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Clippers-Jazz Preview: The Road Trip Begins

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The Clippers will try to begin their season long 8 game road trip tonight by finishing off a season sweep of the Utah Jazz.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season
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31-14

16-29
January 28th, 2015, 6:00 PM PST
EnergySolutions Areana
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
13-8 East 9-13
18-6 West 7-16
20-7 Home 8-13
11-7 Road 8-16
11-11 .500+ 7-21
20-3 .500- 9-8
8-2 L10 4-6
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Dante Exum
J.J. Redick SG Joe Ingles
Matt Barnes/Jamal Crawford SF Gordon Hawyward
Blake Griffin PF Enes Kanter
DeAndre Jordan C Derrick Favors
Advanced Stats
96.46 (13th of 30) Pace 92.94 (28th of 30)
111.0 (1st of 30) ORtg 102.8 (16th of 30)
103.5 (15th of 30) DRtg 106.1 (27th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Matt Barnes (Abdominal Strain) questionable
Alec Burks (shoulder) out

Rodney Hood (foot) out

The Back Story (The Clippers lead the season series 3-0):

Date Venue Final Recap Box
11/03/14 Los Angeles Clippers 107, Jazz 101 Recap Box
11/29/14 Salt Lake City Clippers 112, Jazz 96 Recap Box
12/29/14 Los Angeles Clippers 101, Jazz 97 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are ironically starting their dreaded "Grammy" road trip, an 8 game doozy, against the Jazz in Utah tonight. Get it? Grammys and Jazz??? (1 Dad joke per preview) Heading into the toughest stretch of the season, the Clippers are quietly starting to play some of their best basketball, going 11 of 14 in the month of January moving into 4th in the West, 1.5 games out of second, after jettisoning some dead weight from the bench. The last time the Clippers were playing this well was on their last extended road trip in November when the team shook off their early season struggles and found themselves by going 6-1 on a similar 7 game trip. The next 8 games are absolutely brutal, with 3 pairs of back to backs all against tough opponents (NOP-SAS, CLE-TOR, OKC-DAL). Facing that kind of schedule, the Clippers have to win the two gimme games on this trip against Brooklyn next week, and against the Jazz tonight. Luckily the Clippers have won their last 12 games against the Jazz, including five straight in Utah. While the Jazz played the Clippers close in their last meeting, when the Clippers win on the road, they absolutely blow teams out with the league's best average margin of victory of 13.7 points, so here's to hoping the starters will be taking the 4th quarter off tonight. Amidst Jamal Crawford's fourth quarter barrage to save the Clippers against the Nuggets on Monday night, Matt Barnes quietly left the game with an abdominal strain and its uncertain whether or not he will miss time. Like earlier in the year when Matt was struggling, look for Jamal to be inserted into the starting lineup if Barnes is out, and for 10-day contract man Dahntay Jones to maybe get some burn. If Barnes faces any prolonged period of time on the sidelines that's a major concern for an already thin wing position, and Doc will be saying some prayers for Prince or Kirilenko to be bought out soon (maybe they'll even make a move for Nate Robinson to try and give some reinforcements to the bench).

The Antagonist:

