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Clippers-Warriors Preview: An opportunity for revenge

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Injuries make this game an uphill climb, but the Clippers can still win this one. Anything can happen in a rivalry game.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
2015-16 NBA Regular Season
@
Golden State Warriors (12-0)

Los Angeles Clippers (6-4)
November 19, 2015 — 7:30 PM PST
STAPLES Center — Los Angeles, CA
TNT; The Beast 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown ('15-'16)
12-0 Record 6-4
3-0 East 1-0
9-0 West 5-4
2-0 Division 3-2
7-0 Home 5-1
5-0 Road 1-3
6-0 .500+ 4-3
6-0 .500– 2-1
1-0 OT 0-0
10-0 L10 6-4
Projected Starters
Steph Curry PG Austin Rivers
Klay Thompson SG Jamal Crawford
Harrison Barnes SF Paul Pierce
Draymond Green PF Blake Griffin
Andrew Bogut C DeAndre Jordan
Efficiency Stats ('14-'15)
102.7 (T-3rd) Pace 100.7 (9th)
110.7 (1st) OffRtg 104.9 (3rd)
95.1 (3rd) DefRtg 103.0 (20th)
+15.6 (1st) NetRtg +1.9 (14th)
Injury Report
Shaun Livingston (Hip) — TBD Chris Paul (Hamstring) — Doubtful

J.J. Redick (Back) — Doubtful
'15'-16' Season Series (Clippers lead 1-0)
Date
Venue
Final
Clips Nation Recap
NBA Box Score
11/4/2015
Oakland
Warriors 112, Clippers 108
Recap
Box Score

Thwarting perfection — At 12-0, Golden State is only three wins away from tying the NBA record for best start to a season, set most recently by the 1993-1994 Houston Rockets. They have a chance to tie that record Sunday at Denver and beat it Tuesday night at home against the Lakers, but first they have to beat the other Los Angeles team, who only narrowly lost to them two weeks prior in the Bay Area.

Golden State hasn't been playing its best basketball recently either, eking out victories at home over a ramshackle Brooklyn Nets team and a feisty Toronto Raptors squad. Steph Curry is still out there somewhere in the Solar System, but he's a little bit closer to Earth now than he was a week or two ago. The Warriors might not have lost yet, but quite a few times now they've shown themselves to be mortal. They bleed just like we do, they just haven't been pricked hard enough.

But without perfectionists — When the season started, this game seemed like a potential schedule loss for Golden State, with the Clippers resting and preparing for four days before getting an opportunity for revenge. However, it's going to be a lot harder without the starting backcourt of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick, responsible for so much of the Clippers' success and brilliance on both sides of the ball.

Both played key roles when the two teams met last. Paul led the team with 24 points, while Redick had a loud 13 and was instrumental in helping the Clippers come back in the second half of that game. Without them, Los Angeles will be forced to start the combination of Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford for the second straight game (which also moves Paul Pierce to the starting lineup, relegating Lance Stephenson), a pairing that has had mixed results so far this year. Both Rivers and Crawford had their moments in the last meeting, but they'll need to find more consistency in order to pull off the upset at home.

Rivalry turning to respect — It happened over time with the Memphis Grizzlies too. After so many fiery competitive matchups, you can't help but respect your opponent and their skill level. Them winning a title doesn't hurt either. J.J. Redick elaborated on that recently on a podcast with USA Today's Sam Amick:

"We're both two really good basketball teams… Last year they beat our [butts] three out of four times, they win the championship, they're the best team in basketball. So they have now what we want, which is a championship and the title. So we're going after them. I don't know that it's a rivalry per se, in how I define it. But when our two teams go head to head, there's a different feel about the game than any other team we play. I would say the only other team that maybe kind of feels the same way in terms of the nervousness in your stomach, and the tightness and the butterflies and all that, is the [San Antonio] Spurs. Those are the two teams [where] there's a different feel to those games.

"I think Blake [Griffin] and I have talked about this, but our feeling towards Golden State has kind of evolved into our feeling towards the Spurs. Whereas two or three years ago, it was like, ‘Man, we don't like these guys. We want to beat them.' There's a level of respect [now]. And I have heard from some of their guys towards us the same kind of level of respect. There's a level of respect that we have for them because of what they did last year, because of how dominant they are right now."

Draymond Green's thoughts on the topic were pretty similar:

Stopping the boogers — Pick-and-roll defense against the Warriors was a bugaboo in the fourth quarter at Oracle, when Steph Curry exploded from beyond the arc to help secure the win. Although the Clippers hedged Curry hard in the past, they played a more forgiving coverage with DeAndre Jordan dropping back, the new scheme they've tried to implement this season.

While in theory the defense should work against most players, it gave Curry way too many opportunities from beyond the arc. DeAndre made mistakes in coverage, not keeping his arms up to contest Curry's shots or getting close enough to stop the open three. To be fair to DAJ, several of Curry's threes were pull-up shots several feet beyond the arc that few other players would consider taking early in the shot clock in crunch time. You can only come out so far before running the risk of Curry blowing by you and getting an open path to the rim (where he's among the most creative and efficient finishers in the league).

As Justin Russo detailed in the last Film Room, the Clippers changed up their pick-and-roll schemes more against Detroit, a big part of their impressive second-half showing on that end. Between that and the four days of rest and prep before this game, keep an eye on how the Clippers, especially DeAndre, defend Steph Curry when he comes around screens. Note that the Clippers also play tomorrow night in Portland — Damian Lillard might be the only player who comes close to replicating what Steph does from behind the arc. We might see more hedging and traps from DeAndre in the next two games, which can force ballhandlers but also allow for more 4-on-3 situations and uncontested opportunities at the rim.

