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2014 NBA Playoffs First Round -- Clippers-Warriors Series Preview

The Clippers and the Warriors face each other in what figures to be a very entertaining playoff series between two teams that do not like each other.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor
2014 NBA Playoffs
First Round

Series Schedule
Game 1 - Sat April 19, 12:30 p.m., ABC, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 2 - Mon April 21, 7:30 p.m., TNT, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 3 - Thu April 24, 7:30 p.m., TNT, Oakland, ORACLE Arena
Game 4 - Sun April 27, 12:30 p.m., ABC, Oakland, ORACLE Arena
Game 5*  Tue April 29, Time TBD, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 6*  Thu May 1, Time TBD, Oakland, ORACLE Arena
Game 7 * Sat May 3, Time TBD, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
* if necessary
Win-Loss Breakdown
21-9 East 20-10
36-16 West 31-21
34-7 Home 27-14
23-18 Road 24-17
25-18 .500+ 19-25
32-7 .500- 32-6
7-3 L10 6-4
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Stephen Curry
J.J. Redick SG Klay Thompson
Matt Barnes SF Andre Iguodala
Blake Griffin PF David Lee
DeAndre Jordan C Jermaine O'Neal
Key Reserves
Darren Collison PG Steve Blake
Jamal Crawford SG Jordan Crawford
Jared Dudley SF Harrison Barnes
Danny Granger PF Draymond Green
Glen Davis C Marreese Speights
Advanced Stats 2013-2014 Regular Season
98.39 (7th of 30) Pace 98.53 (6th of 30)
109.4 (1st of 30) ORtg 105.3 (12th of 30)
102.1 (7th of 30) DRtg 99.9 (3rd of 30)
Danny Granger (hamstring) probable
Andrew Bogut (broken rib) out

Festus Ezeli (knee surgery) out

The Back Story (The season series is tied 2-2):

Date Venue Final

10/31/13 Los Angeles Clippers 126, Warriors 115 Recap Box
12/25/13 Oakland Warriors 105, Clippers 103 Recap Box
01/30/14 Oakland Warriors 111, Clippers 92 Recap Box
03/12/14 Los Angeles Clippers 111, Warriors 98 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are making their third straight playoff appearance for the first time in their California history (three in a row happened once before in Buffalo). The last two ended in four straight defeats -- two seasons ago in the second round at the hands of the Spurs, last season in the first round after they had taken a 2-0 lead over the Grizzlies. This year is supposed to be different, but the biggest problem from the last two years hasn't really changed -- it's that the West happens to be really, really good, and you run into some tough teams in the playoffs. The Clippers are without question a better team this season than last season. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are flat out better players than they were a year ago, J.J. Redick is a huge upgrade at shooting guard, and the team in general, and the wing rotation in particular, is just much deeper. And then there's the coach. Vinny Del Negro was over his head in the playoffs, as evidenced by his panic in Game 6 against the Grizzlies last year, when he completely abandoned his usual rotations. Doc Rivers wasn't brought to L.A. to set a new franchise high in regular season wins (which he did). he was brought here to win playoff series. Starting now.

The Antagonist:

