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Clippers-Raptors preview: Christmas Hangover?

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After fulfilling a Christmas wish and vanquishing the Western Conference leading Golden State Warriors on Christmas night, the Los Angeles Clippers turn around to meet the Eastern Conference leading Toronto Raptors in what should be a thrilling matchup.

Harry How/Getty Images
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season
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vs
20-10

22-7
December 27th, 2014, 12:30 PM
STAPLES Center (Los Angeles, California)
Prime Ticket, RSN-, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown (2014-2015)
9-4 East 15-5
11-6 West 7-2
4-2 Division 5-0
12-3 Home 14-3
8-7 Road 8-4
6-7 .500+ 6-5
14-3 .500- 16-2
1-0 OT 2-1
5-5 L10 7-3
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Kyle Lowry
J.J. Redick SG Terrence Ross
Matt Barnes SF James Johnson
Blake Griffin PF Amir Johnson
DeAndre Jordan C Jonas Valanciunas
Advanced Stats
96.49 (11th of 30) Pace 95.51 (17th of 30)
110.2 (3rd of 30) ORtg 111.7 (2nd of 30)
103.9 (16th of 30) DRtg 104.0 (17th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Spencer Hawes (Day-to-Day) Knee
DeMar DeRozan (Out) Groin

Landry Fields (Day-to-Day) Head


Clippers won 2013-2014 season series over Raptors; 2-0
Date
Venue
Final
Clips Nation Recap
ESPN Box Score
01/25/2014
Toronto
Clippers 126, Raptors 118
Recap
Box Score
02/07/2014
Los Angeles
Clippers 118, Raptors 105
Recap
Box Score

The Big Picture

After only 30 games, it's hard to define a certain win as the "best win of the season" but the Clippers victory over the Golden State Warriors probably is their best of the year. They played horrendously for the first half and still did enough to completely blow the Warriors out of the water in the final quarter. After being unable to seemingly score at all, the Clippers finished with 100 points and bested Golden State by 14. It's not often you turn around after playing a conference's best team and then have to face the other conference's best squad but that's what's going to happen here. Warriors are the top team in the West and after beating them on Christmas, the Clippers now have to deal with the best team from the Eastern Conference. No clue how often that happens but it can't be often at all.

The Antagonist

The Toronto Raptors are a damn good squad and that's despite them missing key contributor, and All-Star, DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan's missed the last 13 games after tearing his adductor longus tendon against the Dallas Mavericks on November 28th. However, despite that, the Raptors have gone 9-4 without him. Their four losses were to the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, and twice to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Three of those four losses were on the road. But the Raptors have been getting great contributions from guys like James Johnson, Greivis Vasquez, and even Landry Fields while DeRozan's been out. Toronto is a highly dangerous team. The matchups in this game will also be very interesting since each position features guys that their counterparts can counteract. Toronto is 7-2 against the West but only three of those games have been on the road, where they are 2-1. Their lone road loss to a West team? To the Lakers in STAPLES Center.

