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Clippers-Hawks Preview: L.A. looks to finish road trip on winning note

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After starting 2-2 on their current five-game road swing, the Los Angeles Clippers head down south to take on the Hawks in the trip's finale.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

2015/16 NBA Regular Season
vs
29-16

27-19
January 27, 2016, 5:00 PM
Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
13-5 East 16-11
16-11
West 11-8
15-7 Home 15-7
14-9 Road 12-12
7-12
.500+ 9-9
22-4 .500- 18-10
7-3 L10 6-4
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jeff Teague
J.J. Redick SG Kyle Korver
Luc Mbah a Moute SF Kent Bazemore
Paul Pierce PF Paul Millsap
DeAndre Jordan C Al Horford
Advanced Stats
98.4 (13th) Pace 99.1 (8th)
106.3 (4th) ORtg 103.5 (9th)
101.7 (12th) DRtg 100.3 (7th)
Injuries/Other
Blake Griffin (quad/hand) Out

What's new with the Clippers?

Following the 10-game winning streak, the Clips have now lost three of their last six games as the level of competition has taken a significant jump. They're on one of the tougher road swings of the season (all five opponents on this trip should make the East playoffs), and it seems as though they're starting to really miss Blake Griffin. Unfortunately, he's obviously not coming back any time soon. However, capping the trip with a win on the second half of a back-to-back in Atlanta would do a lot to cure what currently ails the club. Last night's win over a quality Indiana team was extremely impressive, all things considered.

What's new with the Hawks?

The Hawks are a likely shoo-in for the playoffs once again, but they seem to have taken a bit of a step back on the heels of their 60-win season. It's largely the same club that had so much success a year ago (save for the departed DeMarre Carroll), but the Eastern Conference is notably stronger this season.

One major difference this season has been the decline in play from Jeff Teague. Teague is reportedly dealing with a lingering ankle injury, and he's mired in some serious struggles right now. He's only missed three games all year, but he's seen a decline in minutes, points, assists and shooting percentage. Teague's shooting is a huge concern, as it's dipped from 46% last year to just over 41% this season. Things have gotten particularly poor in January, as Teague's averaging only 10.6 points and 4.8 assists on 38.9% shooting this month.

Fortunately for Atlanta, Dennis Schröder exists. With Teague slumping, the young German has often been Mike Budenholzer's choice to finish games at point guard of late, and he's responded well. He's been particularly solid of late, averaging over 15 points and four assists over his last three games in only 22 minutes per. Schröder is much more effective slashing to the basket than he is as a shooter, so it'll be imperative for the Clipper defense to keep him out of the paint.

Another big aspect of the Hawks' slight decline has been Kyle Korver's sluggishness. A career 43% shooter from three-point range, Korver is down all the way to 37% from deep this season. 37% from three is excellent for just about anyone in the league, but for Korver it's shockingly low. Last season, when he was one of four Hawks All-Stars, Korver connected on an insane 49.2% of his triples. Watching the matchup between he and his younger clone, J.J. Redick, should be fascinating.

Matchup to watch

Millsap/Horford vs. Jordan/Clippers frontcourt

With both Blake Griffin and Josh Smith gone, the only traditional power forward available for the Clippers right now is Jeff Ayres. If Jeff Ayres sees the floor, things have either gone very well or VERY poorly for LAC. Instead, they've been going small with Paul Pierce and Luc Mbah a Moute manning the position. At one point last night, Doc Rivers deployed a Chris Paul-Pablo Prigioni-Austin Rivers-Jamal Crawford-DeAndre Jordan lineup. That's a lineup consisting of a center and four guys that probably think they're point guards. And yes, Jamal Crawford was technically playing the four spot. Tough times, these.

Regardless, whoever is playing power forward is sure to have their hands full with Paul Millsap. Millsap has quietly become one of the league's most unique all-around weapons. He can shoot, he can score inside, he can rebound, he can pass, he can block shots and he can record steals by the truckload. In fact, let's take a gander at this season's leaders in steals per game (via ESPN.com):

There you see Millsap, nestled into that No. 9 spot among a bunch of guards and small forwards. He has active hands and a knack for disrupting passing lanes, and the Clippers had better be cognizant of where he is at all times.

One thing that should help LAC in this matchup is that the Hawks are an even worse rebounding team than they are. ATL ranks dead-last in the league in team rebound rate (47.1), while the Clips come in at No. 28 (47.6). While Millsap and Horford are All-Star caliber players, neither of them is what you'd call a "skywalker". Jordan should have a tremendous athleticism advantage on whomever Atlanta throws against him, and it's crucial for him to take advantage. In two games against ATL last season, D.J. grabbed a combined 38 rebounds. Don't be surprised if he's somewhere between 15 and 20 boards again in this one.

Key reserves

Other than Schröder, the most noteworthy players coming off the Hawks' bench are Thabo Sefolosha and Tiago Splitter. Sefolosha has gained a reputation as a tough defenders through the years, but he's also seen a bit of an uptick in offensive production, as well. He still can't shoot from deep (just 28% from three), but he's also not the offensive parking cone he was during his OKC days, either.

Splitter came over from San Antonio this summer when the Spurs were trying to clear salary space in order to sign LaMarcus Aldridge. He typically logs somewhere between 14 and 18 minutes a night, serving primarily as rim protection off-the-bench. With the way the Clippers have to go small, though, who knows how much he'll be needed.

As for LAC, they got a huge boost from reserve Wesley Johnson against the Pacers, as he drilled 5-of-6 from deep for 15 points in 20 minutes. With the starters having logged big minutes in Indiana (Jordan 41, CP3 36, Redick 33), there's a chance we more of the bench unit in this one. If that's the case, let's just hope things go better for the bench than they did in Toronto.

Game day song of choice

When you think Atlanta, you think Outkast. Because, duh.

But you also think...LUDA!

Aw yeah. What a classic.

And, because he's in the news for his insane Twitter beef with Neil DeGrasse Tyson (of all people), we'd be remiss to exclude noted conspiracy theory enthusiast B.o.B.:

Here's hoping the Clippers roll out (pause for applause) of ATL with another W before heading home on their airplane (more applause) to play the Lakers Friday night. Go Clips!