The Warriors have been snake bit the past few seasons. Two years ago, injuries kept them from being competitive. Last season, David Lee was injured in the first game of Golden State's first round series against the Nuggets. And this season starting center Andrew Bogut cracked a rib in the final week of the regular season, an injury that will almost certainly keep him out of the first round. Bogut isn't the flashiest guy on the Warriors; he's only eighth on the team in points per game. But Golden State had the best defense in the Western Conference this season, and Bogut is the primary reason. The irony is that everyone thinks of the Warriors as a high powered offensive team with the Splash Brothers making threes, but in reality this team won games with defense, and without Bogut that defensive identity is lost. The Warriors can always win games if Stephen Curry gets hot enough -- and history has shown that he can get very, very hot. But Golden State was already going to have trouble stopping the Clippers with Bogut, and without him it's tough to see how they're going to do it.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. For the second season in a row, the Clippers' first round opponent led the Western Conference in defensive efficiency. We don't think of the Warriors the same way we think of the Grit and Grind Grizzlies, as a team that can shut down any offense, but the numbers say they were the best in the west. Of course, that was all with Bogut. On the other hand, the Clippers offense this season was not only best in the West, it was best in the entire league.
  • The season series. The Warriors probably feel like they can beat the Clippers (or maybe not with Bogut hurt) because they've won 5 of the 8 games over the past two seasons. But the season series this year was impacted pretty heavily by Griffin's ejection (the Clippers lost that game by two points in Oakland) and in the other loss, the Clippers played without Chris Paul and were on a back to back. Yes, the Warriors beat them three of four last season, but the Clippers didn't take them seriously in the first loss, and then Curry went nuts in the other two games. Curry will almost certainly go nuts once or twice in this series also -- but I don't think he can go nuts in four games out of seven.
  • The new Pacific Division. For years the Clippers and the Warriors sat at the bottom of the Pacific Division standings while the Lakers, Suns and Kings made multiple trips to the playoffs.But for the second season in a row, it's the Clips and the Dubs in the postseason, this time all by themselves in the Pacific. The Suns just missed this season and could be poised to challenge in the Pacific in the not to distant future, but the Lakers won't be much of a threat to these teams for a while.
  • ABC game. When I looked at the weekend schedule for the playoffs prior to the announcement of the TV schedule, I was absolutely certain that the Clippers and Warriors would be playing the late game tonight. As the sole team with home court advantage hailing from the west coast, the Clippers would be in the best position to have a late tip. But the powers that be like this first round matchup so much that they are sticking it on broadcast TV, Every game between the Clippers and Warriors was on either ESPN or TNT this season, and now their first playoff game is on ABC. It's not surprising -- these are two fun teams, and they've played some fun games.
  • #Fullsquad. Remember that? Good times. In fact, the Warriors (a) had a full squad much more frequently during the regular season than the Clippers did and (b) won't have a full squad now that Bogut is out. The Clippers on the other hand could have all their weapons available for literally the first time this season, as Danny Granger is expected to be available to play. Granger, who was added to the team after the trade deadline in late February, has yet to play in a game with J.J. Redick this season.
  • Small ball. With no Bogut, the Warriors figure to go small early and often in this series. Mark Jackson has said that Jermaine O'Neal will start in Bogut's stead, so they begin the game with a traditional lineup. But Jackson actually likes Draymond Green on Blake Griffin, and it won't be long before David Lee is the only true big on the court for GSW. The thing is, Rivers will be perfectly happy to play small, especially with a healthy Granger. I'm reminded of a different Warriors playoff series, 25 years ago, when a Don Nelson team met the Phoenix Suns in the second round. Nelson loved small ball and he was essentially the inventor of it in the NBA -- but when he asked about that series, which the Suns won 4-1, he said something like "We had to go small, because that's who we are, but it turns out they have a better small lineup than we do." Jackson may regret playing small when he sees a Clippers lineup with Chris Paul, Darren Collison, Jamal Crawford, Granger and Blake Griffin.
  • Draymond Green. With no Bogut around, the main dirtbag for the Warriors is Green. Green of course delivered a cheap shot to Blake Griffin off the ball on Christmas Day, earning a flagrant foul but also getting a crucial technical foul called against Griffin. In the last meeting, Green always seemed to find himself in the middle of scuffles -- hard fouls, shouting matches, whatever.
  • O'Neal. In addition to Green's shenanigans last game, Jermaine O'Neal picked up a technical foul, and then waited outside the Clippers' locker room to have a "discussion" with Griffin after the game. Nothing much came of it, but these teams don't like each other, and the Warriors especially dislike Griffin, so obviously keep an eye on anything under the basket, especially when Griffin is involved.
