The Back Story (The season series is tied 1-1):
|12/06/14||Los Angeles||Clippers 120, Pelicans 100||Recap||Box|
|01/30/15||New Orleans||Pelicans 108, Clippers 103||Recap||Box|
The Big Picture:
A wee ago the Clippers were coming off a 30 point loss in Dallas and proceeded to lose to Houston in Blake Griffin's first game back from injury. With the teams ahead of them in the standings all holding at least three fewer losses and only a month left in the regular season, it seemed as if the Clippers were destined to battle the Mavs and Spurs for the fifth seed and home court advantage in the postseason was out of reach. Flash forward a week, and a win over the Pelicans today would move the Clippers ahead of Portland in winning percentage and would give the Clippers home court advantage over the Blazers were the playoffs to start tomorrow. Oh, and the third seed doesn't seem so out of reach at this point either. This has little to do with the Clippers playing great, and everything to do with the schedule, but that's OK. The Clippers had a completely brutal stretch in February and early March, and their reward is one of the softest schedules in the conferences to close the season.
The Pelicans have one of the best six man rotations in the entire NBA -- too bad four of them may not play today. Heading into the season, plenty of people could see that the team was moving in the right direction, but few thought they were ready to challenge for a playoff spot in the mighty Western Conference. They caught a couple of breaks in the form of injuries in Oklahoma City and some dysfunction in Phoenix that put the eighth seed in play -- but their own injuries nullified those same opportunities. Still, the Pellies sit just two games back of the Thunder (over whom they hold the season series tiebreaker) for eighth place, and OKC is likely without two of their big three for the remainder of the regular season. So if New Orleans can just get their own guys back, they still have a legitimate shot at the post season. For today's game, MVP candidate Anthony Davis (ankle) and center Omer Asik (calf) are both questionable but not ruled out (UPDATE Davis has been upgraded to probable -- my guess is he'll play). Luckily for the Clippers, stretch four Ryan Anderson (who torched them for five three pointers in the last meeting) is out, as is point guard Jrue Holiday. Even Tyreke Evans sat out the end of their last game, though he is expected to play today. Basically, in a reversal of recent years, only former Clipper Eric Gordon is actually healthy among their top six players.
- Comparison of key metrics. This is a meeting between two teams with seemingly dominant defenders in the middle, who are nonetheless below average defensive teams. Both DeAndre Jordan and Anthony Davis will get plenty of votes for Defensive Player of the Year, despite the fact that the Clippers rank 18th in defensive efficiency and the Pelicans are 22nd. On the other hand the Clippers are tied for first in offensive efficiency and should pad those numbers some today.
- Good news, bad news. The good news for the Clippers is that New Orleans will play without somewhere between two and four of their top six players. The bad news is that LA has a history of letting down when facing second stringers. Not to mention the fact that some of these backups -- Alexis Ajinca and Quincy Pondexter spring immediately to mind -- have been absolute Clipper killers in the past. The Clippers lost the last meeting with the Pelicans despite the fact that Davis did not play in that one -- but the Pelicans did at least have Ryan Anderson, who has always been a tough matchup for Blake Griffin. If both Davis and Anderson are out, New Orleans will be at a severe disadvantage at power forward.
- Unsustainably hot? In their last two games, the Clippers have hit 29 threes, including 11 in the first half alone against the Wizards. They are 29-60 in those two games, and 30 threes per game is a LOT. (The Rockets actually average more than 30, but they're the Rockets so they don't count.) The question of whether the Clippers SHOULD be shooting a lot of threes has been settled -- it's a league-wide trend, teams win more when they shoot threes, etc. -- but at the same time, the Clippers can't expect to be making 14 a game in order to win.
