The Big Picture:
The Clippers are 14-3, and no longer have the best record in the NBA after their loss to the Pistons on Friday. It’s fine. They were highly unlikely to stay ahead of the Warriors in the standings all season long regardless, and as long as their play doesn’t suffer, what the Warriors do shouldn’t matter (at least for right now). The Clippers have also slipped from their perch as the top defensive team in the league, but still rank a very respectable third. The bench was unlikely to keep up their defensive stoutness, and playing at such a high intensity on that end all season probably isn’t healthy anyway. The Clips are in the middle of a six-game road trip, which is tough. If they come out of their stay away from Staples with just two losses, they will have done a good job.
The Indiana Pacers are one of the most disappointing teams in the league, and currently possess an 8-9 record. Mediocre on defense and poor on offense, the Pacers are simply struggling immensely to start the season. Their record isn’t that bad, but they had high expectations, and their record looks better than their play. Paul George, their best players, has already missed five games, and is scheduled to miss several more with an ankle injury. His backup CJ Miles is also out for the Clippers game with a knee injury, so the starter against the Clippers will be third-year reserve Glenn Robinson III. Even with those guys, the Pacers’ feature entirely too many gunners who don’t play defense: Monta Ellis, Aaron Brooks, and Rodney Stuckey. While they can all score points, they are incredibly streaky, and on off nights the Pacers look like one of the worst teams in the NBA. The best thing the Pacers have going for them this season is sophomore stud Myles Turner, one of the most promising young players in the NBA. He is going to be a monster in a couple years, and is already dominant on occasion. Too bad the rest of the roster is old and not nearly as talented.
Key matchup: Myles Turner vs. DeAndre Jordan—Turner, as mentioned above, is extremely good, and it will be DJ’s job to limit him in this one. Fortunately, DJ should be up to the task. He is quick enough to step out when Turner shoots from the perimeter (though he still sags back sometimes), and strong enough to bang with him in the post. On the other end, he must punish Turner’s still developing defense on the pick and roll. Young players are prone to foul trouble, and Turner is no exception; if DJ can put him on the bench early, so much the better.
Bench play: The Pacers have a lot of guys who love to score on their bench, just like the Clippers. The difference is that the Pacers’ bench isn’t a huge fan of defense. The Clippers must shut down guys like Stuckey and Brooks -who are capable of scoring 10+ points in a hurry- while exploiting those players on the other end. The bench has sagged a bit in recent games, even with the return of Wes Johnson, but they play much better in general when he is out there, and today should be no different. I think the Clippers have the advantage at almost every single position, and they need to take advantage.
Bounce back performance: The Clippers have not yet lost back to back games this season, and shouldn’t start now. I expect a large chip on their shoulder after the disappointing game in Detroit, and Chris Paul in particular should be out for blood after an awful show on Friday night. The Clippers of yesteryear may have slumped after a bad loss, but the Clippers of today seem to have a lot more poise and fight in them than that, and I think they come out strong this afternoon.
Connections: Oddly enough, nobody on the Pacers has played on the Clippers, and vice versa. Jeff Teague played alongside Jamal Crawford on the Hawks from 2009-2011, back in the peak Joe Johnson era. Monta Ellis also served with Crawford in 2008 on the Warriors, well before the Splash Brothers. Finally, Ellis played with Raymond Felton on the 2014-15 Mavs.
Wake Forest Weekend: The Clippers will be playing against a second straight point guard from Wake Forest, taking on Jeff Teague two days after struggling against Ish Smith. Weirdly, both players came to Wake shortly after Chris Paul left—in effect, they were supposed to be his replacements. While neither of them came close to the brilliance that Paul showed in college, both Smith and Teague are successful NBA players (Teague was actually an All Star two seasons ago), and it’s crazy that Wake had all of these guys in succession. Hopefully the Clippers do a better job on Teague than they did against Smith on Friday.
Opposing Perspective: Check out the Pacers’ perspective over at Indy Cornrows, our wonderful fellow blog on SB Nation. They don’t have a preview yet, but one will most likely be up in the morning before the game.