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Clippers-Hawks preview: Another Dance with the Spurs of the East

Hoping to make it four victories in a row, the Los Angeles Clippers square off against the Atlanta Hawks, winners of 18 out of their last 20 games. A victory against Atlanta would certainly count as a signature win for the Clippers, and it would likely diminish the bitterness of the Clippers' painful loss in Atlanta on December 23rd.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season

January 5, 2015, 7:30 PM PST
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
11-5 East 17-6
West 8-2
15-4 Home 14-3
Road 11-5
.500+ 11-5
.500- 14-3
L10 9-1
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jeff Teague
J.J. Redick SG Kyle Korver
Matt Barnes
SF DeMarre Carroll
Blake Griffin PF Paul Millsap
DeAndre Jordan C Al Horford
Advanced Stats
94.1 (11th of 30) Pace 94.0 (12th of 30)
112.8 (3rd of 30) ORtg 108.3 (11th of 30)
105.9 (14th of 30) DRtg 103.1 (6th of 30)
No injuries reported

No injuries reported

The Back Story (Hawks lead season series 1-0):

Date Venue Final
12/23/14 Atlanta Hawks 107, Clippers 104 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

Since an absolutely wretched performance at home against the Toronto Raptors, the Clippers are the proud owners of a three-game win streak.  Granted, the last three games have been against three of the crummiest teams in the league (the Utah Jazz, the New York Knicks, and the Philadelphia 76ers).  Achieving four wins in a row will be extremely tough with the Atlanta Hawks, possibly the most surprising team in the NBA this season, as their next opponent.  A beacon of hope for the Clippers is that, just before Christmas, they did give the Hawks a major scare on their own turf on the second game of a road back-to-back.  The Clippers must know that it will take a total team effort to bring down the Hawks.  Blake Griffin and Chris Paul need to dominate offensively and set a good example defensively, DeAndre Jordan needs to be as menacing in the paint as he has been all year, and the bench needs to try to retain some of their magic from the last game in order to get the win.  It will help if the Clippers can get hot from downtown early and often, and they must defend the three-point line.  The Clippers cannot be broken down by Atlanta's ball movement.  Defensively, the Clippers must be on a string.

The Antagonist:

In recent years, the Hawks have been in the least desirable position of any NBA team: a consistent playoff team but not good enough to seriously contend for a title.  Struggling to attract marquee free agents and unable to qualify for an exciting lottery pick, the Hawks seemed unable to generate much excitement in Atlanta and around the league.  However, at this point this season, the Hawks look like a Championship-caliber team.  They are for real.  It helps that they play in the weaker of the two conferences, but there is little doubt that they would still be a force if they were in the Western Conference.  If anyone doubts this, the Hawks just defeated the Portland Trailblazers in Portland, despite LaMarcus Aldridge going for an efficient 30 points and 12 rebounds.  It is possible that the ascendancy of the Hawks would have occurred last season, but Al Horford's pectorals had something to say about that.  The team has made a series of great moves going back to last season.  It now looks like a coup that they were able to sign Coach Mike Budenholzer, a disciple of Gregg Popovich, and letting Josh Smith walk in free agency in 2013 was addition by subtraction.  With a relatively healthy roster and some time to get used to the "pace and space" offense Budenholzer learned as an assistant in San Antonio, the Hawks are thriving.  It does not hurt that they have Kyle Korver, currently shooting 51.3% from deep, on their roster.  That certainly helps a team's offense.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of Key Metrics. The Clippers and Hawks play at almost an identical pace (94.1 and 94.0).  The Hawks are a substantially better defensive team (6th vs. 14th), but the Clippers have the edge on the offensive end (3rd vs. 11th).  The key to this game lies in the ability for each team to make threes and defend the three-point line.  The Clippers have the second best three-point shooting percentage (38.8) in the league, with the Hawks (36.9) sitting pretty at 8th.  The Hawks hold their opponents to an average of 34.5% from downtown (10th best) while the Clippers allow opponents to make 35.1% of their threes (15th best/worst).  It is a far cry from last season when the Clippers defended the three-point line better than any other team in the league.  If they allow the Hawks to get easy threes, then it is likely the game will be over fairly quickly. 
  • A Second Practice. The Clippers practiced for the second time in three days on Sunday.  As everyone knows, the Clippers did not get a chance to practice for nearly a month before that.  Any opportunity to work on weaknesses is helpful, and it is fortunate that the Clippers were able to have a tune up before facing off against the Hawks. 
  • Griffin vs. Millsap. Like Griffin, Paul Millsap is a quality passing big man, and he demonstrates versatility on the offensive end.  Millsap is not a large power forward, so Griffin should be fairly evenly matched against him physically.  Recently, Millsap has been on a roll.  In the previous ten games, he is averaging 18.2 points on 49.3% shooting, 8.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists.  Griffin has been no slouch either in that same stretch of games, averaging 22.2 points on 46.2% shooting, 8.4 rebounds, and 6.5 assists.
  • Redick vs. Korver. As pure a shooter as J.J. Redick is, Korver would likely beat him in a three-point shooting contest.  Averaging just over five attempts from beyond the arc per game, Korver hits over half of them.  Redick attempts slightly more per game (6), but he nails a lower percentage at 42.9% (still elite).  Doc Rivers probably dreams of getting Korver in a Clippers uniform and being able to run a lineup with Korver and Redick playing together (the 6'7 Korver can play small forward).  The perimeter defense would probably be ugly, but that offense would be...dynamic. 
  • Small Forward Woes. A recurring trend all season has been the gaping hole the Clippers have at small forward.  Matt Barnes is having a solid enough season (8.8 points and 3.1 rebounds on 46.6% shooting), and he is nailing 37.6% of his three-point attempts.  However, many would agree that he is best used coming off of the bench.  Based on the eye test, he seems to be having a hard time defending opposing small forwards consistently.  The most recent wing to look like an All-Star was Robert Covington (most people probably had to look him up) on the 76ers.  Reggie Bullock shows some promise as a "3 and D" small forward, but it is doubtful that Rivers trusts him enough to make him their main rotation player at that position.  The Hawks do have a legitimate 3 and D small forward in Demarre Carroll, who would look fabulous in a Clippers uniform. 
  • The Clippers' Bench. To put it simply, the Clippers' bench was putrid in the last outing against the Hawks.  Really, their inability to hold or even maintain a lead lost the Clippers the game.  Looking back, Rivers likely wishes he had just kept the starters in the whole game or pulled a Popovich and declared them DNP-CD.  Can the bench not destroy their team's hopes of winning the game?  Spencer Hawes has played in three games since his return from injury, and the bench does seem to play better when he is on the court (due to his passing and ability to score).  He was not available the last time these teams met.  The bench did show signs of life against the 76ers, but it is not clear how much that has to do with the ineptitude of Philadelphia's reserves.  Jordan Farmar has to run an effective ship when he is on the court or else this game will likely get out of hand. 
  • Get the Atlanta Perspective at Peachtree Hoops.
  • Wikipedia Entry: Hawk (TV series), a 1966 American series starring Burt Reynolds.