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Clippers-Jazz Preview: The real roadie begins

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The Clippers begin the real road trip tonight in Salt Lake City. To keep the positive vibes from Christmas going, Doc will have to figure out how to stop professional Clipper killer and Mumford & Sons stand-in Gordon Hayward.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

2015-16 NBA Regular Season

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Los Angeles Clippers (17-13)

Utah Jazz (12-15)
December 26, 2015 — 6:00 PM PT
Vivint Smart Homes Arena (Whatever. I'm still calling it the Delta Center)  Salt Lake City, Utah
Fox Sports West, The Beast 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown ('15-'16)
17-13 Record 12-15
6-3 East 6-5
11-10 West 6-10
10-6 Home 7-6
7-7 Road 5-9
5-10 .500+ 6-12
12-3 .500– 6-3
6-4 L10 4-6
Projected Starters
Chris Paul PG Raul Neto
J.J. Redick SG Rodney Hood
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute SF Gordon Hayward (aka Provo Lebron)
Blake Griffin PF Derrick Favors
DeAndre Jordan C Trey Lyles
Efficiency Stats ('15-'16)
98.7 (13th) Pace 94.0 (30th)--It's still 1997 in Utah...in many ways.
OffRtg 101.9 (15th)
101.7 (14th) DefRtg 103.1 (17th)
2.4 (11th) NetRtg -1.2 (16h)
Injury Report

Steiffel Tower (Sprained MCL)–Out

The Big Picture

After winning that "fake" road game against their Staples Center co-tenants on Christmas ("fake" not because of geography, but because they were playing less so a team and more so an office retirement party poorly organized by Byron Scott), the Clippers head to Salt Lake City to kick off a real and deceptively difficult road trip. At first blush, the next four games resemble the type of roadie cakewalk that has buoyed the team in seasons past. Three of their next four games come against opponents with sub-.500 records, two against teams that missed the playoffs last year, and one against a team with Randy Whitman as head coach. Recent Clippers' history is littered with roadies like these that padded win totals and smoothed over reported chemistry issues. Think the November road trip last season, or even the 4-1 trip with the Detroit overtime win just a few weeks ago.

But this road trip is tougher than it looks. After playing an injured but still difficult Jazz team on the back end of a back-to-back tonight, the Clippers will play the Wizards on Monday before finishing on a back-to-back in Charlotte and New Orleans. Cheap Randy Whitman jokes  and a Bradly Beal injury aside, the Wizards have won four of their last six and were a John Wall metacarpel away from the Eastern Conference finals last season. Steve Clifford has somehow turned Marvin Williams and the Hornets into the definition of a "tough out", and New Orleans may have the most misleading record in the league because of early-season injuries.

The Antagonist

The post-Gobert era has not gone well for Quinn Snyder and co. The Jazz have gone 4-7 since losing their defensive anchor to a sprained MCL, slipping to the bottom half of the league in defensive efficiency--the hallmark of the team's strong second-half performance last year. While the offense looks much more fluid without the 7-foot Frenchman in the middle, the team appear much more vulnerable without it's freakishly long rim protector.

Still, the Jazz will be a tough match for the Clippers. Sure, the back end of a back-to-back on the road against any professional basketball team would be tough. But more alarmingly for Clipper fans, Gordon Hayward is still slated to start

The Butler product is posting 42-40-81 splits while averaging 18.5 points per game. He's made a habit of torching the Clippers, including a 33-point outburst at Staples in November in a wire-to-wire Jazz win. Doc Rivers is said to be very enamored with Hayward. If Luc Richard and Wes Johnson fail to contain him early on, don't be surprised if Doc moves to legally adopt Hayward sometime early in the third quarter.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of Key Metrics: The Jazz's rebounding numbers have dropped off somewhat after Gobert's injury, but the team is still a beast on the offensive glass. Collectively the Jazz are third in the league in offensive rebounding percentage. The Clippers have struggled to keep teams off the offensive glass all season. The Jazz could make up for a subpar shooting night with extra opportunities.
  • DNP-CD: The Doc Rivers-Josh Smith passive aggressive standoff moves into it's third game. Will Doc budge after another subpar bench performance? Will Smoove immediately launch a series of stepback three's as soon as he steps on the court? Will Callie Rivers broker a peace over text message? The soap opera continues.
  • Another Utah Streak: As longtime fans will remember, before Chris Paul came to the Clippers the team had lost roughly 12,000 consecutive games to the Jazz in Salt Lake City. Then Chris Paul came, and we had won 13 straight against the Jazz until earlier this season. Our winning streak in  Salt Lake City is still alive and well.
  • The View From The Other Side: Check out the excellent SLC Dunk.
  • Austin Rivers Still Likely Out: Couldn't fit him in the box above for some reason, apologies.