The Big Picture
The Clippers got the five-game road trip off to a rough start by getting run off the floor on Saturday night in Denver. The Clips were able to pick up a couple of impressive wins without both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul fairly recently, but it’s no secret that this is not even close to a playoff caliber team without those guys. There is no shame in that, obviously. Missing two All-NBA caliber players is a big deal for any team.
Blake Griffin was originally listed as “out” for tonight’s game before a quick adjustment upgraded him to “doubtful.” He is expected to make his return some time during this road trip, but it would be a surprise if that return came this evening in Atlanta.
The Jazz have pulled into a tie with the Clips for the No. 4 seed in the West, and Utah is a team that has been no stranger to injury concerns this season. Even with Blake’s return imminent, L.A. is going to have a tough time fending Utah off for a top-four seed without CP3 for several more weeks.
Catching Houston for the hugely important No. 3 spot isn’t impossible, but the main focus for LAC right now should be trying to get home court in round one. Meeting Golden State in the second round is far from ideal, of course, and it’s a shame such a promising Clippers season has come to this.
Still, as we saw just last summer, all bets are off once the playoffs rolls around. If the Clippers can make it to April with their key cogs all healthy at once they will be an incredibly tough out. Let’s just hope for health.
As for tonight, the shorthanded Clippers will make their second stop of the road trip in Atlanta to take on the Hawks. Since making the curious decision to essentially hand sharpshooter Kyle Korver to the best team in their own conference for very little, the Hawks have been the hottest team in the East.
Atlanta has won 10 of its last 12 games overall to climb into first place in the Southeast Division and fourth in the conference behind Cleveland, Toronto and Boston. The Hawks’ entire season has been one of runs to this point. They got off to a blistering 9-2 start before hitting the skids in a big way. They’d go on to lose 10 of their next 11 outings and briefly dropped under .500 before their current run put them back on track.
There were several rumors indicating that Paul Millsap was going to be on his way out of town next, but the Hawks’ recent good run of form apparently convinced them to try and ride it out with him. He is slated to hit the free agent market this summer, so Atlanta will apparently attempt to make a run this season in order to try and convince him to re-sign in July.
The Hawks underwent a few changes during the offseason. Out went both Jeff Teague and Al Horford and in came Dwight Howard. Dennis Schroder was promoted to be the Hawks’ starting point guard, and he has upped his level of play since a mediocre start to the year.
They have primarily done it with defense. ATL ranks fourth in the league in defensive rating coming into this game, and replacing Horford with Howard has given them a major boost in the rim protection and rebounding departments. They still aren’t an elite glass-eating team by any means, but they have improved from 28th in rebound rate last season to 15th in 2016-17.
The Key Matchup
Dwight Howard vs. DeAndre Jordan
These two are certainly no strangers to one another. Following a few intense clashes while Howard was with the Rockets, Jordan will now try and deal with Dwight (and Dwight’s farts) in a Hawks uniform.
Despite Jordan’s defensive abilities, it’s a matchup Howard has enjoyed throughout his career. In 18 career regular season head-to-head meetings, Dwight has averaged 20.9 points and better than 13 rebounds per game.
The Clippers need to find every edge they possibly can without CP3 and Griffin, and winning the rebounding battle could prove crucial. L.A. was outrebounded by both Minnesota and Denver in each of their last two games. In the recent wins over the Suns and Grizzlies they were able to notch without either Paul or Griffin, the Clips had an edge on the glass.
Jordan will obviously have to spearhead the effort and keep Howard at bay, particularly on the offensive boards. The Hawks have been opportunistic in that area all year long, and rank sixth in the league in second chance points per game (14.0). Howard is third among individual players at 4.5 second chance points per game. DeAndre, meanwhile, ranks eighth (3.4), while the Clips as a team are just 24th.
Doc Rivers decided to bring Raymond Felton off the bench in favor of Marreese Speights in the last game against Denver in an apparent attempt to beef up the front line. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Mo Buckets were in the starting five again tonight to try and combat the Howard-Millsap front line.
The Fancy Table
Game Day Song of Choice
Atlanta is known for its rap scene, so that’s where we’ll go with today’s GDSoC. ATL native Killer Mike started to gain mainstream success for his work with OutKast before joining up with El-P to form Run The Jewels in 2013.
Here’s a new and good song from Run The Jewels:
The Hawks and Clips will get it going from Philips Arena at 4:30pm PT.