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Clippers-Pacers Preview: Correcting Old Mistakes

The Clippers return home after a six-game roadie with mixed results. Have they learned to respect every opponent?

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture:

Did the Clippers learn their lesson? They just finished their six-game cross-country road trip 3-3, peaking with a 19-point statement win in Cleveland just two days after bottoming out in a double-overtime loss to a lowly Nets team sans Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez. The eastern-U.S. tour also included a disappointing stop in Indiana, where the Clippers fell by 21 to a Pacers’ team missing all-world wing Paul George. What does one make of those results? Doc Rivers’ charges lost three straight, all to inferior competition. They also smoked the Cavaliers and a resurgent Pelicans squad on back-to-back nights. Were they tired? Had they become too comfortable in their own greatness, like some have suggested? If they had, did the three-game skid shame them out of it? No lone regular season game can provide many definite answers, but with a chance for redemption against the Pacers in Paul George’s likely return, the Clippers can make a couple suggestions.

The Antagonist:

Paul George is scheduled to return after missing six of the Pacers’ past seven games with a bum ankle. In his absence, Indiana managed a 3-3 record that should look a little familiar. With George, the Pacers are 5-4. Small samples, sure, but those records jibe with this writer’s preseason estimation that this team is more solid than good, with too many odd-fitting pieces and a coach, Nate McMillan, that has been historically unable to lift his teams beyond the sum of their individual parts. Having said that, there’s danger here. Jeff Teague and Monta Ellis are smooth pick and roll operators, Glenn Robinson III is gaining in scoring confidence, and Myles Turner is a 6’11” spring with a jump shot. And lest we forget the lessons of the very recent past, if the Clippers’ collective concentration wanes, danger can come from anywhere.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of Key Metrics: The smallish Pacers struggle on the defensive glass, entering tonight 28th in defensive rebound rate. Doc’s Clippers don’t commit much to offensive rebounding, but among players averaging at least 30 minutes per game, DeAndre Jordan is 3rd in offensive rebounding rate. Watch for him to give Indiana fits.
  • The Schedule: Warriors. Warriors. Warriors. Warriors. Warriors. (Wednesday 12/7, 7:30 PM)
  • Road Worriers: The Pacers are 8-4 at home but just 1-6 on the road. Their +3.1 net rating sinks to an unsightly -13.9 away from Indiana. Blame rests almost solely with their defense. Leaving home, their offensive efficiency drops by less than 2 points, but their defense rates as nearly 16 points worse. They were torched for 131 by Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers in Portland on Friday.
  • Going the Distance: Indiana has played four overtime games and won three, with both marks tied with Oklahoma City for the league lead.
  • Miles Ahead: The under-appreciated wing scorer missed the last Pacers-Clippers contest but may return for this one alongside Paul George and Kevin Seraphin. Miles is Indiana’s fourth-leading scorer and Nate McMillans’ off-the-bench microwave. His absence put more pressure on offseason addition and low-post brute Al Jefferson, who has struggled to feast upon opposing benches as he appears to have done everything else.
  • Redick Returns: JJ Redick will start tonight after being forced to rest in Friday night’s game in New Orleans.
  • Warning — The Paul Pierce In Your Mirror Is Closer Than He Appears: The old wing has now played in three straight. After the team faced its first mini-crisis of the campaign, Doc Rivers decided to keep his comfort blanket handy.
  • For the Pacers’ point of view, check out Indy Cornrows.