While the Jazz may be sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference, their record doesn't accurately reflect how hard Coach Snyder has them playing night in and night out. Since the last time the Clippers played the Jazz, they have made some substantial changes to their lineup, trying to find the best fit with their first and second choice shooting guards Burks and Hood out for prolonged periods of time. The starters have been taken over by Aussies, with teenager Dante Exum and former Clipper Joe Ingles being inserted into the first five, and Michigan star Trey Burke relegated to the bench. Ingles has helped to run the offense with his slick passing, often leading the team in dimes, and scored his career high 16 two games ago. In his three starts Exum has been an enigma. His last game against Boston he went scoreless, but in the previous two starts, Exum made 8 of 15 three pointers despite being a 33% shooter from behind the arc on the season. Meanwhile Burke's move to the bench may have been a blessing in disguise as it has freed him up to thrive in the 6th man bench scorer role Jamal Crawford has made famous. Burke has made 10 three pointers in his first 3 games off the bench, 4 in his each of his last two games. It's important to also give credit to Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, the team's consistent bright spots all season. After a miserable season last year, Hayward has bounced back earning his new contract by putting 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists a night, while shooting much more efficiently than last year. The past couple of years everyone has been predicting a Favors break out, and it seems like this is finally the year. Also having been awarded a new contract this offseason, the 23 year old has excelled, averaging 16 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a game, posting the 17th highest PER at 22.39.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers are the number 1 offensive team in the league, and a little more than 8 points better than the Jazz per 100 possessions. Over the course of the season, the Clippers are a better defensive team as well, though in the last 10 games, the Jazz have been a top 10 team defensively. Interestingly enough, over the course of the season, the Jazz give up the 10th least amount of points, but post the 27th worst defensive rating in large part because the Jazz play at the 3rd slowest pace in the league. The Clippers will definitely look to push the pace in Utah.
  • The road. As touched on above, the Clippers will play an incredibly tough schedule this 8 game road trip, with three back to backs coming against playoff worth opponents (I'm calling the Pelicans and Thunder playoff worthy). Over the course of the season, the Clippers are 8-3 on the second game of a back to back, so let's hope they can continue to defy the idea of schedule losses. The Clippers should be sure to get comfortable sleeping in hotels, as about 2/3 of their remaining schedule, 23 of 37 games, will be played on the road.
  • The "Steiffel" Tower. I know that you can't bank on any draft pick at the bottom of the first round and hindsight is 20-20, it's like playing the lottery right Bolts!, and that 7ft international projects hardly ever translate to NBA level success, but man do I wish the Clippers would've taken Rudy Gobert in 2013, especially since our pick that draft is now playing for the Suns (start the GM Doc sucks conversations in the comments pls, but also realize that Denver traded Gobert to the Jazz for the 46th pick and cash so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). Gobert has been a revelation in Utah, terrorizing opponents with his 9ft wingspan and showing real skill in protecting the basket. The "Steiffel" Tower is not only the best nickname in the league, but Gobert has been good enough so that the Jazz have to be considering letting Enes Kanter walk if he gets a big offer sheet from someone this offseason. Gobert and Favors seems to be a better fit than Kanter and Favors ever has been, and that pairing provides the Jazz with a monstrous front line for opponents to have to deal with.
  • All Blake does is pass. Passing is the new dunking apparently because while Blake has eased off his pedestal as the league's premiere dunker, he has quietly taken the throne as the league's best passing big man. Blake is averaging 5.1 dimes on the year, about 2 assists more than the next power forward, and almost 1.5 more than the top center Marc Gasol. When Doc came to the Clippers he raved about Griffin's passing ability and letting him run the offense through the elbow and on the break, and he has followed through. As Zach Lowe points out, Blake is having a historic passing season, accounting for 25.5% of the Clippers buckets with only 4 big men ever posting better assist rates over an entire season.
  • Four Factors. 3pt Shooting: The Jazz are the third worst in the league at guarding the three point line and the Clippers are the third best team in the league at launching bombs. This season, the Clippers are shooting 42% from deep against the Jazz having made at least 10 in each game. Look For more of the same to continue. Rebounds: The Jazz are the 3rd best rebounding percentage team in the league while the Clippers are in the bottom half at 18th. Interestingly, the Clippers are a better defensive rebounding team than the Jazz, 5th vs 12th, but the Jazz dominate the offensive glass posting the best percentage in the association while the Clippers are the 4th worst. DeAndre and Blake will need to make sure to keep the Jazz big men from gobbling up rebounds and allowing easy second chance points. Turnovers: The Jazz are the 5th worst turnover team in the league coughing the ball up over 16 times per 100 possessions while the Clippers have the third best turnover ration in the league, thanks in large part to the sure hands of Chris Paul. Free Throws: The Clippers are the 4th best team in the NBA when it comes to getting to the line, while the Jazz are respectable as the 11th team in the league.
  • Connections. The Jazz have two former Clippers on their roster, one in sharp shooter Steve Novak, the other was only a training camp Clipper in beloved kangaroo Joe Ingles. Hedo and Kanter have both played for the Turkish national team. Rodney Hood is a Duke product same with J.J. Redick. Trey Burke and Jamal both went to Michigan.
  • Wikipedia entry: Jazz was a character in the show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, known commonly for being Will Smith's best friend and also musical partner DJ Jazzy Jeff, of which the two have combined to produce more than 5 albums, two of which went platinum, in real life. On the show, Jazz is well known for having a crush on Hilary Banks, though his advances are almost always denied. One of the show's longest running gags is for Jazz to be literally thrown out of the house by Uncle Phil, though many different members of the family take part including Jeffrey the Butler.