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Clippers-Jazz preview: Face the Music

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An easy week follows a challenging one, as the Clippers look to regain their rhythm and give the Jazz the blues.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season
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20-11

10-20
December 29th, 2014, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
9-5 East 6-9
11-6 West 4-11
12-4 Home 5-9
8-7 Road 5-11
7-9 .500+ 4-13
13-2 .500- 6-7
4-6 L10 5-5
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Trey Burke
J.J. Redick SG Rodney Hood
Matt Barnes SF Gordon Hayward
Blake Griffin PF Enes Kanter
DeAndre Jordan C Derrick Favors
Advanced Stats
96.4 (12th of 30) Pace 92.5 (28th of 30)
110.0 (3rd of 30) ORtg 103.8 (15th of 30)
104.3 (18th of 30) DRtg 108.3 (27th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Spencer Hawes (knee) questionable
Alec Burks (shoulder) out

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

Date Venue Final Recap Box
11/03/14 Los Angeles Clippers 107, Jazz 101 Recap Box
11/29/14 Salt Lake City Clippers 112, Jazz 96 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

It's time to get fat again. No, silly, Christmas is over -- put away the eggnog and pumpkin pie. I'm talking about this week's schedule. Three home games against three pushovers over a roomy six-day stretch. The Clippers have blitzed bad teams, particularly at home, so this week should be as easy as they come. Should be. My head tells me Utah is a tough out, but the history books say that the Clippers have beaten the Musicians 14 straight times. The last Jazz victory in this series came on January 17, 2012. Weren't Stockton and Malone still around?

The Antagonist:

Second verse, same as the first. The Jazz are stuck on Penrose stairs, always going up, up, up, and nowhere. Any forward progress is obscured by a Western Conference arms race building so rapidly, teams are making splashy additions as early as December (lookin' at you Dallas and Houston). Utah is 10-20 and sits in 13th. On December 29, 2013, Utah was 9-24. On December 29, 2012, Utah was 11th. And yet, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors are playing starter's minutes with a star-level PER (over 20). Alec Burks is shooting a career-high 38% on threes and Rudy Gobert is a defensive Kraken off the bench. 2014 draft picks Dante Exum and Rodney Hood bring still more potential. The notes sound right and the harmonies are getting strong, but the Jazz are stuck listening to the same tune: So What?

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers' offense betters the Jazz' by 6 points per 100 possessions. The Clippers shoot better, from three and overall. The Clippers force turnovers but rarely turn it over themselves. The Jazz do that, but the opposite. The metrics are clear: this is Lob City's game to lose.
  • The schedule. To complete the thought from above, the Clippers get to ease into 2015, playing the imploding Knicks on New Year's Eve and the intentionally-imploded 76ers on Saturday after two full days of rest. Anything short of a 3-0 week would be a massive disappointment.
  • Chris Paul looks to bounce back. The star point guard was stymied by Toronto on Saturday, scoring just 10 points on 25% field goal shooting. If you put any stock in ESPN's Real Plus-Minus, it's worth knowing that Kyle Lowry is 14th among point guards in the defensive component of their metric, and several of the players above him are not regular starters. Utah's listed point guards Alec Burks and Trey Burke rank 54th and 80th. Chris should get ready for another holiday feast.
  • Blake the shooter. Blake's increased reliance upon his jump shot has been a constant source of consternation for Clipper literati. We've debated whether it's been necessitated by an injury or lack of conditioning or whether it's a forward-looking strategic decision by Doc Rivers. If it's the latter, we may have witnessed the first return on his investment in Saturday's loss to the Raptors. On one early play, Blake was left wide open, as per usual, and calmly sank the long two-pointer. On the very next possession, Blake found himself wide open again, started his shooting motion, and drew a hard closeout by stay-at-home C Jonas Valanciunas. Blake took the opportunity to drive hard to the basket. Are defenses slowly gravitating toward his jumper? Something to watch for.
  • Blake the passer. Blake is unleashing a passing game that should be the envy of big men everywhere. He's failed to dish at least five assists in just one of the past nine games. He's averaging 5.6 assists in the month of December, which would tie him for 19th in the NBA if he could keep that up for a whole season, ahead of full-time point guards like Kyrie Irving, Jeremy Lin, and the aforementioned Trey Burke. It's impressive stuff from the bruising forward.
  • Jamal the scorer. Jamal Crawford continues to augment what has been one of the most efficient seasons of his long career. The 34-year-old 14-year veteran is coming off of consecutive 20-point games, the first of which was a banner effort in a Christmas win over the Warriors. However, the question seems to remain, do his hero-ball ways hold the bench together, or hold it back?
  • Connections. Since it's Game #3 against the Jazz, this has been well covered... Former Clipper Steve Novak, this writer's pick for the least conventional sharpshooter in the NBA, comes off the Utah bench... So does Joe Ingles, who played with the Clippers in preseason... Clipper Hedo Turkoglu and Jazz(er? ist? ian?) Enes Kanter are fellow Turkish nationals... Jeremy Evans, rider of Utah's bench, won the dunk contest the year after Blake Griffin did... Any more? Please put them in the comments.
  • Wikipedia entry: Jazz "is an American professional wrestler, signed to Womens Superstars Uncensored under the ring name Jazz since 2007. She is best known for her tenure in Extreme Championship Wrestling, and in World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment as a WWE Diva, where she was a two-time Women's Champion." The article also states that her finishing move is the Bitch Clamp. Funny, so is Trevor Booker's.