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Clippers-Cavaliers Preview: Contenders or Pretenders

The Clippers travel east to take on the other conference's top team.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
2015-16 NBA Regular Season
Los Angeles Clippers (27-14)

Cleveland Cavaliers (29-11)
January 21, 2016 — 5:00 PM PDT
Quicken Loans Arena — Cleveland, OH
TNT, The Beast 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown ('15-'16)
27-14 Record 29-11
11-3 East 20-6
16-11 West 9-5
4-4 Division 2-3
15-7 Home 15-2
12-7 Road 14-9
6-10 .500+ 12-7
21-4 .500– 17-4
3-0 OT 1-2
9-1 L10 8-2
Projected Starters
Chris Paul PG Kyrie Irving
J.J. Redick SG J.R. Smith
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute SF LeBron James
Paul Pierce PF Kevin Love
DeAndre Jordan C Timofey Mozgov
Efficiency Stats ('15-'16)
98.5 (13th) Pace 95.1 (28th)
106.1 (4th) OffRtg 105.4 (5th)
101.4 (12th) DefRtg 100.0 (7th)
4.7 (5th) NetRtg 5.6 (4th)
Injury Report
Blake Griffin (quad) out
'14-'15 Season Series (Cavaliers beat Clippers, 2-0)
Clips Nation Recap
NBA Box Score
Los Angeles
Cavaliers 126, Clippers 121

Box Score
Cavaliers 105, Clippers 94
Box Score

The Big Picture:

Were two days enough to recover? Monday's overtime tilt against Houston had enough basketball for two weeks, but the schedule doesn't work that way, and it doesn't bring a cupcake next either. But it was good that after a slight detour against the Kings on Saturday, the Clippers returned to the winning path, and the good may be getting even better still. Chris Paul is accelerating with his full burst, and JJ Redick is playing pop-a-shot from 23 feet. DeAndre Jordan recovered from pneumonia to continue his assault on the rim and the record book. Blake Griffin may even return soon. He's traveling with the team, although he's been ruled out both tonight and tomorrow, and count this writer among those who think his reintegration should be smooth and successful. It will all have to be better, because a five-game roadie through much of the East's best awaits, and merely good won't be good enough. Sitting fourth in the conference, decidedly behind the Western elite, the Clippers have yet to answer the season's biggest question: are they good enough to win a championship?

The Antagonist:

Golden State asked a big question of Cleveland on Monday, and LeBron James and a now full company of Cavs were without any convincing answer. Compared to the Clippers, there's less doubt about the Cavs' status as championship contenders, but a lot of that comes down to geography. The East presents fewer landmines on the way to the Finals, and certainly none with the potency of the Warriors and Spurs, and maybe even the Thunder. But that can't make Cleveland feel much better after suffering a 34-point loss to the team that bested them in the final and most important game of last season. I'm sure it was nice that they won in Brooklyn last night, but their reward is a late flight home to play for a second straight day, this time against a team with grand aspirations of its own. It's a rare occasion when the Cavaliers are carrying their full arsenal, and the Clippers are still missing a Blake-sized weapon. Will that be enough to get the win tonight?

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of Key Metrics. If Monday night's flurry of threes wasn't enough to satiate you, perhaps you'll get your fill tonight. The Cavs are another team that likes to let it fly from deep -- more than 30% of their total points come from behind the arc, a mark that ranks them third in the league, a hair ahead of the Houston Rockets.
  • Schedule. The Clippers play again tomorrow night in New York in what might actually be their easiest game of this road trip. The Raptors, Pacers, and Hawks lie just beyond.
  • The King vs. the Prince. No offense to Matt Barnes, who always competed his tail off, but Luc Richard Mbah a Moute represents the most capable on-ball defender the Clippers have had the privilege of throwing at LeBron James in this current era. Mbah a Moute should have the length, strength, and savvy to at least bother Cleveland's star forward, which is something not many teams can truly say. Doc Rivers thought he had acquired a stopper last summer. Who figured it's more likely to be Luc and not Lance?
  • The Clipper that almost was. Kyrie Irving, taken first overall with the first-round draft pick sent to Cleveland in the Baron Davis-Mo Williams swap, has had an up and down start to his injury-delayed season. The highs include a dominating fourth-quarter performance on his way to 32 points against the Wizards. The lows include Monday's 8-point 3-for-11 dud against Stephen Curry and the Warriors. His three-point shot has been noticeably absent -- the 38.5% career shooter is converting just 27% of his threes this year, of which he's taking nearly 5 per game.
  • One to watch: Kevin Love. The former UCLA and Minnesota star has been a popular whipping boy in Cleveland. His defense in particular has been underwhelming, and many have rightly identified him as a liability in pick and roll coverage. The Paul-Griffin pick and roll would be something like Love's worst nightmare, but with the Blake-less Clippers building their offense around DeAndre Jordan rim runs, Love should get a night's reprieve. He should also get quality looks on offense against Paul Pierce, with Mbah a Moute likely to be slotted against LeBron as often as possible.
  • For the Cavaliers' point of view, head over to Fear The Sword.