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Clippers-Raptors preview: To The North We Go

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Looking to avoid the first 3-game losing streak in the Doc Rivers Era, the Los Angeles Clippers take their show north of the border for an out-of-conference showdown with the number two team in the East -- the Toronto Raptors.

Harry How/Getty Images
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season
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33-17

33-17
February 6th, 2015, 4:00 PM
Air Canada Centre (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
ESPN, Fox Sports West HD, Sportsnet One, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown (2014-2015)
13-10 East 23-10
20-7 West 10-7
7-2 Division 9-1
20-7 Home 18-9
13-10 Road 15-8
12-13 .500+ 11-12
21-4 .500- 22-5
1-0 OT 4-2
7-3 L10 7-3
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Kyle Lowry
Jamal Crawford SG Greivis Vasquez
Matt Barnes SF DeMar DeRozan
Blake Griffin PF Amir Johnson
DeAndre Jordan C Jonas Valanciunas
Advanced Stats
96.27 (14th of 30) Pace 95.72 (20th of 30)
110.3 (1st of 30) ORtg 109.0 (4th of 30)
103.5 (16th of 30) DRtg 104.6 (21st of 30)
Injuries/Other
J.J. Redick (Doubtful) Back
James Johnson (Questionable) Hamstring

Lucas Nogueira (Questionable) Groin

Raptors lead 2014-2015 season series over Clippers; 1-0
Date
Venue
Final
Clips Nation Recap
ESPN Box Score
12/27/2014
Los Angeles
Raptors 110, Clippers 98
Recap
Box Score

The Heroes
If the collapse against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday wasn’t fun enough, the Los Angeles Clippers followed that up on Thursday night by allowing the Cleveland Cavaliers to take them behind the woodshed and put them out of their misery with the Clippers playing the role of Old Yeller and the Cavaliers being the shotgun. But, hey, perhaps there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. The Clippers have never lost three games in a row under Doc Rivers in the 145 games they’ve played. The team responded to a tough loss on the road to the New Orleans Pelicans by beating the San Antonio Spurs the following night. Perhaps more is in store for this game. Perhaps.

The Adversary
The Toronto Raptors started off the year by going 24-7 and actually leading the Eastern Conference by 1½ games after defeating the Denver Nuggets on December 28th. Since then, though, they’re only 9-10 and have genuinely struggled. It seems like they’re having a tough time figuring out which team they are. Are they the team that was tearing through the Eastern Conference early on and gelling even without DeMar DeRozan or are they the team that has shown up over the last several weeks with inconsistent play and spotty defense? I guess we’ll find out as the rest of the season unfolds. They’re still, as of this moment, the number two seed in the Eastern Conference and should finish in the top four.

For More: Visit Raptors HQ

Comparison of Key Metrics
Due to their lackluster offense over the last two games, which has seen them put up a 99.1 Offensive Rating over the last 96 minutes, the Clippers have fallen off the perch of having the sole number one offense in the league. For now, they share the lead in Offensive Rating with the Golden State Warriors. As a side note, the Warriors also rank first in Defensive Rating and Pace which is absolutely insane. Since their meeting late in December, the Clippers have posted an Offensive Rating of 110.8 and a Defensive Rating of 102.1. Meanwhile, the Raptors have seen their Offensive Rating slip down to 104.6 and their Defensive Rating has sat at 105.4 since these two met. However, since DeMar DeRozan has returned, the Raptors have posted an ORtg of 104.3 and a DRtg of 103.3 in their last 13 games. They’re just 8-5 over that stretch. Over that same time, the Clippers have posted an ORtg of 110.9 and DRtg of 103.5. So this should be a good offensive game to watch.

Schedule
Five games down, three games to go on the annual Grammy Trip. After this game, they’ll barely have a break before they head to Oklahoma City to play an early afternoon game against the Thunder on Sunday and then finish up the trip by playing the Mavericks in Dallas on Monday evening. The Clippers final game before the All-Star Break will be at home on Wednesday night against the Dwight Howard-less Houston Rockets. It will be their only home game in the span of 23 days – January 27th to February 18th. The Raptors are in the middle of a five game homestand which has seen them lose the first two games to the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets. After this game against the Clippers, they play the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday and then the Washington Wizards on Wednesday before hitting the All-Star Break. After that, though, Toronto goes on the road for 9 out of 11 games and all but 2 of the 11 – New York and Philadelphia – are against teams that are in the playoff race. Could make or break their seeding in the East.

X-Factor: Lou Williams
During their last meeting, Williams only went off for 9 points on 2-for-9 shooting. They kept him pretty thoroughly under wraps but doing so again will be tough. While he has scored more points per game on the road this season, Lou Williams has managed to shoot better at home and his Effective Field Goal Percentage is higher there, as well. Over the last ten games, he has been scuffling. He’s only managed to put up an eFG% of 41.7 percent and a True Shooting Percentage of 52.2 percent. His shooting splits have dipped down to 34.6 percent from the field and 26.9 percent from three during those games. The Clippers can’t allow him to get out of his slump in this game.

As The Rivers Flow, S1 | E12
If we’re going to find silver lining out of things after the last couple games, it should be noted that Austin Rivers has just five 10-5-5 games in his professional career. One of them occurred last night against the Cleveland Cavaliers when he had 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. He also had two steals. Granted, a lot of that came in garbage time but Rivers did hit on one of his two three-point attempts. Rivers even did it in just 22 minutes, which is the fewest minutes in any game he’s had 10-5-5 in. Austin’s averaging 6.0 points, 2.0 assists, and 1.9 rebounds during his first eleven games with the Clippers. He’s also shooting 40.3 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from three. If you take out the first game he played, the team has a 97.9 Defensive Rating with him on the floor. The offense obviously isn’t there yet with him but the defense is. With J.J. Redick out, bench offense from the guard spot falls more on Rivers than ever. They’ll need him to pick it up on that end.