- Blake and the Brow. I almost feel a little sorry for Blake Griffin. He's never really gotten sole ownership of the "Best Power Forward" title. Tim Duncan refuses to die. Kevin Love was always putting up monster numbers, while continually missing the playoffs. And anyone paying much attention realized that LeBron James and Kevin Durant were actually playing mostly power forward lately. But even if you take James and Durant out of the equation, and even with Griffin finishing third in the MVP vote last season behind those two -- now there's Davis to deal with. And you know what? Davis is better. No big deal; Griffin is still great, and getting better all the time. But Davis is better. He's longer; he's taller; he's just as skilled. They are very, very different players, but Davis' length is a game-changer, and he's going to be the best power forward in the NBA for a long, long time, if he can stay healthy (which may turn out to be a big if).
- Playoff seeding. It's complicated, but Portland's four game losing streak gives the Clippers a real shot at the three seed. They only have to take care of business to pass the Blazers (don't forget that they have one more game in Portland which looms very large). Now, if the Clippers finish with a better record than Portland, but remain behind GSW, MEM and HOU, then technically the Blazers will get the fourth seed as the Northwest Division champ and the Clippers will remain in the fifth seed -- but LA will still get home court advantage in the 4-5 first round series. But if LA can catch Houston (or Memphis) then that would vault them into the third seed. The three seed wouldn't have much impact on their first round series (it might make things worse if they have to face the Spurs at six) BUT it would postpone an eventual meeting with the Warriors until the WC Finals. The Clippers currently trail the Rockets by two games in the loss column and have a much easier schedule down the stretch. Six of Houston's remaining 13 games are on the road against teams with winning records -- the Clippers have two such games left.
- Paul and the Pelicans. Chris Paul played for New Orleans for six seasons before joining the Clippers. But things change quickly in the NBA, especially for rebuilding teams. The Hornets are now the Pelicans, the team in Charlotte is called the Hornets -- and when Jason Smith signed with the Knicks over the summer, it cleared the New Orleans roster of any of Paul's former teammates. When Paul looks at the opponent bench tonight he'll see his old coach Williams, and a bunch of guys he's never played with.
- Doc and Austin. It used to be that when the Clippers played the Pelicans, Doc and Austin Rivers were making history as NBA coach/father and player/son facing each other. Now they make a different kind of history on the same team. Will the younger Rivers have some extra incentive tonight against the team that gave up on him?
- Gordon. Former Clipper Eric Gordon has had a rough time in New Orleans since leaving the Clippers as the centerpiece of the Chris Paul trade. He's struggled with injuries the entire time, and he's seen his scoring average, both per game and per minute, decrease every season he's been in the Big Easy. Having said that, he has fixed one thing this season: suddenly he's a great three point shooter again. Among players with at least 100 makes, Gordon is second only to Kyle Korver in three point percentage at .448. The Clippers found this out first hand in the last meeting, when EJ lit them up for 28 points, including 5-7 from deep. He also has a 31 point game this season.
- The trade. It's been mentioned before, but mad props to Neil Olshey for keeping Eric Bledsoe out of the Chris Paul trade and offering Gordon instead. With Gordon coming to the end of his rookie deal and playing like a borderline star, Olshey realized something that New Orleans did not -- borderline stars are the last thing you want heading into restricted free agency. You can't let them go because they might be future stars, but signing them to maximum contracts is terrible also. The Clippers retained Bledsoe, who became a great additional trade chip, and the Pelicans took Gordon, who's contract has become a different seabird -- an albatross.
- Connections. Partly because of the Paul trade, there are some strong connections between the Clippers and the Hornets. There's Paul and Gordon of course. There's also former Pelican Austin Rivers. And don't forget that Austin was drafted using a first round pick sent to New Orleans in the CP3 trade -- the infamous Minny pick from the years ago Sam Cassell trade (that's correct, Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell was traded with Doc Rivers' son -- think about that). Glen Davis, is from Baton Rouge and played his college ball at LSU.
- Get the New Orleans perspective The Bird Writes.
- Wikipedia entry: The Dowager (or Imperial Pelican) Fabergé egg, is a jewelled Easter egg made under the supervision of the Russian jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé in 1898. The egg was made for Nicholas II of Russia, who presented it to his mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna on Easter 1898.