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Clippers-Hornets Preview: The Walking Wounded

The Clippers look for healthy bodies while the Hornets look for a playoff spot.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season

March 17th, 2015, 7:30 PM
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
14-11 East 22-17
28-14 West 7-19
24-10 Home 16-18
18-5 Road 13-18
18-21 .500+ 11-23
24-4 .500- 18-13
5-5 L10 6-4
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Mo Williams
J.J. Redick SG Gerald Henderson
Matt Barnes SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Blake Griffin PF Marvin Williams
DeAndre Jordan C Al Jefferson
Advanced Stats
96.8 (10th of 30) Pace 95.6 (T-20th of 30)
109.2 (T-1st of 30) ORtg 98.4 (28th of 30)
103.5 (17th of 30) DRtg 100.3 (10th of 30)
Jamal Crawford (calf) out
Cody Zeller (shoulder) doubtful
Matt Barnes (hamstring) questionable

Jordan Hamilton (ankle) questionable

The Back Story (The Clippers lead the season series, 1-0):

Date Venue Final

11/24/14 Charlotte Clippers 113, Bobcats 92 Recap Box
03/17/15 Los Angeles Tonight Recap Box

The Big Picture:

With the playoffs at T-minus 15 games and the seventh seed nearly as likely a finish as the fifth, the Clippers would love to rattle off a tidy winning streak and ride into the postseason on a wave of good play and vibrations. Given the recent spate of injuries, they may settle for walking in on a full set of healthy-ish legs. Blake Griffin returned on Sunday, which is a step forward, but Matt Barnes aggravated his hamstring and may be out again, which is at least a half step back. His possible absence, along with Jamal Crawford's and Jordan Hamilton's, may push Hedo Turkoglu into the lineup. The situation is, as the Men In Blazers might say, suboptimal. Chris Paul, way-off-the-radar MVP, has been nothing short of stunning, but finds himself hobbled as well. As his team (literally) limps its way down the home stretch, Head Coach Doc Rivers may have to choose between seeding and standing.

The Antagonist:

This season seemed like playoff-or-bust for the Hornets. They're teetering on the precipice of 'or-bust'. His defense has worked its way back to respectability, but Charlotte Head Coach Steve Clifford has yet to unearth even a mediocre offense from this roster of mismatched parts. Missing star point guard Kemba Walker for a large chunk of season didn't help his cause, but there just doesn't appear to be an scoring unit here. Charlotte bestowed a $27 million contract upon Lance Stephenson last summer, and he has rewarded the team with 25 starts in 50 appearances below replacement level (9.1 PER). Starting wings Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have combined to shoot 31.8% from three-point range. By the way, that combined percentage is Henderson's alone, because Kidd-Gilchrist has yet to even attempt a three. Al Jefferson is still around, and he's still banging, but an entire offense Jefferson does not make. The Hornets were so desperate for production that they took a trade deadline flier on old friend Mo Williams, although he has sparked them to recent decency. Clippers injuries withstanding, the Hornets should find themselves outgunned tonight. The real question will be, do they need this win more?

The Subplots

  • Comparison of Key Metrics. You don't have to dig far to find the problem here. The Hornets enter the night 28th in offensive efficiency, scuffling along with 98.4 per 100 possessions. Currently 17th, the Clippers' soft as KOST (103.5) defense is inferior to last year's, but this is a Charlotte team that mostly stops itself.
  • The Schedule. The Clippers have a one-game roadie in Sacramento on Wednesday, then return to STAPLES to host the Wizards and Pelicans over the weekend. All winnable games.
  • A Legit Big Three. The Clipper offense looked plenty powerful without its star power forward, showing the world that DeAndre Jordan could be the mighty fulcrum of its pick and roll attack. Blake now finds himself in the unfamiliar position of fitting into an offense that he himself has carried for most of his career. On Sunday against Houston, Griffin attempted just 10 field goals and three free throws in 41 minutes, although he did dish out eight assists. He looked at times to be forcing his play, with the glaring example being his full court charge into a retreating Trevor Ariza for a crucial late turnover. Doc said it so much that his Big Three has become a reality, but now he has just a few weeks to rebalance their varied talents.
  • Mo Offense. Since leaving Los Angeles, Mo Williams has bounced around the NBA as a hired bench gun. Utah, Portland, and Minnesota all tried him as a 6th man sparkplug. Now, he's starting again, and he's producing. In 12 starts with the Hornets, Mo is averaging 21 points and just shy of 8 assists. He hasn't been any more efficient than in his past few stops, but Steve Clifford has given him the green light to fire away, and fire he has, taking more than seven threes per game. He's been a fun story.
  • Failure To Launch. Since 2011, the Charlotte Horcats have drafted four top-10 picks -- five, if you count Bismack Biyombo, for whom they traded. That heavy investment has netted them a nice scoring point guard with a career FG% below 40% (Walker), a starting small forward who can't shoot (Kidd-Gilchrist), two power forwards that can't beat out Marvin Williams for a starting spot (Cody Zeller, Noah Vonleh), and the aforementioned Biyombo, who blocks some shots. These are the kind of picks that are supposed to elevate a perennial loser into NBA relevance. Hit on a couple of high draft choices and you're the next Thunder. Miss and, well, you're the Hornets.
  • Connections. As already mentioned, the Hornets recently acquired former Clipper guard Mo Williams... Hornets' Center Al Jefferson played three seasons for Doc Rivers' Celtics... Hornets' Assistant Coach Bob Weiss served as an assistant with the San Diego Clippers from 1977-1980 and was head coach of the LA Clippers in 1993-1994 (h/t to commenter hans007)... If I missed any, put 'em in the comments.
  • Wikipedia: Not a lot of particularly interesting stuff here, so I went with the F/A-18 Hornet, a McDonnell Douglas-built "twin-engine supersonic, all-weather carrier-capable multirole combat jet, designed as both a fighter and attack aircraft".