The Back Story : This is the first meeting between the two teams this season. The Clippers won both games last season.
The Big Picture: The Clippers went on a nice little road trip and won all five games. This is encouraging no matter the opponents, but it will be interesting to see if the built up momentum will last against contending teams. They picked on mostly mediocre Eastern Conference squads, but none of the games were against total cupcakes, and the overall play was extremely promising. The Clippers are still nowhere near where they need to be, but have coped very well without Blake Griffin and are primed to make a run in the standings when he returns.
The Antagonist: The record basically sums it up. The 76ers this season are one of the worst teams in NBA history, as Sam Hinkie's "Process" has reached its lowest point. All the losing and frustration has forced some changes in the management of the organization, with Jerry Colangelo coming on as Chairman of Basketball Operations. He swiftly made changes, bringing in Mike D'Antoni as an associate head coach and forcing Hinkie into dealing for point guard Ish Smith, who is a backup anywhere else but a godly revelation in Philly. The 76ers are still horribly bad however. If this game is close at all in the 2nd half it will be a somewhat disappointing outcome for the Clippers, and a loss would be embarrassing to the nth degree.
Looking at the Metrics- The Clippers remain a top offensive team and a mediocre defensive one, but have been climbing the ranks in that category, and should see a boost with the offensively pitiful 76ers in town. Philly is way below everyone else in offensive rating, and managed a mere 84 points against a horrendous Laker's defense last night. They play up tempo because every half court possession is a slog, though employing Ish does help (he is quite possibly the fastest player with the ball in the NBA).
JJ Redick is on Fire- JJ averaged 17.6 points a game in December, upping that to 21 points a game in the four contests Blake has sat out. The crazy part is the shooting, however. JJ was an incredible 50% on three pointers in December while taking six a game, and has increased that amazing percentage all the way up to 60 in the last four contests. He is a special shooter, but just like last year when Blake went out, we are seeing what an overall excellent player JJ is and how much impact he has on the Clippers' success.
Luc Mbah a Moute on Defense- Luc has worked his way up from barely making the roster over Chuck Hayes to starting at small forward and successfully defending Anthony Davis for much of an evening. While he did guard Davis, he also spent time on just about every Pelicans player sans centers, and did a uniformly amazing job on all of them. His defense was a key during the Clippers' road triumphs, and hopefully he keeps it up all year. The 76ers barely have any offensive threats to speak of, but Luc will probably see time on Ish Smith and Isaiah Canaan, who are their two most dangerous non big men.
Chris Paul's Bad Shooting Night- Chris Paul was 3-18 Thursday night, one of the worst shooting performances of his career. In usual CP3 fashion he was able to make up for it, hitting a supremely clutch jumper in the waning minutes and getting a key block on Norris Cole. It was an aberration and I would expect him to come back with a vengeance tonight.
Change in the Process?- As mentioned above, Jerry Colangelo and D'Antoni immediately changed the game in Philly. Not through some blockbuster trade or free agent signing. No, all they did was trade away (gasp) two pretty good 2nd round draft picks to the Pelicans for reserve guard Smith. As a big picture move this was objectively awful. Ish Smith is an NBA player (more than can be said for a lot of their roster), but barely worth one 2nd rounder of any type much less two good ones. Even worse, they could have signed him for the veterans minimum in free agency just a couple months before and not given up anything. In the short term, getting a real NBA point guard on the roster was a necessity for the development of their young players, especially big men Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel. The rogues gallery of TJ McConnell, Tony Wroten, and Kendall Marshall just weren't getting it done. Also, getting actual players instead of just hoarding picks and "assets" helps set a nice precedent for the future.
JaKarr Sampson- Speaking of rogues gallery, the 76ers start JaKarr Sampson. If you have heard of him prior to this, props to you! Perhaps that is a little unfair to Sampson, who is still young and will probably improve. Nonetheless, he is nowhere near NBA starter quality, and feeding him to the fishes is probably not the way to get him there.
Jahlil Okafor- The 76er's prized rookie has been somewhat of a disappointment this year. Okafor has moves for days in the post. There is no denying that fact. Everything else about his game ranges from below average (rebounding) to incredibly awful (doing anything on defense). He was supposed to be an NBA ready player, but I am doubtful he would get more than spot minutes on most playoff worthy teams. His defense really is that bad.
Looking Ahead- The Clippers will hit the road one more time, traveling to Portland for a Wednesday night contest. After that, however, is a nice five game home stand against a very mixed bag of teams. Houston remains disappointing but is obviously a rival and has potential, and the Miami Heat are no slouches either. I can definitely see a future where the Clippers are riding a 12 game win streak however, as they should be favored in all of their next six contests.