The Back Story (The Clippers lead the season series 1-0):
|11/03/14||Los Angeles||Clippers 98, Jazz 90||Recap||Box|
The Big Picture:
The Clippers opened the season with a very home friendly schedule -- and struggled out of the gate. It took an extended road trip for the team to find any sort of groove, as they've responded to a seven game trip by winning five of the first six. In fact, a win tonight in Utah would give them the most successful trip of seven or more games in franchise history. It's the second game of a back to back, the fifth game in seven nights, and the Jazz are an improved team over a year ago, so it won't be easy. But the Clippers are 6-0 against teams with losing record this season, 6-2 on the road, and 4-0 on the second game of back-to-backs, so lots of things seem to be pointing to a win.
The Western Conference is so good that it's difficult to say in some cases whether the teams near the bottom of the standings are actually bad teams, or if they just can't compete with the top of the conference. The Utah Jazz seem to be the best example of that. A month into the season, the Jazz are one of four West teams currently under .500 -- and one of those four is the Thunder, who will be very different very soon with the return of Russell Westbrook and the impending return of Kevin Durant. But the Jazz might very well be a playoff team in the East, and regardless, there's definitely a plan and a reason for hope in Salt Lake City. They are almost certainly still missing the top tier player that every team needs to compete at the highest level, but they have managed to assemble a very nice collection of young talent even if none of them are exactly mega-stars. Gordon Hayward (24) and Derrick Favors (23) are both signed long term, and are having their best seasons this year. And they're the old guys in the starting lineup. This is a dangerous team, especially along the front line, and the Clippers will need to play well to beat them on the road.
- Comparison of key metrics. Young teams tend to struggle on the defensive end, and the Jazz are no exception. The Clippers offense has started clicking on this road trip so they should be able to score against the Jazz. But Utah also likes to control the pace, playing about as slow as anyone in the league. So one key will be whether the Clippers can get some easy baskets in transition.
- Backcourt issues. The Utah front line of Favors, Hayward and Enes Kanter, along with backups Rudy Gobert and Trevor Booker, has been pretty darn good this season. Unfortunately the backcourt has not been good at all. Starters Trey Burke and Alec Burks are shooting 37 and 39 percent respectively, and rookie Dante Exum is also below 40 percent. Nor have any of them been good enough from deep to make much of a difference in those bad percentages (Burke is hitting 36 percent of his threes but the others are all below 30). Burks has been better lately, but until the Jazz can find some efficient backcourt scoring, they're going to struggle.
- Hayward's deal. When Gordon Hayward signed a maximum contract with the Jazz this offseason, it looked like a terrible deal for the Jazz. Since then a couple of things have happened to make the contract look a bit better. For one thing, Hayward has responded to the deal with his best season, at least so far, increasing his shooting percentage from .413 last year to .467 so far. More importantly (and one presumes the Jazz braintrust saw this coming) the much more lucrative TV deal was announced -- so a max deal signed in 2014 will seem much more affordable in the years ahead. I'm not convinced that the Jazz won't eventually regret this contract -- which is tough for me to say because I'm actually a pretty big Hayward fan. But the worst contract in the NBA is the max deal for the non-max guy -- and that's what this looks like to me.
- Paul in the post. There's nothing that Chris Paul likes more than posting little point guards, unless it's posting little, inexperienced point guards. And he's seen a bunch of them on this road trip. Whether it was Kemba Walker in Charlotte or D.J. Augustin in Detroit, Paul has gotten more than a few touches in the post lately. You can expect more of the same against the 6'1 Burke, in just his second year in the league. Doc Rivers is quite willing to go to an option over and over as long as it's working, so don't be surprised if the Clippers run Paul post ups over and over today.
- Bucking the back to back trend. League-wide, team's do much worse playing in the second game of a back to back. The Clippers however are undefeated in four back to backs this season. I don't have any great explanation for why that might be, but it certainly helps that they've played some losing teams in those games. One of those earlier wins was against this Utah team. Let's hope the trend continues.
- 5 in 7. Just as the Clippers last played Utah on a back to back, this is also the second time this season that the Clippers have played the Jazz at the end of a long stretch of games. Last time it was their fourth game in five nights -- this time it's their fifth game in seven nights, not to mention that final game of a seven game road trip.
- Rested? It helps the Clippers that the starters took a decent portion of the fourth quarter off last night in the easy win in Houston. Paul and Jordan played 33 minutes each, Griffin played 31. Back to backs are never easy, and Houston to Salt Lake City is not a short flight, but at least nobody was forced to play 40+ minutes against the Rockets.
- Jamal Crawford. The Clippers extraordinary reserve Jamal Crawford won his second Sixth Man award last season, but he's actually been even better so far this season. In fact, he may be having the best season of his 14 year career, especially when you consider that he's playing better defense than he ever has. Crawford's value as a shotmaker who can get you a bucket in a tough spot -- at the end of a quarter, at the end of a shot clock, etc. -- can't really be overstated. He's got his shortcomings no doubt, but he's been crucial to the Clippers this season.
- Hedo Turkoglu. The turnaround for the Clippers came when they went on their road trip -- which also happens to be when Doc Rivers decided to hand the backup small forward minutes to Hedo Turkoglu. Turkoglu is a natural on offense; even if he's not shooting, he's helping by moving the ball or making plays. And he's so smart that he's still able to play decent defense, even with little lateral mobility. Turkoglu's far from an ideal solution at the three -- but so far, he's been much better than the alternatives and Doc has clearly noticed as much. Among Clippers reserves, only Crawford and Spencer Hawes have played more minutes during the road trip.
- Barnes. Starting small forward missed two games in the middle of the trip with a sore calf. He started in Houston and played 20 minutes. Presumably he's available for this game, but it's also possible that he may need to rest the calf on the second game of a back to back, depending on how it reacted after last night.
- The Booker scuffle. In the words of Ralph Lawler, they weren't happy earlier, now they're really unhappy! Trevor Booker and Blake Griffin got into a bit of a skirmish in the preseason after Blake took exception to a hard foul.
- Connections. Former Clipper forward Steve Novak is on the bench for the Jazz. Joe Ingles went through training camp this year with the Clippers, but was waived before the start of the season. Jingles was promptly picked up by the Jazz and is in their top eight rotation. Hedo Turkoglu and Enes Kanter are two of the four active NBA players to have played with the Turkish national team. Jamal Crawford and Trey Burke are two of five active NBA players from Michigan, though they were in Ann Arbor more than decade apart.
- Get the Utah perspective at SLC Dunk.
- Wikipedia entry: Diet Pepsi Jazz was a brand of soda introduced by the Pepsi company in 2006 and discontinued in 2009. It was a specifically named variant of Pepsi's popular Diet Pepsi product, combining several different flavors. There were three different kinds available: Jazz with Black Cherry and French Vanilla, Jazz with Strawberries and Cream, and Caramel Cream.