The Back Story (The Clippers lead the season series, 3-0):
|12/18/13||Los Angeles||Clippers 108, Pelicans 95||Recap||Box|
|02/24/14||New Orleans||Clippers 123, Pelicans 110||Recap||Box|
|03/01/14||Los Angeles||Clippers 108, Pelicans 76||Recap||Box|
The Big Picture:
The Clippers open their final long road trip of the season against the Pelicans in New Orleans tonight. Long road trips are a fact of life for Western Conference teams, especially teams on the Pacific coast. So much of the NBA is so far away, it just makes sense to stay on the road for a while once you leave California. Doc Rivers' longest road trips last season as the Celtics coach were one five gamer and one four gamer. Now he's starting a five gamer with the Clippers -- and that's after logging two separate seven gamers earlier in the season. The good news is that after this road trip, they'll have five games at home, and finally the season-finale on the road in Portland. The trip heads into Texas next, where playoff teams await in Dallas and Houston, but the Clippers can't overlook New Orleans tonight, as the Pelicans have been playing their best basketball of the season lately. The birds have won seven of their last ten, including most recently wins over Miami and Brooklyn. The Clippers will need better than the underwhelming performances of the last couple of games to beat them, particularly from their second unit. Superstars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have been playing great, but the rest of the team needs to step up now if this is to be a successful trip.
The Pelicans are having their most successful stretch of the season, thanks in large part (if not entirely) to an insane run from Anthony Davis. When the Clippers beat the Pelicans early in the month, the Clippers held Davis to eight points; they next night in Sacramento, he scored 13 in another loss. Since then, he's averaged over 31 points per game. He set his career high (36 and then 40) on consecutive games less than two weeks ago. The Pelicans stunned the Heat last week, and then used a huge second half comeback to beat the Nets on Monday. To their credit, they are clearly not tanking -- their first round pick is going to Philadelphia anyway unless it finishes in the top five of the draft, and with so many bad teams in the East, that's just not happening barring a pretty lucky bounce of the ping pong ball. So at a time when many non-playoff teams are just playing out the string, the Pelicans are learning how to compete against the top teams in the league. Good for them.
- Comparison of key metrics. Monty Williams was considered a defensive coach when he was an assistant, before he got his break. You wouldn't know it from this team, which is still pretty good on offense even after losing Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday but 26th in defensive efficiency.
- Second seed. Dallas did the Clippers a huge favor by beating Oklahoma City in overtime Tuesday night. The leaves the Clippers just two games back of the Thunder with 11 games left. With one more head-to-head meeting, in which a win will give the Clippers the head-to-head tie breaker, the Clippers only need to make up one more game over the other 10 games left -- while the Thunder try to get by resting Russell Westbrook on back-to-back games and limit his minutes. Of course, this plan works best if the Clippers avoid losses to teams like the Pelicans.
- Last meeting. As mentioned above, the Unibrow had one of his worst games of the season against the Clippers a little before he went on his current tear. Blake Griffin kind of overpowered him, and Davis spent the entire game in foul trouble sitting him down on the bench for long stretches. Griffin's strength is very difficult for Davis to cope with -- but he's likely going to have something to prove in this game, so don't be surprised if he goes off.
- Paul in New Orleans. Any trip to New Orleans is special for Chris Paul, who began his NBA career in the Big Easy, and who was there for the rebuilding of the city after hurricane Katrina. He may be a Clipper now, but New Orleans will always be a part of Paul.
- Redick with the team. J.J. Redick, who hasn't played for the Clippers since before the All Star break, is traveling with the team on this trip. That may or may not be significant, so don't read to much into it. Redick has been practicing with the team and is certainly feeling a bit better. Rivers would like to get him some game action before the playoffs start, to get him back into the flow. Remember, Redick has not played a game with Danny Granger and Big Baby Davis. With only 11 games remaining in the season, Rivers has a small and decreasing window to get him on the floor before the playoffs. Will it happen on this trip? My guess is no -- but I expect we'll see him throughout the next home stand.
- Road record. The Clippers' road record is up to 19-16 after hovering a bit below .500 most of the season. Last season's team won a franchise-record 24 games against just 17 losses, so they'd have to win out on the road to break that particular record. That's not going to happen. But they do seem to be playing better away from STAPLES.
- Pelicans record break down. The Pelicans on the other hand have been fattening up on sub-.500 teams and Eastern Conference teams. Of their 30 wins, 19 have come against Eastern Conference teams while 22 have come against teams below .500. They are however coming off two straight wins wins over winning teams.