Point God v Point North
There’s no two ways to put it, Kyle Lowry demolished Chris Paul during their previous meeting this season. Lowry put up 25 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals on 9-for-17 shooting and 3-for-7 from deep while Paul managed to only have 10 points, 8 assists, and 3 rebounds on 3-for-12 shooting and 1-for-3 from three. Since the calendar turned to 2015, though, Lowry has struggled somewhat. He’s averaging just 15.6 points, 6.8 assists, and 5.0 rebounds on 37/30/75 shooting since January 1st. Paul, on the other hand, has averaged 17.4 points, 9.8 assists, and 5.2 rebounds on 46/39/87 shooting. This is the game right here. The winner of this battle will decide the game. Paul’s on the edge right now. That cannot go overlooked. He might come out with a chip on his shoulder during this game because of how he’s feeling the last meeting, as well as this past game, transpired. There could be fireworks.

Men in the Middle
This was another one of the matchups that the Clippers lost during their prior meeting. Jonas Valanciunas went off for 22 points and 11 rebounds on 8-for-13 shooting while DeAndre Jordan only mustered 4 points on 2-for-4 shooting but did put up 20 rebounds. Valanciunas was fed a lot of the baskets as guards got penetration and found him on drop-off passes, alley-oops, and other great passes. He also had a post-up on the baseline where he spun towards the baseline and nailed a jumper. But the Clippers need to find a way to contain him in this game. That falls squarely on the shoulders of Jordan. Valanciunas racked up five offensive rebounds during their last meeting and the Clippers collective unit needs to stunt his impact on the glass on that end. If Valanciunas has another 20-point game, it might not end that well for the good guys. The key to stopping him might rely on the guards stopping perimeter penetration but the bigs must also do a better job. Plus, it would be nice to see Jordan get involved early on the offensive end and get the big Lithuanian into early foul trouble.

Wherefore Art Thou Blake Superior?
There’s only one player in the NBA right now averaging 20.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. His name is Blake Griffin. The superstar do-it-all power forward is up to 22.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 5.1 assists on 50/38/71 shooting this year. We’re not going to get the Blake Griffin against the San Antonio Spurs every single night. It’s not possible. Griffin had 31 points against the Spurs but has had just 29 total points over the last two games on 27 shots. He goes through these stretches every now and then before having a game where you remember who he is. Griffin had 22-6-5 on 20 shots during the prior Toronto game. Over the last six games, he’s averaging 18.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 5.8 assists on 46.9 percent shooting. The prior ten games, though, he was averaging 25.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 5.1 assists on 56.9 percent shooting. Let’s face it, he’s still Blake Griffin. He’s still a dominant force in the league today. People might not like him shooting more jumpers but it will help him develop his game going forward.

Life Without Redick
Well, these last two games without the hyperactive shooting guard haven’t been fun to watch offensively. The team has struggled to get much going at times and has registered a 99.1 Offensive Rating over the last two contests. The defense hasn’t been any better, putting up a 107.7 Defensive Rating, but the offense went from league’s best to tied for league’s best. While that doesn’t sound that drastic, it has been noticeable. The loss of J.J. Redick has moved Jamal Crawford into the starting lineup which screws up the bench rotation at the guard spots. Usually, Crawford will come in at around the 6-minute mark in the first quarter but, without Redick, that has changed and put other bench players, namely Austin Rivers, into the role of Crawford as Crawford fills Redick’s shoes. Crawford hasn’t done poorly but some of the others have. It’ll be interesting to see how the team continues to operate without Redick at the starting shooting guard spot but they’ll need him back soon in an effort to keep up their spot in the standings.

Connections
Back during the coaching search in the 2010 offseason, the Clippers head coaching job came down to Vinny Del Negro, who would ultimately be hired, and Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Dwane Casey. Casey now coaches in Toronto. Lou Williams and Spencer Hawes are former teammates from their Philadelphia 76ers days. Greivis Vasquez was teammates with former Clippers Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon, and Chris Kaman in New Orleans after Chris Paul departed. Terrence Ross, C.J. Wilcox, and Spencer Hawes all went to the University of Washington. Amir Johnson is from Los Angeles, DeMar DeRozan went to the University of Southern California, and Tyler Hansbrough's North Carolina Tar Heels beat Blake Griffin's Oklahoma Sooners in the 2009 South Regional Final (Elite Eight). Griffin put up 23 points and 16 rebounds while Hansbrough had 8 points and 6 rebounds. James Johnson and Chris Paul are both Wake Forest University products. Austin Rivers and Duke went up against C.J. Wilcox, Terrence Ross and Washington one time in college. Duke won thanks in large part to Rivers’ team-high 18 points.

Wikipedia Entry
The Raptor rocket engine was the first member of a family of methane-fueled rocket engines under development by SpaceX. Raptor also stands for Reconnaissance Airborne Pod Tornado, which is a reconnaissance pod used by the Royal Air Force. It contains a DB-110 reconnaissance sensor, an imagery data recording system and an air-to-ground data link system. Toronto, on the other hand, is the most populous city in Canada with a greater metro population of roughly 5.6 million people. Their motto is “Diversity Our Strength.” They also have the nickname of "City of Neighbourhoods.” According to a study, about 49 percent of the population in Toronto was actually born outside Canada which makes it one of the world’s most diverse cities based on non-native-born residents.

Prediction
108 101