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Clippers-Raptors preview: Getting back on track

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Two weeks ago in a wildly entertaining game in Toronto, the Clippers beat the Raptors despite 51 points from Terrence Ross. The Clippers need another win tonight to snap a two game losing streak.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport
2013/2014 NBA Regular Season

February 7th, 2014, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
15-9 East 17-12
19-9 West 9-11
20-4 Home 12-10
14-14 Road 14-13
12-13 .500+ 8-15
22-5 .500- 18-8
6-4 L10 6-4
12-6 noCP3 N/A
Probable Starters
Darren Collison PG Kyle Lowry
J.J. Redick? SG DeMar DeRozan
Matt Barnes SF Terrence Ross
Blake Griffin PF Amir Johnson
DeAndre Jordan C Jonas Valanciunas
Advanced Stats
97.74 (8th of 30) Pace 94.67 (23rd of 30)
108.1 (4th of 30) ORtg 104.1 (14th of 30)
102.3 (9th of 30) DRtg 100.7 (6th of 30)
Chris Paul (separated shoulder) out
Landry Fields (wrist surgery) out
J.J. Redick (hip) ?

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

Date Venue Final

01/25/14 Toronto Clippers 126, Raptors 118 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have lost two games in a row -- they haven't lost three in a row in the Doc Rivers era, and now is not the time to start. As it happens, they've also lost three out of four, but while the defense and rebounding have been problematic lately, it's not as if the team has been playing poorly. The Warriors loss was on the second night of a back-to-back, they got beat at the buzzer in Denver, and they fought back from a big deficit Wednesday against the defending champion Heat only to come up a bit short. It would have been great to win those close ones this week, but given that they've done all of this without their best player, there's really no reason to panic. At this point it seems that Chris Paul will make his return to the lineup Sunday against Philadelphia and not tonight, but hopefully the team will have J.J. Redick back. The Clippers had their hands full against the Raptors a couple weeks ago in Toronto, but assuming Terrence Ross scores closer to his season average () than to the Toronto franchise record 51 he hung on the Clippers before, they should be OK.

The Antagonist:

The Raptors are in an interesting place. They're rebuilding as evidenced by the Rudy Gay trade, and they have some nice young pieces like Jonas Valanciunas (21), Terrence Ross (22) and newly minted All Star DeMar DeRozan (24). But they've also been easily the third best team in the Eastern Conference this season, particularly since the Gay trade. Toronto continues to toy with the idea of selling high on Kyle Lowry who is having a great season but will be a free agent this summer. Trading Lowry could aid the rebuild with assets and picks -- but keeping him could result in a trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals in the postseason. The Raptors have no chance of getting past the Heat or the Pacers, but six or seven home playoff games in a sold out Air Canada Centre in front of their rabid fanbase is nothing to sneeze at. So the team has a bit of a dilemma. It's not a bad problem to have, as the future looks pretty good even if they hold onto Lowry and make the 2014 playoffs a priority. And they can't possibly tank fast enough and far enough to give themselves more than a minuscule chance of drafting Canadian phenom Andrew Wiggins. The Raptors have been good this season and winning is a habit that teams have to develop -- here's hoping they keep this group together through the playoffs and worry about the rebuild afterwards.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. Toronto's numbers continue to be solid, something you can't say for most teams in the East. This is a very good defensive team and an average team on offense. They actually have a positive net rating, which just isn't true of many Eastern Conference teams.
  • Important home stand. The Clippers started the home stand with a loss to the Heat, but playing without Chris Paul and J.J. Redick that was almost inevitable. With Redick hopefully back tonight and Paul slated to return on Sunday, the Clippers have a chance to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the final third of the season with a fully healthy squad. After two East opponents (the Raptors tonight and the Sixers Sunday) the Clippers host the two teams directly ahead of them in the Western Conference standings, the Blazers before the All Star break and the Spurs after. Four straight wins including a pair against the two and three teams in the West would send a message, and honestly, it's what the team needs to do.
  • Redick and Paul. Chris Paul has missed the last 17 games with a separated shoulder and J.J. Redick was a late scratch against Miami on Wednesday because of a sore hip. Doc Rivers has said that he'll play Sunday against the Sixers, but that doesn't necessarily mean he won't play tonight. It could happen. As for Redick, I haven't really heard any update on him, so assume he's day to day.
  • Full squad? It's kind of amazing to me how little the Clippers injuries have been discussed in the media. The Warriors #fullsquad meme? Hell, Golden State's starters have been together for 33 of 50 games this season, 66%. If you assume that Matt Barnes would have been the starter at small forward had he not been injured, the Clippers' starting five has been together for eight of 52 games, 15%. The Warriors starting five have missed a cumulative 19 games -- the Clippers starters have missed 59 games. We're not there yet, but we're getting very close to seeing the healthiest Clippers team of the entire season. The team that will likely start the rest of the season (with a healthy Paul and Barnes at the three) hasn't started a single game together so far.
  • Ross. In his last ten games, Terrence Ross has scored 7, 5, 8, 18, 12, 10, 51, 10, 3 and 1 points. In nine of those games, he combined to score 74 points, averaging a little over eight points per game, which happens to be his about his career average. In the other one, which happened to come against the Clippers, he scored 51 and tied the Raptors' franchise single game scoring record held by Vince Carter. Carter has scored 22,780 points in his NBA career; Ross has scored 967 points. There have been some weird, outlier single game performances in NBA history. Tony Delk once scored 53, and his second highest single game total in a career that spanned 545 games was 27. Ross is just a second year player and at the end of his career that 51 may not look so out of place, but as of now it's one of the flukiest games you'll ever see.
  • DeRozan. Ross' outburst came in a game in which the Raptors leading scorer DeMar DeRozan was ineffective and eventually left the game with a strained arch. The Clippers had better defend the wings tonight, as DeRozan is dangerous and we know what Ross can do.
  • Bench by Sacto. Less than a year after gambling on Rudy Gay in a blockbuster trade with Memphis, the Raptors gave up on Rudy Gay and sent him to Sacramento in a deal that seems to have helped both teams, at least for now. What did the Raptors get in return? Well, looking at box scores since the trade, they got their entire bench. The four Raptors who play the most bench minutes: John Salmons, Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and Greivis Vasquez, all received back in the Gay trade.
  • Griffin. Does Toronto have anyone who can handle Blake Griffin? I mean, the new Blake Griffin? Certainly not Jonas Valanciunas, who is long but very green. Griffin will chew him up and spit him out. Amir Johnson will work hard and has some assets, but is undersized at the four. Even Chuck Hayes, who has played Griffin as tough as anyone in years past, had trouble with the new Griffin two weeks ago. Hayes gives away a lot in height to Griffin, and rather than trying to go through him, the more mature and versatile Griffin shot over Hayes in Toronto. Griffin scored 30 in the last meeting, and there's really no reason he shouldn't go for 30 again.
  • Crawford. Ross' 51 two weeks ago was countered by Griffin's 30 and a season-high 37 (and 11 assists) from Jamal Crawford in the first meeting. Not only are Griffin and Crawford playing a team against whom they combined for 67 points two weeks ago, they're also following up a game in which the combined for 74, Wednesday night against Miami. What do you get when you cross a fresh water crustacean with a lion and an eagle? A crawgriffin!
  • DeRozan and Lowry. It's tough to figure NBA coaches sometimes. You like to think that they are smart about the game of basketball, that they see the big picture and don't just fall in love with scoring. But if so, how do you explain the fact that the coaches choose DeMar DeRozan for the Eastern Conference All Star team and not his teammate Kyle Lowry? DeRozan does one thing better than Lowry -- score. And better is probably not the right term -- he scores more, but he does it much less efficiently. DeRozan's TSP of .518 is well below the league average -- Lowry's TSP is .579. Technically, DeRozan rebounds better also -- 4.4 rebounds per 36 minutes compared to 4.3 per 36 for Lowry. Oh, did I mention that DeRozan is 6'7 and plays a lot of small forward while Lowry is a 6'0 point guard? Turns out that coaches are about as stupid as general NBA fans I guess. Look, DeRozan is having a good year, but he's a high volume, low efficiency scorer, and Toronto of all teams knows that's not always a good thing Rudy Gay . Lowry is clearly the best and most important player on a surprising Raptors team and deserved the All Star nod.
  • Connections. Hedo Turkoglu, played one season in Toronto in 2009-2010. It was a disaster, as the Raptors gave him a too big a contract, and it seemed to weigh him down. He was traded to Phoenix and thence back to Orlando, and he was still getting paid under that contract he signed with the Raptors until the Magic cut him (saving the last, unguaranteed dollars) last month. Steve Novak is a former Clipper. Novak arrived in Toronto in the deal that sent Andrea Bargnani to New York, but hasn't gotten much burn lately.
  • Get the Toronto perspective at Raptors HQ.
  • Shakespearean reference:
    Measure for Measure -- Act III, Scene 1 -- Isabella
    There spake my brother; there my father's grave
    Did utter forth a voice. Yes, thou must die:
    Thou art too noble to conserve a life
    In base appliances. This outward-sainted deputy,
    Whose settled visage and deliberate word
    Nips youth i' the head and follies doth emmew
    As falcon doth the fowl, is yet a devil
    His filth within being cast, he would appear
    A pond as deep as hell.

    The word raptor means a bird of prey; the velociraptor is a dinosaur named for such hunting birds, whose name is sometimes shortened to raptor. But to use it's original meaning, we might think of a falcon.