want to keep (and pay) both of them. But Redick will be an unrestricted free agent, and will be looking for a big pay day as well (rumor has it that he'll be asking for something in the range of $10M per season, which he won't get, but that gives you an idea). Those of you who dream of Redick taking open threes assisted by CP3 can forget it -- the Clippers will only have the MLE to offer, and he'll get more than that from someone. Dunleavy will also be a free agent.
  • The Larry Sanders show. One of the bright spots for the Bucks this season has been the play of Larry Sanders. The third year big out of VCU has been a per minute monster, averaging 12.2 points, 12.4 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per 36 minutes. He leads the league in blocked shots both per game and per minute. He also averages 4.9 fouls per 36 minutes, which may explain why he only plays 26 minutes per game.
  • Connections. Bucks reserve forward Drew Gooden was a Clipper for a half a season in 2010. That half season served him well, as he signed a $32M contract with the Bucks that summer, despite the fact that he has played 140 minutes this season (can you say "amnesty?"). Clipper Caron Butler was born and raised in Racine Wisconsin. LRMAM and Ryan Hollins were UCLA teammates for one season. Bucks small forward Mike Dunleavy is the son of the Clippers former coach. Clipper coach Vinny Del Negro played two seasons in Milwaukee in the late 90s.
  • Get the Milwaukee perspective at Brew Hoop.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Alex Chilton -- The Replacements

    Cerebral rape and pillage in a village of his choice.
    Invisible man who can sing in a visible voice.
    Feeling like a hundred bucks, exchanging good lucks face to face.
    Checkin' his stash by the trash at St. Mark's place.

    Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes 'round
    They sing "I'm in love. What's that song?
    I'm in love with that song."

    Going into the wayback machine today for a tune from seminal alternative band The Replacements. I wish I could say that I was listening to The Replacements from the very beginning, but it would be a lie. However, I do have the album featuring the above song, Pleased to Meet Me, on vinyl, so that makes me pretty cool, right?