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Clippers-Pacers preview: Have fun stormin' the castle

The Clippers take a five game winning streak into Indianapolis to face the Pacers. But the deck is stacked against L.A. on the second game of a road back to back, facing the team with the best home record in the league and playing without Chris Paul.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season

January 18th, 201, 4:00 PM
Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Prime Ticket, NBA-TV, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
10-6 East 22-5
18-7 West 9-2
18-3 Home 20-1
10-10 Road 11-6
10-9 .500+ 9-5
18-4 <.500 24-2
8-2 L10 8-2
6-1 noCP3 N/A
Probable Starters
Darius Morris PG George Hill
Willie Green SG Paul George
Reggie Bullock SF Lance Stephenson
Antawn Jamison PF David West
Ryan Hollins C Roy Hibbert
Advanced Stats
98.32 (7th of 30) Pace 95.03 (22nd of 30)
107.1 (5th of 30) ORtg 102.5 (18th of 30)
100.8 (7th of 30) DRtg 92.6 (1st of 30)
Chris Paul (separated shoulder) out

The Back Story (Pacers lead the season series 1-0):

Date Venue Final

12/01/13 Los Angeles Pacers 105, Clippers 100 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

So yes, I'm joking with my list of probable starters for the Clippers. But if ever there were ever a game to employ the Gregg Popovich "healthy rest" strategy, this would be it. After playing last night in New York, and with an MLK day matinee in Detroit on Monday, the Clippers will tip off three NBA games in the course of 30 hours, facing the team with the best record and best home record in the NBA in the middle. As you well know, I dislike that strategy -- Pacers fans of all people deserve a chance to see exciting basketball every once in awhile after watching their team smother opponents all year in a yawn fest -- but it would make a hell of a lot of sense tonight. The Clippers play seven games in 11 nights on this trip and have almost no chance of beating the Pacers anyway. Mark it down as a loss and go pummel Detroit. I'd take a 2-1 start to this trip any day, and they'd be fresher for the remaining four games in seven nights. Of course, Doc won't do that, because he's not a prick like Popovich, and I appreciate that. Who knows, maybe we're in for a shock. Darren Collison will probably have a little something extra to prove playing against his former team, Griffin has had some big games against the Pacers (though frankly not against these Pacers) and maybe Jamal Crawford busted out of his slump last night. But on the second night of a road back-to-back, without Chris Paul, in the toughest building in the NBA, this one is almost certainly a loss. If Doc is going to start the regulars, I'd almost rather it be over with early so those guys can come out and rest up for the Pistons.

The Antagonist:

The Pacers are very good. We can stop wondering if they're for real -- they're for real for real. BUT... they're not as awesome as some aspects of their record make them look. Paul George is back to putting up All Star numbers instead of MVP numbers and the bench remains a major red flag (though the return of Danny Granger helps). The Pacers are just 9-5 against teams .500 or better, and that includes wins over Washington, Toronto and Memphis, who barely qualify for the distinction. Indiana is good -- really, really good, especially on defense. But just looking at their point differential you might conclude that their nigh unbeatable, and I don't happen to think that's true. I'd really like to see what a full strength Clippers team could do against these guys, but we'll have to wait until the NBA Finals for that.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Pacers have the best defense in the league by a wide margin. Per 100 possessions, the Pacers allow 5.5 fewer points than the next best team, the Chicago Bulls. That's ridiculous.
  • Princess Bride. Maybe it's because Billy Crystal is a Clippers fan, but thinking about this game, I couldn't help thinking of Miracle Max. As in, "Do you think the Clippers have a chance to win?" "It would take a miracle." So hence, "Have fun stormin' the castle!"
  • Midpoint. The NBA season is 82 games, and the Clippers have now played exactly 41. They are 28-13, which is exactly the pace of their franchise record 56 win season last year. It feels as if this Clipper team has yet to peak, so hopefully they can improve on their record in the second half of the season. Of course, how well they weather the next 14 games (give or take) without Chris Paul will go a long way in determining that. So far so good, but the schedule isn't quite so friendly for the remainder of his absence.
  • George slumping. Through the first 21 games, George's TSP was .603. This is a guy whose career TSP coming into the season was around .540. For the last 17 games, his TSP has been .555, in line with his career and more what you would expect even given some improvement. A TSP is .555 is terrific; a TSP of .603, for a volume scorer who is also an elite defender and a great overall player, is MVP-worthy. It remains to be see which set of games is more of an outlier, the red-hot start or the more recent sample. For what it's worth, he's shooting under 40% from the field in January, so the trend is moving the wrong way.
  • Why the Pacers may not be that scary. The Pacers' numbers look absolutely great. They lead the league in margin of victory by more than two points and their defense, as already pointed out, is far and away the best. However, because they are one of only two teams in the East more than two games above .500, they've necessarily played a weak schedule (28th in the league). They are 9-5 against teams .500 or better, but upon closer inspection, five of those wins have come against the likes of Toronto, Washington and Memphis, teams barely over .500. They're good, no doubt -- but it's difficult to really say how good given the relatively weak schedule they've played.
  • East All Stars. The Eastern Conference All Star team may have a very Indy feel to it. Frank Vogel will be the coach of the team. Paul George will certainly be announced as a starter next Thursday. Traditionally the coaches who choose the All Star reserves have made it a very specific point to reward teams with good records in their selections -- but there aren't a lot of options in the east to do that. Roy Hibbert will almost certainly make the team, as well as David West. And frankly, you could make a decent case for Lance Stephenson when you consider (a) record and (b) there just aren't that many good options in the East. Would a coach vote for Arron Afflalo from the 10-30 Magic over Stephenson? I doubt it. Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving will start, John Wall deserves a spot, but after that, who do you pick? Kyle Lowry? Jeff Teague? Born Ready might just sneak in.
  • Bad game to be without CP3. Against the Pacers' stifling defense, the Clippers could certainly use their offensive catalyst. The Clippers will try to play at a faster pace with Collison running the show, to attack the Pacers defense before it gets set.
  • Three point shooting. The Clippers will simply have to make threes tonight if they hope to have a chance. The Pacers' tremendous combination of length and quickness on the perimeter allows them to challenge almost every shot, and they are leading the league in three point defense. Still, sometimes you make shots. J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes were great against Dallas on Wednesday -- but terrible in New York last night. Jared Dudley has been shooting the three much better lately. It's going to take more than one guy making shots for the Clippers to have a chance I think.
  • Griffin. Blake Griffin scored his career high of 47 against the Pacers during his rookie season. That was of course a very different Pacers team. On paper, David West doesn't seem like the kind of defender that would give Griffin trouble, but he always does. West is long, but he's also strong as a bull. And he is not afraid to pound on Griffin. Blake has added to his repertoire lately, so it will be interesting to see if he can find a way through West and the Pacers.
  • On the wing. The last time these teams me, the Clippers were without J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes. Reggie Bullock actually had one of his best games as a pro, but against this team, having some options on the wing is going to be very useful. The Clippers shut down Carmelo Anthony in New York last night -- can they handle Paul George tonight.
  • Paul George nickname. More than any other player I can name, Paul George really, really, REALLY needs a nickname. Not just because he has burst onto the NBA as a tier one talent -- he just happens to have a name that is rife with possible confusion. You can't call him Paul, because it's a common first name -- and against the Clippers you could get him confused with Chris Paul. If you call him George, you run the risk of confusing him with his teammate George Hill (a problem that Blake Griffin and Steve Blake shared a couple of seasons ago). Even his initials are confusing -- whenever anyone writes about PG, I immediately assume they're talking about the point guard position so I always have to take a moment to realize that they mean Paul George. So yeah, dude needs a moniker. I'd like to propose Fab2 -- because he's half of the Fab 4 (John, Paul, George and Ringo).
  • Length over strength. Length is also the new mantra in the NBA in the past five or ten years, and one of the primary reasons that the Pacers are so good defensively is because they are so very long. Hibbert (7'2) is as long as anyone in the league and George (6'8), Stephenson (6'5) and Hill (6'2 with crazy long arms) give them long defenders on the perimeter, and West has long arms as well. It's Indiana's length, along with good schemes and good discipline of course, that make them such a great defensive team.
  • The 2010 wings. In the 2010 draft, the Clippers needed a wing, preferably a small forward. The consensus among draft watchers was that Evan Turner and Wesley Johnson were the best available wings, and with the Clippers picking eighth, they knew they'd have no shot at them. That left the Clippers to choose from a group that seemed difficult to differentiate -- Al-Farouq Aminu, Gordon Hayward, Xavier Henry, Luke Babbitt and Paul George were all considered good but not great prospects. The Clippers went with Aminu at eight and the other four were snapped up with picks 9, 10, 12 and 16. Three seasons into their careers, Johnson and Henry are busts on reclamation assignments with the Lakers; Turner is on the trade block in Philly; Hayward is a solid player who has done well; Aminu is a project at best; and Babbitt is out of the league. Meanwhile George, picked 10th, after Turner, Johnson, Aminu and Hayward, is an MVP candidate.
  • Connections. Darren Collison played two seasons in Indiana where he was the starting point guard until the Pacers decided to go with George Hill instead. Former Clipper Rasual Butler is still in the NBA, sitting at the end of Indiana's bench. Chris Paul and David West were longtime teammates in New Orleans. For any Gauchos among the citizenry, Orlando Johnson of the Pacers is the first UCSB player in the NBA since Brian Shaw.
  • Get the Pacers perspective at Indy Cornrows.
  • Shakespearean reference:

    Eat it up all, Hortensio, if thou lovest me.-
    Much good do it unto thy gentle heart!
    Kate, eat apace. And now, my honey love,
    Will we return unto thy father's house
    And revel it as bravely as the best,
    With silken coats and caps, and golden rings,
    With ruffs and cuffs and farthingales and things,
    With scarfs and fans and double change of brav'ry.
    With amber bracelets, beads, and all this knav'ry.
    What, hast thou din'd? The tailor stays thy leisure,
    To deck thy body with his ruffling treasure.

    Apace, a somewhat archaic adverb meaning quickly, is a wonderfully Shakespeare-y word, don't you agree?