The Back Story (The Cavs lead the season series 1-0):
|12/07/13||Cleveland||Cavs 88, Clippers 82||Recap||Box|
The Big Picture:
The Clippers have the best home record in the Western Conference at 28-5 and the longest active winning streak in the NBA at 10 games. But they have something else going for them in this game: they have the motivation of avenging a bad loss from earlier in the season. The Clippers lost in Cleveland over three months ago on a night when they simply couldn't shoot -- a season worst .322 from the field. That happened to be Blake Griffin's worst scoring night of the season with just 10 points. Now he's scored 20 or more in 26 consecutive games. The Clippers will likely continue to be without the services of their starting shooting guard, J.J. Redick, and his backup, Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford, but in the interim, veteran Willie Green has been great lately, especially the last two games. Perhaps the Clippers will bring out their A defense a bit earlier than they have the last two games, when they waited until late in the third quarter before deciding to clamp down on their opponents. With another game looming Monday night in Denver, it would be best to put the Cavs away early and get some rest.
The Cavs have won two straight games over tough Western Conference opponents on their current road trip, beating the Suns on Wednesday and the Warriors on Friday. Cleveland is still in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, four games out of the eighth spot, despite having a winning percentage below .400. To their credit, the Cavs keep trying. They traded Andrew Bynum for Luol Deng rather than waiving Bynum, even though Deng is going to be a free agent this summer and there's no guarantee he'll resign in Cleveland. They traded for Spencer Hawes, another free agent, at the trade deadline. This is a team not without talent -- Kyrie Irving and Deng have been All Stars after all. Irving has been inconsistent this season, but if he gets it going he can be almost unstoppable. But it's hard to imagine that they're going to have enough to hold off the red hot Clippers.
- Comparison of key metrics. If the Heat continue to struggle, the Clippers may soon overtake them for the highest offensive efficiency in the NBA. The Cavs are not particularly good at either offense or defense, according to the numbers.
- Streak numbers. A win tonight moves the Clippers' winning streak to 11 games, tied for longest in the NBA this season, and the second longest in franchise history. For what it's worth, it will also cement the Clippers into no worse than second position when the new Power Rankings are released on Monday. The Spurs will almost certainly be on a 10 game streak of their own (they host Utah today) and will probably be first in most rankings (deservedly so). But with all the other top teams struggling, there's just no doubt that the two best teams in the league as of this moment are the Spurs and the Clippers.
- Sunday pajaniforms. The Clippers wear their "Back in Blue" pajaniforms for Sunday games, and so far they've done pretty well in them. The Clippers are 4-1 in their baby blues, and all four wins have been notable for one reason or another. They include two of the most lopsided wins of the season, 39 points over the Bulls and 45 points over the 76ers, an unlikely overtime win over the Timberwolves which the Clippers tied after a last second steal in regulation, and the road win in Oklahoma City that started the current winning streak. The Clippers are +91 in the five games they've played in the baby blues, and two of the Cavs starters (Luol Deng when he was with the Bulls and Spencer Hawes when he was with the 76ers) have been on the wrong end of Sunday blowouts against the Clippers this season. Hopefully the Cavs will wear burgundy, as I don't think I could handle baby blue versus gold.
- The battle at the point. The best matchup of this game will take place at the point guard between Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving. Irving can be almost unstoppable at times, but Paul takes a special interest in those players who would think to challenge him for the title of best point guard in the NBA. Don't be surprised if CP3 has a little something extra in his game tonight.
- East and West. On Friday the Clippers faced a 22 win Jazz team that is tied for last place in the Western Conference. Tonight they host the 26 win Cavs -- a team fighting for the last playoff spot in the East. That Cleveland can have a winning percentage below .400 with 16 games remaining and still have a legitimate shot at the post season (7.6% according to Hollinger's playoff odds) is astounding and tells you a lot about the state of the Eastern Conference.
- A game to forget. The loss in Cleveland was the worst game of the season for the Clippers by several measures. They scored a season low in points (82) and shot a season-low from the field (.322). Their field goal percentage was the 13th worst in the NBA this season, but coming from the Clippers, the second best offense in the NBA, it's truly shocking. Their second worst shooting night this season was .365. By the way, the Clippers are 0-9 when they shoot under 42 percent.
