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Clippers-Nets Preview: Clash of the "Other" Teams

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With the annual "Grammy Trip" looming, the Clippers aim to take care of business against the visiting Brooklyn Nets. Los Angeles has won seven of the past ten games heading into tonight's contest.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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28-14

18-24
January 22, 2015, 7:30 PM PST
STAPLES Center
TNT, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jarrett Jack
J.J. Redick
SG Bogan Bogdanovic
Matt Barnes
SF Joe Johnson
Blake Griffin PF Kevin Garnett
DeAndre Jordan C Mason Plumlee
Advanced Stats
94.2 (12th of 30) Pace 92.0 (26th of 30)
113.0 (1st of 30) ORtg 102.8 (24th of 30)
106.3 (16th of 30) DRtg 105.0 (12th of 30)
Injuries/Other
No injuries reported

Deron Williams (Side) out





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

Date Venue Final
11/16/13 Los Angeles Clippers 110, Nets 103 Recap Box
12/12/13 Brooklyn Clippers 93, Nets 102 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

At this point, just over halfway through the 2014-2015 season, the Los Angeles Clippers still have many of the flaws that have plagued them all year.  They have little depth, the defense remains suspect, the bench struggles to maintain or extend large leads, and the team tends to lose composure when the game begins to tighten.  There was no reason at all that the starters should have had to have played in the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics after helping to build a 20+ point advantage.  However, almost as if they were following a script, the bench checked in and the gap quickly narrowed. The starters saved the day, but even they struggled to restore order once Boston was on their run.  Racking up wins is important, but 42 games into the season, the starters are still being asked to do too much.  It would be unfortunate if they burned out before the playoffs began.  This is not a recipe for long-term success.

The Antagonist:

This is the second game of a three-game road trip for the Brooklyn Nets, who defeated the Sacramento Kings last night.  The Clippers' issues look like nothing compared to whatever is plaguing the Nets, losers of 8 out of their last 10 games.  Mikhael Prokhorov, currently the majority owner of the Brooklyn Nets, is probably shaking his head wondering what went wrong.  He has three  talented players in Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez under contract. This offseason, he hired veteran coach Lionel Hollins to replace Jason Kidd (seen as an upgrade at the time).  Prokhorov put his money where his mouth is, and the team currently has a $94,400,070 payroll for this season.  That is a lot of money, and at 18-24, this team is certainly not what he envisioned.  Injuries to Lopez and Williams certainly have not helped.  Shockingly, if the season ended today, they would be playing the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs.  However, the team seems to have decided that barely making the playoffs with this kind of a payroll is not a worthy goal.  Already, there are rumblings that the team is looking to hold a fire sale to unload all of their large contracts.  Essentially, they are on the brink of a rebuild.

Subplots:

  • Comparison of key metrics. This one is easy.  The Clippers are a great offensive team, and the Nets do not score easily.  The Nets have a slight defensive edge over the Clippers, but neither team is anything to write home about on that side of the court.  Let's all hope that the Clippers are not close to hitting their defensive ceiling.  This time last season, the Clippers were starting to get it together defensively.  Not so this season, despite retaining their top six players from last year.  Their defensive struggles boggle the mind, but there is still a chance they will figure it out. 
  • DeAndre Jordan vs. Mason Plumlee and Brook Lopez.  Jordan is currently having a monster season, leading the league in rebounds and field goal percentage.  He is also second in blocked shots.  Jordan has been the most consistent player on the team all season, and they are fortunate that he has proven durable over the years.  It is not a stretch to say that they would be absolutely lost without him.  Plumlee presents a unique challenge in that, like Jordan, he is an athletically-gifted center.  While Jordan is a much better rebounder, he may not be able to rely so much on athleticism in "asserting his will" (this is a TNT game, and Charles Barkley will probably utter this phrase at least one time) on Plumlee.  Jordan also tends to struggle against offensively gifted centers with some shooting range, such as Lopez.  In order to win the game, Jordan needs to contain Lopez.  On a positive note, Lopez is a poor rebounder for his position, which should give Jordan a huge advantage there.  If Blake Griffin decides to focus on grabbing some rebounds, the Clippers have an opportunity to really dominate that stat in this contest.
  • Chris Paul vs. Jarrett Jack.  Unfortunately, it looks like we will not be getting the desired Paul vs. Williams matchup this game. Their careers are forever linked, as Williams was taken one spot before Paul in the 2004 draft.  While Williams played in Utah, the two were often in competition for the unofficial "best point guard in the NBA" designation.  In recent seasons, Paul separated himself from the pack, including Williams. However, Paul should not sleep on Jack, who has disappointed in Cleveland and Brooklyn since his stellar season in Golden State in 2012-2013.  Jack was Paul's backup during their time in New Orleans, and these two guards know each other well.  Opposing point guards tend to get up to play Paul. 
  • Making three-pointers.  Simply put, the Clippers make threes and the Nets do not.  The Clippers make 38.1% of their shots from downtown, which is good for fourth best in the league.  Only two teams are worse at shooting from distance than the Nets (just 32.1%).  Although the Clippers have not defended the three-point line nearly as well as they did last season, they are still statistically better than the Nets and three-point defense.  If J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, and Paul can get hot from behind the arc early in the game, the Clippers may be able to get a nice lead.
  • Rest. The Clippers have not played a game since Monday afternoon and should be fresh for this game.  On the other hand, the Nets will be on the second game of a road back-to-back and may be fatigued.  Let's hope that the Clippers are sharp and focused when they take the court.  Also, perhaps the days off may help players who have been in shooting slumps, such as Paul.
  • When will the bench step up? It is tiring to keep bringing them up, but no matter who is on it, the bench is always a question mark.  It is clear that we are indeed far away from another "tribe called bench."  Those were the good old days.
  • Will Austin Rivers break out in this game? Let's be fair here.  Yes, Rivers has a lot to prove in his young career.  Yes, the younger Rivers has made just one field goal in three games.  However, he has played with energy and tenacity.  He tries and has a good attitude.  His athleticism gives the bench a fresh dimension, and his ability to get to the rim should eventually yield something positive.  It would be wonderful if Rivers was able to get something going on the offensive end tonight.  It may not quiet the skeptics, but it would probably help his confidence going forward.
  • Trade Rumors. The Nets have been involved in trade discussions recently.  The Oklahoma City Thunder appeared eager to acquire Lopez, but Brooklyn decided to hold off on making a trade.  The Sacramento Kings have been linked with Williams.  If Lopez is traded to the Thunder, that would make a dangerous Thunder team even more deadly (assuming Lopez can stay healthy).  The Western Conference gets tougher and tougher
  • Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers. Coach Rivers and Garnett won a ring together, and it is not a stretch to think that competing against each other is bittersweet.  If the Nets decide to negotiate a buyout with him this season, Garnett has several reasons to consider the Clippers as a destination.  Aside from his friendship with Rivers, he has a house in town, and he would have the opportunity to mentor Griffin in a playoff run.
  • Ownership. Steve Ballmer purchased the Clippers for 2 billion dollars this past summer.  That eye-popping figure seems to have heightened Prokhorov's interest in selling his team.  Like the Clippers, the Nets are the "other" team in a major market and will likely command a handsome sum.
  • Get the Brooklyn Nets perspective at NetsDaily.
  • Wikipedia Entry: Nothing But Nets.  A global, grassroots campaign of the United Nations to raise awareness and funding to fight Malaria, a leading cause of death among children in Africa.