- Pelican West. (Who remembers that amazing Haircut 100 album from 1982?) Poor Pelicans -- in the East, they'd currently be in ninth, just a game and a half out of the final playoff spot. In the West, they're in 12th, long since irrelevant in the race. And given their 19-11 record against the east, one can extrapolate that they'd have a much better record this season if they were allowed to play against more east competition, as they would were they in that conference. In fact, New Orleans was in the Eastern Conference until the NBA realigned into six divisions a decade ago to accommodate the new Charlotte team, the Bobcats.
- 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 long 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 fifth meeting ever, the fourth meeting this season, and the third in a month, 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 has been getting consistent minutes in the Pelicans rotation since early January, owing in part to the team's injury troubles. The younger Rivers was one of the bright spots for the Pelicans in the last game in LA -- and there weren't a lot of them.
- The future in New Orleans. The Pelicans have a very nice assemblage of talent right now. When healthy, they've got a Team USA member, a former All Star and a current All Star at three starting positions and a recent Rookie of the Year and a great sixth man coming off the bench. What they don't have is a lot of options for getting better going forward. Their top five are all signed for two more seasons, but they're also all well-paid (Davis is on a rookie deal, but he was a first overall pick so he's making over $5M) and they don't have their first round pick this year because of the Jrue Holiday deal. They would love to trade Eric Gordon to help fill out the roster, but they won't get equal value for him given his contract. This has the potential to be a very good team, in large part because Davis is going to be a superstar, but it won't be easy to add some necessary pieces around him.
- Gordon. Former Clipper Eric Gordon has missed the last two games with tendinitis in his knees; he's considered a game time decision. The fact that New Orleans had two of their best wins of the season without their highest paid player is troublesome no doubt. He was the centerpiece of the package New Orleans received from the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade. Then New Orleans matched a maximum offer for Gordon from the Suns, locking up what they hoped would be a cornerstone piece for their rebuilding project. Unfortunately, injuries sidelined Gordon 97 out of 148 games in his first two seasons in New Orleans. Even more unfortunately, he's been pretty ordinary when he has played, posting a PER of 15.4 in 42 games last season (a PER of 15 is considered an average player). At least he's consistent, because he's posting a 15.0 through 64 games this season -- which is long way away from max money production. Gordon's a solid piece of the Pelicans team right now -- a legit two guard who can score in a variety of ways and get his own shot. But he's the highest paid player on the team, and currently about the fourth best player. That is almost never a formula for success.
- 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.
- AFA. The other former Clipper sent to New Orleans in the Paul trade, Al-Farouq Aminu, is tough to figure. New Orleans didn't even exercise the fourth year on his rookie deal, but he wasn't in high demand as a free agent this summer so he re-signed in New Orleans for one year at $3.7M. He's the de facto starter at small forward for them and is one of the best rebounders in the league from the three spot plus he's crazy long and can be a nuisance on defense, but he never showed much feel for the offensive end of the floor as a Clipper, and there's not much indication that he's gotten better there. He averages almost as many rebounds per game (6.2) as points (7.4).
- Connections. Largely because of the Paul trade, there are loads of connections between the Clippers and the Hornets. There's Paul and Gordon and Aminu of course. Since his arrival in L.A. Paul has influenced the acquisition of his former New Orleans teammate Willie Green. As a rookie, Darren Collison backed up CP3 in New Orleans and now he backs him up in LA. Collison and Jrue Holiday were teammates at UCLA where Collison played the point and Holiday slid over the the two in his only season in Westwoord. As mentioned, we'll also have 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, Sam Cassell was traded with Doc Rivers' son -- think about that). Glen Davis, is from Baton Rouge and played his college ball at LSU.
- Get the New Orleans perspective The Bird Writes.
- Shakespearean reference:
Richard II -- Act III, Scene 1 -- John of Gaunt
O, spare me not, my brother Edward's son,
For that I was his father Edward's son;
That blood already, like the pelican,
Hast thou tapp'd out and drunkenly caroused:
My brother Gloucester, plain well-meaning soul,
Whom fair befal in heaven 'mongst happy souls!
May be a precedent and witness good
That thou respect'st not spilling Edward's blood:
Join with the present sickness that I have;
And thy unkindness be like crooked age,
To crop at once a too long wither'd flower.
Live in thy shame, but die not shame with thee!
These words hereafter thy tormentors be!
Convey me to my bed, then to my grave:
Love they to live that love and honour have.