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Clippers-Hornets Preview: Buzzkill

The Clippers and Hornets bring very different streaks into their midday matchup.

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
2015-16 NBA Regular Season
Charlotte Hornets (17-18)

Los Angeles Clippers (23-13)
January 9, 2016 — 12:30 PM PDT
STAPLES Center (Los Angeles, CA)
Prime Ticket, The Beast 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown ('15-'16)
17-18 Record 23-13
10-11 East 9-3
7-7 West 14-10
2-5 Division 4-3
13-7 Home 11-6
4-11 Road 12-7
8-14 .500+ 5-8
9-4 .500– 18-5
2-0 OT 1-0
2-8 L10 7-3
Projected Starters
Kemba Walker PG Chris Paul
Jeremy Lin SG J.J. Redick
P.J. Hairston SF Luc Mbah a Moute
Marvin Williams PF Paul Pierce
Cody Zeller C DeAndre Jordan
Efficiency Stats ('15-'16)
98.2 (15th) Pace 98.4 (14th)
103.4 (10th) OffRtg 105.6 (4th)
101.6 (14th) DefRtg 101.4 (T-11th)
1.8 (12th) NetRtg 4.3 (5th)
Injury Report
Nicolas Batum (toe) questionable

Blake Griffin (quad) out
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (shoulder) out

Al Jefferson (knee) out

'15-16 Season Series (Clippers lead Hornet, 1-0)
Clips Nation Recap
NBA Box Score
Clippers 122, Hornets 117
Box Score
Los Angeles

The Big Picture:

The Clippers earned their seventh straight victory Wednesday night in Portland, although they tried their best (or worst?) to give it away several times in the second half. A 23-point halftime lead slipped as low as 6 in the fourth quarter, and visions of Game 6 were dancing in Blazer fans' heads. But the Clippers did hold on, and they return home with two more days of full rest for a Saturday matinee against an undermanned opponent from a time zone far, far away. With another daytime tip exactly 24 hours later, the Clippers would do well to clean up early, take a big lead, and keep it this time. With Blake Griffin still out, some fourth quarter rest for Chris Paul, who has carried a heavier load in spectacular fashion, would be much appreciated.

The Antagonist:

All the early buzz in Charlotte has faded with a run of injuries to key figures. On December 30th, the Hornets were 17-13, sitting just outside the East's final playoff spot, and hosting a Clipper team without an All-Star forward. Then the Clippers drilled 15 of 30 three-pointers and the Hornets haven't won since, dropping their first four games of 2016 and falling below .500 for the first time since mid-November. We'll forgive them for losing to the Raptors, Thunder, and Warriors this year, but Wednesday's loss to the disintegrating Suns is nearly inexcusable, even with their injuries. (Unless you want to credit Coach Hornacek's group bowling trip for giving life to an apparently dead team.) Offseason additions Nic Batum and Jeremy Lamb are hobbled, further damaging a perimeter rotation that's missed Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for the entire season so far. Kemba Walker has been on a tear, but a one-dimensional one -- he's still far more advanced as a scorer than a distributor. Frank Kaminsky looks like just another top-10 Charlotte-drafted big man who will come up well short of stardom. Even for a team accustomed to winning and losing in streaks, a sixth-straight defeat would deliver quite a sting.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of Key Metrics. The Hornets have been a defensive revelation under third-year Head Coach Steve Clifford. Despite a rotation replete with players known for, um, not defense, Clifford has built defensive solidarity. They enter today's contest a respectable 14th in defensive efficiency, and have finished in the top-10 each of the past two years, no small feat with Al Jefferson at center. One part of their success is their ability to defend without fouling. The Hornets currently sit 7th in the NBA in free throws allowed per game. Free throws are a major part of the Clippers' offense. They're 2nd in free throws attempted. It's not a difference built on pace either -- the Clippers and Hornets are 14th and 15th in the league, respectively, in possessions per game. If the Hornets want to keep this game close, they need to keep the Clippers off the line.
  • Schedule. The Clippers get right back to it again against the Pellies tomorrow. Same Clip time. Same Clip channel.
  • Gone streaking. Apparently, Charlotte has one of those teams that is just hot, or not. Already this season, the Hornets have 3 losing streaks of 3 or more games, and two 4-game winning streaks.
  • Mediocre men. Charlotte just can't seem to find a complement to productive center Al Jefferson, the veteran and basketball throwback who was voted All-NBA third team just two seasons ago. Their last three draft picks were Frank Kaminsky, Noah Vonleh, and Cody Zeller, all taken in the top-10. Kaminsky and Zeller are fine, but have been unable to beat out Marvin Williams for a starting job. Vonleh's not even around -- he's now scuffling along in Portland. With that kind of return on investment, there's no mystery as to why this franchise is perpetually stuck in neutral.
  • DJ the target man. Lots of discussion around Clips Nation lately about retooling the offense around a Paul/Jordan pick and roll. This writer's unsolicited opinion? DeAndre's size, hands, and athleticism make him an unfair target as a dive man. There is no doubt you can build a good offense deploying shooters around his rolling abilities. But Blake Griffin's versatility gives this offense its elite potential. When DeAndre gets the ball, he's going for the basket. Blake can go for the basket, pull up and shoot, throw a lob to DeAndre, or reverse court for a second pick and roll action against a now scrambling defense. As Draymond Green is doing in Golden State, Blake's multifunctionality allows the Clippers not just to dictate to the defense, but to adjust if the D gets it right. DeAndre is excellent at something. Blake is excellent at many things.
  • For the Hornets' point of view, head over to At The Hive.
  • The rest. Charlotte forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was cleared to participate in non-contact drills this week. He had shoulder surgery in October that was expected to keep him out of action for at least six months... Blake Griffin's next doctor's appointment is late next week, meaning he will be out at least that long... It was said that you simply couldn't build an effective defense around Al Jefferson. Charlotte's defensive efficiency with Jefferson on the floor: 103.4 ('15-'16), 101.9 ('14-'15), 101.5 ('13-'14). Utah's defensive efficiency with Jefferson on the floor the three prior seasons: 107.6 ('12-'13), 104.4 ('11-'12), 109.2 ('10-'11).