For More: Visit Raptors HQ

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics ~ The Clippers and Raptors are pretty much equals in both offensive and defensive efficiency when it comes to rankings. However, the Raptors do hold a slight edge on the offensive side of the ball. And that even holds true for Toronto despite DeMar DeRozan missing the last 13 contests. Over that period of time, the Raptors have posted an NBA-best 113.0 Offensive Rating. That's without an All-Star caliber player which is pretty nutty. The Clippers, over that same stretch, have posted a 110.7 Offensive Rating. These two teams are both highly prolific offenses spearheaded by dominant point guards but also both have issues on the defensive end. This is one of those games that features two dominant offenses and two mediocre defenses. Could produce fireworks.
  • Schedule ~ The schedule makers did the Clippers no favors in December which has caused the team to basically not be able to practice. It gets really bad when you realize that the Clippers are coming off of a 5-in-7 stretch but have to turn around and play an afternoon game rather than a late evening game. However, the Christmas game against Golden State signified the start of a rather rare 9-game homestand. They could makeup some ground here. For Toronto, this is the second stop on a 6-game road trip that sees them still have to visit Denver, Portland, Golden State, and Phoenix. They started it off with a loss to Chicago on Monday. At least they're well-rested, though. The Raptors could come out of this looking pretty worse for wear or come out looking like a legitimate title threat.
  • Paul v Lowry ~ One game after getting a showdown between two of the Western Conference's best point guards, we get to see a cross-conference matchup of two of the game's best. On one side, Chris Paul is putting up a great season and averaging 18-5-10 on 49/40/88 shooting. On the other, Kyle Lowry is averaging 20-5-8 on 45/34/82 shooting. Both are masters at ticking off the other point guard by getting up into them and creating havoc defensively. Their matchup could dictate the entire game since whoever wins it will likely decide who prevails in this game.
  • Jordan v Valanciunas ~ The men in the middle, DeAndre Jordan and Jonas Valanciunas, each have qualities their respective teams love. Jordan is coming off of back-to-back superb outings and is even averaging 12.7 points, 16.1 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks over the last seven games. In December alone, Jordan is averaging 15.4 rebounds per contest. Jonas Valanciunas is no slouch, though. His offensive game is great and he can rebound the ball well. He's not the defensive force that Jordan is but he can cause problems there with his size and length. Valanciunas is posting career highs in points, rebounds, and free throw percentage. The problem is he only averages a shade under 27 minutes per night. While Jonas is out, Jordan should feast. When they're both in there, though, it should be a great battle.
  • X-Factor: Lou Williams ~ This is the guy the Clippers must put the clamps on in order to ensure a victory. Over his last 18 games, Lou Williams is averaging 17.1 points and has shot 38.3 percent from beyond the arc. While the percentage isn't otherworldly, he is dangerous. His ability to be effective as both a slasher and shooter are well-known. He's Toronto's Jamal Crawford. Simple as that. On the year, Williams is averaging 14.6 points on 42/37/88 shooting. However, he can get hot in a hurry. And that was not more evident than when he torched the Cleveland Cavaliers for 36 points in just under 30 minutes. Keeping Williams under 20 points is a must. Toronto is 6-0 when he tops the 20-point mark and won those games by an average of 16.2 points.
  • Terrence Ross' 51 ~ We all remember it. Ross was hitting shots from the other side of the border and it looked like Toronto would benefit from it. However, the Clippers won and it's sort of forgotten in the annals of time as a "nice game" since the Raptors didn't pull out the win. Ross hit a ridiculous 10 threes and shined all game long. While he's not an X-Factor for this game, he is someone that the Clippers defense must key in on and make sure he doesn't get off. In their second meeting last year, Ross only had 9 points. While he won't go off for 51 points again, he is capable of an explosive game. If you'd like to take a look at the highlights from that game for Terrence Ross, you can click here. As a side note, his 51 points that night tied the Toronto franchise record for points in a game which was set by none other than Vince Carter.
  • Grit, Grind, and Griffin ~ The list of players that are averaging 20-8-4 this year begins and ends with Blake Griffin. He's the only one. But that's beside the point here. Over his last 15 games, Griffin is averaging 23.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 5.5 assists on 50.4 percent shooting. However, his performance on Christmas cannot be talked about enough. It wasn't great but it was very good despite the poor shooting. Griffin finished with 18 points, 15 rebounds, and 6 assists to go with 2 steals and 1 block. It was great to see him do a ton of other things when his shot wasn't falling. He was one of the pivotal reasons the Clippers walked away with a win. His ability to hit the glass and create shots for others paved the way. It was his third 15+ rebound performance of the season and tenth game with 6+ assists.
  • Jamal Ball, Y'all ~ After playing like vomit Tuesday night in Atlanta, Jamal Crawford resurrected himself on Christmas and led the way with a game-high 24 points on 8-for-18 shooting. For the longest stretch in that game, Crawford was the only Clippers player who even looked like he knew where the net was. But Jamal's performance went far beyond scoring. It was his aggression on the glass that was highly noticeable. He pulled down a season-high tying 7 rebounds and played solid defense (minus a couple possessions). It might have been his best game of the year considering the level of competition and what the win could ultimately mean. It's games like that which show how important Crawford is to the team. Jamal's a rollercoaster. Sometimes you just have to ride out the valleys to get to the peaks.
  • The Injuries ~ There's no word on if Spencer Hawes will be ready to go for this game but he has been making progress apparently. He's missed 8 straight games since injuring his knee back in Washington. Without him in those 8 games, the Clippers have gone 4-4. His ability to stretch the floor and rebound has been sorely missed. Toronto, as noted a few times, is without All-Star wing DeMar DeRozan. They've also been without Landry Fields lately since he suffered a concussion when he flipped over and nailed the back of his head on the floor against Detroit on December 19th. While he's not a big time player, he has given them valuable minutes this year. There's no word on DeRozan's return but his injury, a torn adductor longus muscle, will take quite a bit of time for him to come back from and there's no telling what type of player he will be afterwards. Based on literature surrounding the injury, perhaps he could be back in two more weeks. Maybe. Wish him the best.
  • Connections ~ Back during the coaching search in the 2010 offseason, the Clippers head coaching job came down to Vinny Del Negro, who would ultimately be hired, and Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Dwane Casey. Casey now coaches in Toronto. Lou Williams and Spencer Hawes are former teammates from their Philadelphia 76ers days. Greivis Vasquez was teammates with former Clippers Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon, and Chris Kaman in New Orleans after Chris Paul departed. Terrence Ross and Spencer Hawes both went to the University of Washington. Amir Johnson is from Los Angeles, DeMar DeRozan went to the University of Southern California, and Tyler Hansbrough's North Carolina Tar Heels beat Blake Griffin's Oklahoma Sooners in the 2009 South Regional Final (Elite Eight). Griffin put up 23 points and 16 rebounds while Hansbrough had 8 points and 6 rebounds. James Johnson and Chris Paul are both Wake Forest University products.
  • Wikipedia Entry ~ Raptors aren't just the common Velociraptor that we normally think of when we hear the word. Raptors are also defined as being "birds of prey" and "characterized by keen vision that allows them to detect prey during flight and powerful talons and beaks." There's also the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor (fighter jet), HSM-71 "Raptors" (helicopter squadron), Raptor roller coaster, and SVT Raptor (pick-up truck). There's also something called RAPTOR software which is a protein threading software that happens to be used for protein structure prediction.
  • Raptors HQ ~ To get the Toronto Raptors perspective on the game, you can head on over there and discuss it with them.