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Clippers v. Jazz Preview

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The Clippers’ home opener pits them against the pesky Utah Jazz.

NBA: Preseason-Los Angeles Clippers at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Protagonist

The Clippers enter the game a perfect 1-0 after defeating the Portland Trail Blazers 114-106 Thursday night. The game was hardly a pristine effort by the good guys as they only shot 40.7% from the field. However, the bench gave a surprisingly solid defensive effort and vastly outplayed the Blazers when they did not have Damian Lillard on the court. The Clippers’ bench outscored the Blazers’ bench 45 to 20.

Another bright point from the first game was the free throw shooting. Outside of DeAndre Jordan’s poor (and frankly standard) free throw shooting, the Clippers were 30 of 36 from the charity stripe (83.3%). This helped cover for an otherwise choppy offensive game that witnessed only 12 total assists from the Clippers. Last year the Clippers’ lowest total assists in a victory was 14 on November 9, 2015 in a 94-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Antagonist

Like the Trail Blazers, the Jazz enter this season looking to become more than just a team of promise, youth, and low-playoff seed ceiling. The Jazz added this off-season, to their young core, a pair of solid veterans in George Hill and Joe Johnson. Injuries however kept Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors out of the Jazz’s first game of the season (a loss to Portland) and will keep Hayward out until mid to late November.

With Derrick Favors having returned Friday night against the Lakers (and having a solid 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks in just 20 minutes), the Jazz (now 1-1) will approach the Clippers with their solid front court duo of Favors and Gobert. The duo will provide fearsome rebounding and blocks (combined average last year of 19.1 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game). As such, DeAndre Jordan will need to step up his game/production in the face of this stiff front court.

As a team, the Jazz will bring a good defense (8th overall in defensive rating last year in the NBA). This was speared last year by limiting their opponents to 39.6 points/game in the paint (2nd best in the NBA). Their weakness last year lay in defending mid-range shots: for shots between 15 - 19 feet, Jazz opponents shot 41.6% (9th highest opposing field goal percentage in the NBA).

For more Jazz coverage, check out their SB Nation blog, SLC Dunk.

Story Lines

Bingo Please. The Clippers were terrible on 3-pointers in their first game. They started 3 of 6, but ended the game at 8 of 29. The Clippers were pretty good last year shooting the three (6th best in the NBA at 36.4%) and will need to continue consistently making 3’s to be competitive for the 2nd seed in the West (and being a dark horse for title contention). More importantly, the Clippers need players outside of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick to step up in their three-point shooting consistency. Outside of Redick and Paul, the Clippers shot a terrible 32.99% last year.

Mo Minutes for Mo Buckets? Marreese Speights had a great debut as a Clipper. He scored 15 points in under 16 minutes with shooting 2 of 3 from three and 5 of 7 from the free throw line. Normally production like that would warrant a bump in playing time for a player, but Speights has only averaged over 17 minutes/game, for a season, once in his nine year career. Thus it remains to be seen if Speights will see an increased role over the course of the season, (or even this game).

Pick Me, Pick Me! Speaking of playing time, another plot that will develop as more games are played is how Doc Rivers will handle his bench. The first game of the season did not witness any appearance from Brandon Bass, Alan Anderson, or Paul Pierce (thank goodness). It remains to be seen though how long Doc will be content with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute starting at small forward (and being a black hole offensively) or Wesley Johnson’s production off the bench.