Riding the pine — With the usual backup guards pressed into starting duty, the second unit tonight should consist of Pablo Prigioni, Lance Stephenson, Wes Johnson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Josh Smith. We'll see how much Doc will stagger rotations, and how much playing time Lance sees (after only registering two minutes against the Pistons).

Golden State will probably be missing one of their best bench players in former Clipper Shaun Livingston, but his minutes have been adequately filled in recent games by Ian Clark, who can splash it with the best of them. Watch out for him.

Keep the glass to yourself — The Clippers did a pretty good job of preventing too many offensive boards last game, but that might be a little bit harder this time around. Remember that Andrew Bogut missed that meeting, meaning that Festus Ezeli was pressed into a starting role. That meant that the Warriors didn't bring a true center off the bench, playing small with Marreese Speights in the middle for the reserves.

The Clippers bench doesn't have that luxury this time around. Bogut's back, and the energetic and athletic Ezeli gets a more favorable matchup with Josh Smith and the reserve wings Los Angeles throws out there. Offensive rebounding has been an area of concern all year long. The good news is that Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, the projected backup PF, has had the best on-the-floor team defensive rebounding percentage on the team, and tied with… Josh Smith for the lead among rotation players in the past few games, when LRMAM's gotten meaningful minutes (small sample size warning, of course).

Yes, we are talking about practiceDoc Rivers-coached teams aren't known for practicing much. The rationale is sound; for his typically veteran-laden rosters, the extra rest between games is much more beneficial than reps. The Clippers have gotten even less practice than usual this year, due to their preseason trip to China. In fact, before this week, the team had only practiced once so far during the regular season.

Thanks to a busy schedule, the Clippers have held just one practice since the season started. Before they play the Warriors, Doc Rivers said, the Clippers will take two days off, then practice twice.

They can use the extra work.

"I told our coaches three games ago, I said, 'I've never seen a team that needs a practice more than this team,'" Rivers said. "We've got all these new guys, we're playing on the fly, and our execution game by game just kept dropping."

Guillotine-like efficiency — Speaking of execution… it's been a problem for the team in the early going. Their best game of the season so far might have actually come in the loss to Golden State. Apart from that, they haven't had any really impressive victories or played consistently well for all 48 minutes. This is reflected in their net efficiency differential, a mediocre +1.9 per 100 possessions. Of course, at this time last year they were also 6-4 with a near-identical +2.0 net rating (skewed by the last of those games, a thumping of Orlando; prior to that, they actually had a negative efficiency differential of -0.8). Another sign of their underperformance so far can be found in their passing. Last year they were among the very best teams in the league in generating assists, but that's been down so far this year.

Although the Clippers have largely emerged and played their best basketball post-ASB during Doc's tenure, who you are as a team is largely determined within the first month or so. And unless we start seeing improvements for the Clippers soon, we should be capping our expectations for the team (as our Justin Russo explained in detail on Twitter the other day). If we don't see progress for the team in their problem areas over their next few games, those issues will likely hamstring the team for the rest of the season.

Yet another rematch — Including tonight, the Clippers will have played 11 games so far this season. Eight of those games have come against just four teams: Sacramento, Dallas, Phoenix, and now Golden State. All of those teams happen to be Clippers rivals, too.

An unstoppable force meets an immovable object — I'm referring, of course, to the jersey matchup tonight. While the Clippers have gone only 6-4, they've been 5-0 when wearing their home whites (coincidentally, their least worst uniforms). Meanwhile, Golden State has somehow not lost in any of their uniforms. Something might have to give tonight.

The Warriors are lucky… to be this good — For Clippers fans, Golden State's success stings a little. The team we've rooted for spent so long being miserable, with brief flashes of competency, before finally becoming good. They've become a consistent playoff team, with multiple MVP candidates and All-Stars on their roster. They've had some postseason success, including being the most recent team the last two NBA champions have lost to in the playoffs.

But at the same time they've fallen tantalizingly short of getting the team success and external validation reflecting how good they've been for the past few years. Instead, Clippers fans have suffered increasingly agonizing losses in the playoffs each spring, have watched their plucky upstart team turn into one of the most hated and derided rosters in the league, with a reputation — overblown or not — of being floppers, whiners, chokers, etc. They've had to suffer the ignominy of being embarrassed by their racist owner (whose actions were mostly overlooked when the team wasn't relevant) on a worldwide stage. In essence, they've gotten the negative treatment of successful teams and big-market franchises, but without that much success to accompany it.

That makes it even more frustrating when another team goes through the same process but emerges painlessly, and without the bumps, bruises, and warts the Clippers have had.

The Warriors have become everything the Clippers and their fans want to be and want to have. They were also a perennial sadsack franchise not too long ago. They also became one of the NBA's premier young teams, one of the most exciting teams in basketball. They took a few lumps in the playoffs too.

Last year they turned into something else entirely. They became historically dominant, but still managed to be perhaps the most likeable and popular team in the league. They suddenly won a title with a ridiculously talented and deep roster but remained one of the youngest teams in the NBA, with the potential to somehow still get even better.

Of course, they've earned all their accolades. They really are that good. But compared to the Clippers, it came without the same kind of playoff heartbreak and years spent "paying their dues" before ascending to the highest echelon. And it came without the same consequences the Clippers have had to deal with both on and off the floor. You can't help but envy their success a little bit.

For the Warriors' perspective on tonight's game, check out our SB Nation sister blog, Golden State of Mind. If you comment there, please be respectful.