  • Curry and the Clippers. In his last seven games against the Clippers, Steph Curry has games of 38, 28, 31 and 22. In those four games, he has posted effective field goal percentages of .804, .857, .875 and 1.054. Curry's a great shooter, I get that, but those numbers are absolutely ridiculous. His eFG on the season is .566, a little better than his career eFG of .549 -- which is really good, but you can see how crazy multiple games shooting over .800 is. I'm not sure how you stop Curry when he's in that zone -- you have to just hope he's not that guy to many times in this series. When Curry is mortal, the Warriors are vulnerable, but he's rarely been mortal against the Clippers.
  • More Curry v. the Clippers. On his career, Curry has made 58-116 three pointers against the Clippers -- exactly 50%. On threes. On a lot of threes. He is one of two active NBA players and eight players all time to shoot better than 50% on over 100 threes against a single opponent. Ben Gordon is the other active player (though maybe he's not active anymore). Gordon is 72-135 against the Wizards.
  • Record setting duo. Curry and Thompson combined to make 484 three pointers this season, breaking their own record for a pair of teammates,483, set last season. They were first and second in the league in three pointers made, 10th and 11th in three point percentage. The Clippers on the other hand had the best three point defense in the league. I'm not convinced personally that anything can be done about Curry -- he has such a quick release and such range that he can always get his shot, and if it goes in it goes in. So the key is Thompson. Find him in transition, find him in rotation (or better yet, never leave him). He can be stopped.
  • A rivalry is born. We seem to say this about a lot of teams, but the Clippers and Warriors really don't like each other -- and that was BEFORE the Christmas Day shenanigans and Jermaine O'Neal in the locker room. There were quite a few blowouts in the season series last year, and emotions seem to run high. Whether it's Steph Curry doing his dance, Blake Griffin and David Lee going at it, DeAndre Jordan and Andrew Bogut exchanging shoves under the basket, Mark Jackson accusing Blake Griffin of intentionally bumping him or random Warriors picking random fights with Griffin, there's always something going on when these teams get together. There will be no shortage of incidents in this series. However, the officials will bend over backwards to give Griffin some slack, especially if it seems the Warriors are provoking him after what happened on Christmas. The NBA doesn't like admitting to mistakes, and they certainly don't want to reward teams for bad behavior, which is exactly what they did in December.
  • Mark Jackson. The Warriors sometimes bizarre head coach Mark Jackson definitely contributes to the bad blood between the teams, though of course he says there is no bad blood, no rivalry, that it's just two teams competing. Yeah, right. Last season during a blowout in L.A. Jackson spent an entire timeout staring at the Clippers bench rather than, you know, trying to help his team play better. I can only surmise that he didn't like some celebrating that had been going on from the LAC bench, yet strangely I've never seen him tell his bench to dial back the towel-waving. Earlier this season Jackson accused Blake Griffin of intentionally stepping on him when Jackson got in the way on an inbounds play. And if indeed the Warriors targeted Griffin on Christmas to try to get him tossed as it appears on the surface, it certainly came from the top down. Jackson can't seem to help inserting himself front and center in games. Whether he can coach is another matter.
  • Closing out shooters. It goes without saying that you have to close out on Curry and Thompson. Actually, that's not correct, because closing out implies that you left them at some point, which you can't do. Curry set the all time NBA single-season record with 272 three pointers last season and led the league against this season and he has the fourth highest career three point percentage in NBA history (.440). Thompson was second in the NBA this season in three pointers made with 223, and is .410 for his career.
  • Warriors bench. The Golden State bench is better than it was at the start of the season. Jordan Crawford provides a backcourt scoring option they were missing and the trade deadline acquisition of Steve Blake from the Lakers gives them a backup point they desperately needed. Harrison Barnes had a bad sophomore season in the NBA, but he'll be looking to repeat his playoff success of a year ago, and the aforementioned Green is going to mix things up. But the front court remains a problem, and that problem just got a lot worse with Bogut's injury. With O'Neal starting, Marreesse Speights is the only Warrior on the bench over 6'8 who played more than 100 minutes this season.
  • Connections. Clippers super sub Jamal Crawford spent most of a season in Oakland between his stints in New York and Atlanta. Matt Barnes really solidified himself as a viable NBA player on the We Believe Warriors of the 2007 playoffs. Steve Blake will spend the trade deadline to the end of the season with the Warriors this year, just as he did with the Clippers in 2010. Warriors coach Mark Jackson was a Clipper in the early 90s. The two coaches tonight were traded for each other back in 1992, with Rivers leaving and Jackson joining the Clippers. Harrison Barnes and Clippers rookie Reggie Bullock were teammates for a season at North Carolina when they were both freshman. The Clippers can thank the Warriors for DeAndre Jordan's current contract, as he signed an offer sheet with Golden State in 2011 which the Clippers matched.
  • Get the Warriors perspective at Golden State of Mind.