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Clippers-Knicks preview: Making hay

The Clippers face the two worst teams in the NBA in their next two games. These are games they have to win and win easily to build some momentum heading into the new year.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season

December 31st, 2014, 3:00 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
9-5 East 4-16
12-6 West 1-12
13-4 Home 3-13
8-7 Road 2-15
7-9 .500+ 1-18
14-2 .500- 4-10
5-5 L10 1-9
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jose Calderon
J.J. Redick SG Tim Hardaway Jr.
Matt Barnes SF Carmelo Anthony
Blake Griffin PF Jason Smith
DeAndre Jordan C Cole Aldrich
Advanced Stats
96.41 (12th of 30) Pace 92.38 (29th of 30)
109.8 (3rd of 30) ORtg 101.1 (23rd of 30)
104.2 (18th of 30) DRtg 109.1 (28th of 30)
Iman Shumpert (shoulder) out

Andrea Bargnani (hamstring) out

Amare Stoudemire (knee) questionable

Carmelo Anthony (knee) probable

Cleanthony Early (knee) out

Samuel Dalembert (knee) questionable

J.R. Smith (fascia tear) questionable

The Back Story (Clippers won the season series last season 2-0):

Date Venue Final

11/27/13 Los Angeles Clippers 103, Knicks 90 Recap Box
01/17/14 New York Clippers 109, Knicks 95 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are just so disappointing this season -- and yet, they have exactly the same record after 32 games as they had last season. Still: (a) they were supposed to be better and (b) they've enjoyed excellent team health this season as compared to last -- so the fact that it feels more than a bit dissatisfying is not without justification. But it's a long season and the meh play of the first two months will be long forgotten IF the team is playing its best basketball at the end of the season. However, the Western Conference is ridiculously deep, and seeding will matter in the playoffs -- more than one really good team is going to have to open the postseason without home court advantage, and winning three such series will be a tall order for any team. So the Clippers would be wise to start making up some ground in the standings, and now is the time. The frequency of games, the home/road mix, the opposition -- everything is aligned now for the Clippers to go on a decent run. It starts with two straight games against the two worst teams in the NBA, the Knicks tonight and the Sixers on Saturday. Losing at home to either team would be inexcusable.

The Antagonist:

The Knicks are a dreadful team that also happens to be suffering through a ridiculous number of injuries. Seven players missed all of part of their last game due to injury, including four of their top six scorers and it's unclear how many of them will be ready to go against the Clippers. Carmelo Anthony will probably play despite his sore knee, after sitting out the second half in Portland. But Anthony has been hampered by the knee all season, and the Knicks have just five wins, only one of those Ws coming in their last 19 games. New York can't score, and they certainly can't stop other teams from scoring. First year coach Derek Fisher and first year GM Phil Jackson are in for a very, very long season.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers, despite failing the eye test with most of their fans so far this season, remain among the top teams in the league in some key metrics. They are still third in offensive efficiency, only behind the ridiculous numbers being put up in Toronto and Dallas. And they are fifth in net rating -- it doesn't really feel like they're the fifth best team in basketball, but there's an argument to say they are. The Knicks on the other hand are 28th in net rating, which feels about right for them.
  • Weirdest tip time ever. That's neither a typo nor an Eastern Time Zone time -- this game, being played in Los Angeles, is tipping off at 3 PM local time. Sometimes you get weird tip times because of national TV schedules, but that's not the case here, as this game is not on the national schedule tonight. It's obviously a recognition that people want to celebrate New Year's Eve in a fashion that does not involve NBA basketball, but it's still strange. Most businesses expect you to work on Dec. 31, so unless your boss is giving you a half day, you're calling in sick/leaving early/taking a vacation day to see this game. The Clippers' energy level is hit and miss for 12:30 tips, not to mention that of the crowd -- who knows what it'll be like for a 3:00 tip, since as far as I know it has never happened before. Make sure those DVRs are set!
  • January opportunity. The Clippers have a chance now through the end of January to put together a nice run and finally get their season on track. For more on that, check out this post.
  • Defending Carmelo. Given all the injuries, Knicks' lineups are a bit makeshift these days, but if he plays, Carmelo will probably start at the three. That will put Matt Barnes on him. A healthy Melo would probably punish Barnes in the post with his size, but the bigger problem might come if Melo matches up with the second unit. Doc Rivers has used small lineups a lot lately, with Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick playing together, and clearly neither one of those guys can defend Anthony. Reggie Bullock may get a shot as well. Or it's possible none of this will matter if Carmelo is out or ineffective. But if he's playing well, the Clippers may need to consider having Blake Griffin defend Anthony, because Grant Hill ain't walking through that door.
  • Remember Blake-for-Melo? It was hard to believe at the time and even harder to believe now, but it was less than a year ago that certain delusional talking heads at ESPN were writing about a potential Blake Griffin for Carmelo Anthony trade. It still makes me laugh.
  • Fast slide. Two seasons ago, the Knicks won 54 games (under Clipper assistant Mike Woodson). Last season they won 37 (and then they fired Woodson). This season they're on pace to win a dozen or so. What happened? Well, the 54 win Knicks over-achieved, there's little question of that, and injuries haven't helped. But most importantly, constant attempts to improve the roster have resulted in one disastrously bad move after another. Only five Knicks remain from that 54 win team, and four of them are injured. Departed players like Tyson Chandler have been replaced on the roster by the likes of Andrea Bargnani. Nor was that 54 win team built to last -- they featured 11 players over 30 that season.
  • Tim Hardaway, Jr. One bright spot for the Knicks this season has been the play of second year guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. The Knicks draft TH2 with the 24th pick, one slot ahead of the Clippers' Reggie Bullock choice. Had the Knicks, taken Bullock, the Clippers might well have wound up with Hardaway, who was on their short list. Hardaway is scoring almost 18 points per 36 minutes in New York and has started a dozen games since Iman Shumpert was injured. However, he's shooting under 40% from the field, so he's not exactly the most efficient scorer. Maybe it's not such a bright spot after all.
  • Shumpert. The Clippers came close to trading for Shumpert last February and have sniffed around him a couple of times. Did they dodge a bullet in not landing him? He's currently out with a separated shoulder, but the bigger problem to me is pretty simple: he can't shoot. He's one of eight active NBA players with a career shooting percentage under 40% and at least 1500 field goal attempts. The Clippers need some help with their perimeter defense -- but it would be nice if the guy could shoot a little.
  • Griffin and the Knicks. We all remember Griffin's first game against the Knicks, which was the break out game of his rookie season. Two iconic dunks, the Mozgov and the Gallinari came out of that night. He scored 44 in that one, and has continued to have success against the Knicks ever since, averaging over 24 points and almost 11 rebounds in seven career games.
  • Connections. Jamal Crawford spent four-plus seasons in New York, his longest stint with any team in his rather well-traveled career. J.R. Smith was a teammate of Chris Paul with the Hornets. Clippers assistant coach Mike Woodson coached the Knicks last season. Clippers coach Doc Rivers was traded from the Clippers to the Knicks in 1992 in a blockbuster deal that brought Mark Jackson to the Clippers.
  • Get the Knicks perspective at Posting and Toasting.
  • Wikipedia Entry. In late 1809, while mourning the death of his seventeen-year-old fiancée Matilda Hoffman, Washington Irving completed work on his first major book, A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker (1809), a satire on self-important local history and contemporary politics. Prior to its publication, Irving started a hoax akin to today's viral marketing campaigns; he placed a series of missing person adverts in New York newspapers seeking information on Diedrich Knickerbocker, a crusty Dutch historian who had allegedly gone missing from his hotel in New York City. As part of the ruse, Irving placed a notice-allegedly from the hotel's proprietor-informing readers that if Mr. Knickerbocker failed to return to the hotel to pay his bill, he would publish a manuscript Knickerbocker had left behind.