The Back Story (The Clippers won the season series last yer, 3-1):
|Clippers 108, Pelicans 95
|Clippers 123, Pelicans 110
|Clippers 108, Pelicans 76
|Pelicans 98, Clippers 96
The Big Picture:
The Clippers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, yet somehow they remain a bit under the radar. Their Division rivals the Warriors are by far the hottest team, stealing much of the spotlight. Even the title of "team we thought was a contender that started slowly but has now won six straight" is taken, that one by LeBron and the Cavs. So the Clippers remain an afterthought for now. Which is fine. The six game winning streak hasn't exactly come against the best competition, but it has come in very convincing fashion, with an average margin of victory of 19 points. Tonight's opponent figures to be tougher than the last few, but if the Clippers continue to make their three pointers the way they have been lately (.416 as a team during the six game streak) they will be very, very difficult to beat.
The Pelicans are a very interesting and dangerous team this season. It begins with Anthony Davis of course, who will almost certainly be the next person not named LeBron or Kevin to win an NBA MVP. He's certainly going to be that good at some point, and he may be that good now. His combination of length and skill is just not fair, to be honest. He should be illegal. The question for the Pellies is what can they put around the Brow, Center Omer Asik, signed over the summer, is a nice addition -- but they were probably better off with Robin Lopez all along. Jrue Holiday was an All Star point guard in the Eastern Conference -- but in the West he's not even in the conversation. Former Clipper Eric Gordon is constantly hurt and underperforming his contract when he's healthy. Tyreke Evans remains a difficult fit on any roster, despite his undeniable talent. They do have Ryan Anderson back, who is probably the best stretch four in the NBA and is a guy who has given the Clippers fits in the past. As good as Davis is, it seems like the Pelicans should be better than they are, but somehow the whole is less than the sum of the parts, at least so far.
- Comparison of key metrics. Why aren't the Pelicans better than they are defensively? Davis leads the league in blocked shots and is top five in steals, Asik certainly isn't playing for his scoring, Holiday has all the tools to be a great defender... yet they were 26th last season and are 22nd this season. Oh, and Monty Williams is supposed to be a defense-first coach. It doesn't make sense. As for the Clippers, for all the hand-wringing, they're up to third in the NBA in offensive efficiency -- with a better rating than their league-leading offense last season. Doc Rivers always knew that great shooting would make this offense unstoppable, and he's finally getting that great shooting.
- Blake and the Brow. I almost feel a little sorry for Blake Griffin. He's never really gotten sole ownership of the "Best Power Forward" title. Tim Duncan refuses to die. Kevin Love was always putting up monster numbers, while continually missing the playoffs. And anyone paying much attention realized that LeBron James and Kevin Durant were actually playing mostly power forward lately. But even if you take James and Durant out of the equation, and even with Griffin finishing third in the MVP vote last season behind those two -- now there's Davis to deal with. And you know what? Davis is better. No big deal; Griffin is still great, and getting better all the time. But Davis is better. He's longer; he's taller; he's just as skilled. They are very, very different players, but Davis' length is a game-changer, and he's going to be the best power forward in the NBA for a long, long time.
- The standings. If you look in the standings, the Clippers are the sixth best team in the Western Conference. But if you look at point differential, they are fourth in the West. And if you look at net efficiency (the difference between offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency), they are third -- in the entire NBA. Despite their slow start, the Clippers are already back where they need to be in the important numbers -- and are with or ahead of the teams we suspected would be their primary rivals like San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Golden State will come back to earth at some point -- it's a long season. A simple two game losing streak is all it took to bring Memphis back to the pack. Not to mention that while the Clippers are currently sixth, only one loss separates them from second.
- Record against losing teams. The Clippers are a perfect 10-0 against teams with losing records, and I absolutely guarantee that they will still be undefeated against teams with losing records after tonight! (The Pelicans are 8-9 -- if the Clippers lose, it will be to a .500 team and they'll still be 10-0. If they Clippers win, they'll be 11-0.)
