Fasten your seatbelts (h/t Ralph Lawler). The Clippers did their bully thing and pounded some twerps the last two weeks, but next week brings some opponents of a different size.
The annual Grammy Gauntlet is down the road a bit, but the Clippers' schedule stiffens prematurely with four competitive teams coming up in the next seven days. We can leave the meat and potatoes breakdown for the previews. For this column, I did a little statistical digging to see if I could highlight a Clipper fantasy opportunity in each game:
Dallas Mavericks, 1/10
Well, this one didn't take me long. There's a weakness as big as Mark Cuban's ego for all to exploit: defensive rebounding. Nowitzki and mates are tied for last with the New York Knicks in defensive rebounding rate. The Knicks! The Knicks' leading rebounder is Amar'e Stoudemire, and I don't even think he has knees. Luckily for you and your lineup, DeAndre Jordan, King of the Back Tap, is 2nd in the whole NBA in offensive rebounds. He's licking his lips. Play him.
Miami Heat, 1/11
Sunday against the Heat, the Clippers will be playing for the second consecutive day -- literally, both weekend games are 12:30 PM tips. The post-LeBron Heat look to be the easiest matchup in this upcoming stretch, having already been defeated by the Clippers in what might be the closest thing they have to a signature win this season, Warriors and Christmas excepted. Simply put, the Heat aren't good. As of this writing, they rank 26th in defensive efficiency, so matchups abound. The one I'm looking at is literally the one. As in 1. As in point guard. Miami is 25th in turnover ratio, and the obvious culprits are the ones (again, literally) handling the ball. The highest turnover ratios of Heat players averaging at least 20 minutes belong to Shabazz Napier and Mario Chalmers. Esteemed Clipper point guard is averaging two steals per game, fourth in the league. He will pounce. Play him.
@ Portland Trail Blazers, 1/14
Perhaps the toughest game in this stretch, the arena in Portland, whatever the hell they're calling it now, is something of a Clipper house of horrors. It's an intimidating atmosphere for any visiting team, but I remember it best as the place where the league decided it couldn't beat Blake Griffin, so it would resort to beating on Blake Griffin. Damn you, Blazers. Interestingly enough, and more to our point here, the Blazer defense may present a scoring opportunity for Blake, even though LaMarcus Aldridge's length has always challenged him. On a per game basis, the Blazers are allowing 31.5 field goal attempts within five feet, 28th in the NBA, and I imagine this problem has worsened in Robin Lopez' absence. They don't allow opponents to convert at a particularly high rate, but Blake is no ordinary finisher. Also, Robin Lopez is due out until at least the end of this month, and we all know about Chris Kaman's rim-protecting adventures. Blake has been loathe to attack the rim on some nights, but I think if Portland's scheme shows him something inside, and why wouldn't they, they're showing it to everyone else, he will attack. Play him.
Cleveland Cavaliers, 1/16
The Cavs are a bad defense, but having not watched them a ton, I had a tough time identifying a specific weakness with them just by looking at the stats page. They're not terrible at much, just pretty bad at a lot of things. Only a couple items really stand out. First, they foul a ton but they're the stingiest team in the NBA in allowing free throws. Weird, huh? They also allow a high number of shots between five and nine feet, but that's not a killer since that's the uncomfortable intermediate area in which most players, save maybe in-his-prime Antawn Jamison, will struggle to shoot a high percentage. With nothing standing out, I settled on the obvious solution: play all the Clippers. The Cavs just aren't good at defense. They're sitting even with the inept Sacramento Kings. They allow opponents to shoot 46.9% on field goal attempts, fifth-worst in the league. Recent addition Timofey Mozgov will help, but we should all remember his rim-protection skills. Let's watch it again! The Clippers will score. Play them all.
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