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Game Preview: Los Angeles Clippers at Utah Jazz

Both the Jazz and Clippers are looking to build momentum as the regular season nears.

Gordon Hayward - Utah Jazz Forward
Gordon Hayward

Hayward, Favors, Hood out with injury.

Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors--Utah's two leading scorers last season--will be sidelined as they were during the two team's previous meeting. Rodney Hood started in place of Favors when the Jazz visited the Clippers at Staples Center on October 10, and now Hood is expected to miss the game due to injury as well.

Paul Questionable with Sprained Thumb

Clippers point guard Chris Paul has experienced a sprained left thumb, and is expected to miss one of the Clippers' two remaining preseason games. Paul was injured during a practice session on Saturday, but it wasn't significant enough to force him to end his workout early. The injury is not considered serious, and resting Paul is a precautionary measure by Los Angeles. Doc Rivers told the Orange County Register that if this were a preseason game then Paul would definitely play. If Paul does rest for tonight's game, expect Raymond Felton to start in his place. Felton has been effective playing mostly with the Clipper's second unit so far this preseason.

Jazz Look to Make it Two Straight Over Clippers

The Jazz and Clippers met earlier in this preseason and Utah scored 7 of the final 9 points to defeat the Clippers 96-94. Over the last 5 seasons, the Clippers have had substantial success against the Jazz with Los Angeles winning 15 out of the last 17 regular season meetings. Cliches about the importance or lack thereof regarding preseason games aside, Los Angeles would like to secure a victory not only to establish momentum heading into the regular season later this month, but also to maintain continuity and an upper hand in this western conference matchup. With the addition of proven NBA veterans like George Hill, Boris Diaw, and Joe Johnson, Utah is expected to have supplemented its young core enough to comfortably compete for a western conference playoff birth in the four to eight seed range, depending on whose listicle you trust the most.

How Good is Hayward?

After signing a well-deserved long-term contract extension last spring, Utah head coach Quin Snyder is eager to get his prized piece Gordon Hayward back on the court to assess his squad at full strength. Hayward, an obvious special talent since he entered the NBA in 2010 as the 9th pick by the Jazz, is currently out after injuring his left ring finger in a team scrimmage earlier this month. This is frustrating for Hayward, who has only missed 33 games in his entire 6-year NBA career, and for Utah, a franchise who has only advanced to the NBA post-season once since the 2010-2011 season. Although it’s become in fashion to praise Hayward recently, he’s been doing all-star caliber work for several seasons. Over the last three NBA seasons, Mr. Hayward is one of only five players to have accumulated 4,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 1,000 assists, and 300 made three-point field goals. Stephen Curry, LeBron James, James Harden, and Kyle Lowry are the others. In hindsight, it was an extremely intelligent decision for Utah to match a 62 million dollar offer made to Hayward by the Charlotte Hornets while he was a restricted free agent in 2014. Considering what fifteen million per season was getting teams over this summer, Hayward is one of the best bargains in the NBA today. Hayward enters unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career in the summer of 2018. Hayward by all accounts is comfortable in the Jazz organization, and they have one of the most promising young cores in the NBA to build on, but it’s important for Utah to make the playoffs in each of the next two seasons to show him that the franchise can provide him with a viable path to an NBA championship. Otherwise, Utah could find themselves in the uncomfortable Kevin Love / Minnesota / 2014 thing.

Extending CP3 and Blake Starts Now

Which leads us to the Blake Griffin / Chris Paul / UFA / summer 2017 thing. By all accounts, the Los Angeles Clippers administration has made it clear they intend to continue their investment in Blake Griffin and Chris Paul in summer 2017. Although Griffin and Paul aren’t in anything close to a Hayward in Utah scenario with the Clippers having made the post-season in all five seasons since acquiring Chris Paul, and in every season Griffin has been with the team except his rookie season, the premise is similar. The Clippers want to show Griffin and Paul that Los Angeles provides a strong, realistic path towards a championship. Issues of the Warriors choosing the game-genie route this summer aside, Los Angeles has won more games over the past five seasons than any teams in the league behind the Spurs and Thunder. Although this impressive string of regular season success hasn’t translated into a conference finals birth (yet), aside from a move to Golden State, San Antonio, or Cleveland, there’s no other franchise that can provide Griffin and Paul with a realistic path towards an NBA championship while accommodating the maximum contracts they will both expect and deserve.

Looking into the underlying narratives surrounding both teams, the differing pressures for playoff success, and the need to appease irreplaceable star talent, and “just a preseason game” can quickly become more than just a preseason game.