- Paul and the Pelicans. Chris Paul played for New Orleans for six seasons before joining the Clippers. But things change quickly in the NBA, especially for rebuilding teams. The Hornets are now the Pelicans, the team in Charlotte is called the Hornets -- and when Jason Smith signed with the Knicks over the summer, it cleared the New Orleans roster of any of Paul's former teammates. When Paul looks at the opponent bench tonight he'll see his old coach Williams, and a bunch of guys he's never played with.
- The long and round of it. I kind of hope that the two Davises, Big Baby and the Unibrow end up on the court together at some point tonight. Anthony Davis is the modern NBA prototype -- he has the three most important attributes GMs look for these days, length, length and length. But Big Baby comes from a less common but also important NBA heritage, the round but surprisingly athletic for their weight big butt guys. Charles Barkley is the best example, but from John Williams to Oliver Miller, there have always been surprisingly skilled guys who looked nothing like basketball players. Big Baby takes up real estate, he sets massive screens, he's an immovable object on defense, and he can use that big ol' butt to ward off defenders. Length is a great attribute and always will be, but width has its advantages as well.
- Doc and Austin. This is getting to be old hat now. This will be the sixth meeting between father Doc Rivers and son Austin Rivers. Father-son/coach-player meetings are rare in the NBA. Mike Dunleavy Jr. played against his father 18 times while the elder MD was coaching the Clippers. George Karl has coached against his son Coby once. And Butch Van Breda Kolff coached against his son Jan four times in 1977. (The Van Breda Kolff's actually avoided each other all but one season of their respective careers, as Jan started in the ABA, and Butch retired from coaching one year after the NBA-ABA merger.) Austin will get his chance with Gordon out, but so far his NBA run has been a bit disappointing.
- Gordon. Former Clipper Eric Gordon is out with a torn labrum in his shoulder -- if I recall correctly, a shoulder injury cost him quite a bit of time with the Clippers as well. I'm not sure I believe there's such a thing as "injury-prone" but if there is, Gordon is the poster boy. The Pelicans should find out any day whether the injury will require surgery -- which would likely cost Gordon the entire season. After playing 78 of 82 games as a Clipper rookie, EJ missed 20, 26, 57, 40 and 18 games in the next five seasons -- and could be looking at missing 70 this season. When he was a key substitute for Team USA back in 2010 it looked like Gordon was headed for stardom -- but his career has been hijacked by injuries since then.
- The trade. It's been mentioned before, but mad props to Neil Olshey for keeping Eric Bledsoe out of the Chris Paul trade and offering Gordon instead. With Gordon coming to the end of his rookie deal and playing like a borderline star, Olshey realized something that New Orleans did not -- borderline stars are the last thing you want heading into restricted free agency. You can't let them go because they might be future stars, but signing them to maximum contracts is terrible also. The Clippers retained Bledsoe, who became a great additional trade chip, and the Pelicans took Gordon, who's contract has become a different seabird -- an albatross.
- Connections. Partly because of the Paul trade, there are some strong connections between the Clippers and the Hornets. There's Paul and Gordon of course. There's also the rare "father coaching against his son" meeting between Doc and Austin Rivers. And don't forget that Austin was drafted using a first round pick sent to New Orleans in the CP3 trade -- the infamous Minny pick from the years ago Sam Cassell trade (that's correct, Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell was traded with Doc Rivers' son -- think about that). Glen Davis, is from Baton Rouge and played his college ball at LSU. Jordan Farmar and Jrue Holiday are part of the lineage of UCLA point guards currently in the NBA.
- Get the New Orleans perspective The Bird Writes.
- Wikipedia entry: Golden Hind or Golden Hinde was an English galleon best known for her circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580, captained by Sir Francis Drake. She was originally known as Pelican, but was renamed by Drake mid-voyage in 1578, as he prepared to enter the Strait of Magellan, calling her Golden Hind to compliment his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose armorial crest was a golden 'hind' (a female deer). Hatton was one of the principal sponsors of Drake's world voyage.