- Avenging losses. While we might like to forget that loss in Cleveland, we can assume that the Clippers remember it all too well. We have discussed the fact that the Clippers have yet to lose three straight games this season. They have also done well in avenging losses by beating the teams that have beaten them. Only four times this season -- against Indiana, Golden State, Miami and San Antonio -- have the Clippers lost two straight games to the same opponent. Obviously, those are some good teams, three of the best in the league and the Warriors. Not only that, the Clippers were missing at least one starter in all four of those games, and two of them were on the road on a back-to-back. I just don't see the Cavs sweeping the season series against this team.
- Cavs plan. To their credit, the Cavs have been trying hard to win all season, despite all the tanking going on in the Eastern Conference. Their moves during the summer -- signing free agents Andrew Bynum and Earl Clark, drafting Anthony Bennett -- were breathtaking disasters and collectively must represent one of the worst off-seasons in NBA history. But they've quickly moved on from Bynum and Clark, turning center Bynum into small forward Luol Deng and small forward Clark into center Spencer Hawes via trade. The problem is that both Deng and Hawes are in the final year of their contracts, so the Cavs will have to re-sign them, or start over once again. As for Bennett, the 2013 draft was bad, but even so that pick was devastating for the Cavs. Cleveland can have the cap space this summer to offer LeBron James a maximum contract to come home to Ohio -- but that's not happening.
- The last time Hawes played in STAPLES. Spencer Hawes was still a member of the 76ers when they faced the Clippers on February 9. The Clippers won that game by 45 points and led 100-51 after three quarters. Hawes was 0-8 for zero points with two rebounds in 23 minutes -- and that's sugar coating it.
- Sixth Man watch. Jamal Crawford missed his sixth game of the season on Friday in Utah, The maximum number of games he could appear in this season is now 76, and he has already come off the bench in 38. If he were to start all of the remaining games this season beginning tonight, he would finish with 38 games each as a start and as a reserve. In other words, one more reserve appearance or one more game missed (which will almost certainly come tonight) and he will be officially qualified for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award, the only criterion for which being more reserve appearances than starts. Of course, he has a different problem now: if he misses too many game, particularly down the stretch when players are fresher in voters minds, he could lose out on the award by his absence.
- First overall busts. In the lottery era, there have been four first overall picks who failed to average double figures in scoring in their careers, all of them big men: Kwame Brown, Greg Oden, Pervis Ellison and Michael Olowokandi. Oden is in the middle of a comeback attempt in Miami, and Kwame may be back in the NBA at some point, but none of them are likely to change their status significantly. As of now, Oden has to be the biggest bust from the first overall pick in the lottery era, with Brown and Olowokandi are neck-and-neck in the non-injury division. But with his rookie year all but over (he'll get back from injury with less than a month left in the season) Anthony Bennett is struggling more than any of them. He's average 4.1 points and 2.9 rebounds per game, and shooting 35% from the field. Yikes.
- Maybe DeAndre should switch hands. Tristan Thompson entered the NBA as a left-handed shooter. During the off-season, after two full seasons in the NBA, he switched and started shooting his jump shot with his right hand. The results have been positive at the free throw line, where Thompson has gone from below 60 percent with his left to close to 67 percent this season.
- What happened to Kyrie? It can be very difficult to tell who is going to take that next step. Paul George and Kyrie Irving each made the Eastern Conference All Star team last season. In ESPN's NBARank list this offseason, George came in at number 13 in the NBA, and Irving landed in the top 10, at number 8. Did it really make sense for two such inexperienced individuals to be among the 15 best players in the league? Both started in the All Star Game this season, but they said more about the state of the Eastern Conference than about the players. George's stats are up across the board, but Irving's production is down in almost every category. Kyrie's been better after a very cold start to the season, but his shooting percentages remain at career low levels across the board. Still, he has a world of talent as we saw at the All Star Game, and he can go off on any given night.
- Waiters. In his only prior game against the Clippers in STAPLES Center, Dion Waiters scored 28, making 7-11 three pointers; he's never made more than four treys in another NBA game.
- Connections. Kyrie Irving was drafted by the Cavs with the Clippers 2011 lottery pick, though the Clippers didn't mind too much since the trade that sent Baron Davis to Cleveland was part of a series of moves that has them where they are today. Ryan Hollins spent a season and a half in Cleveland.
- Get the Cleveland perspective at Fear the Sword.
- Shakespearean reference:
Pericles -- Act IV, Scene 6 -- Boult
'Faith, I must ravish her, or she'll disfurnish us
of all our cavaliers, and make our swearers priests.