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Preview: Clips head to Oracle to try and dethrone Warriors

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It’ll be a tall task, but Blake Griffin and the Clippers are out for some revenge.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture

While Clipper Nation has been enveloped by the incessant trade rumors involving Carmelo Anthony, you may have forgotten that there are still games to be played. It was great to see Blake Griffin make his long-awaited return the other night against the 76ers. Griffin logged 29 minutes and contributed 12 points, 11 boards and five assists while he was out there. He connected on only three of his 11 attempts from the floor, but he was understandably a tad rusty after missing so much time.

The result of the game itself, though, was incredibly disappointing. Sure, it was the second night of a back-to-back, but the Clippers dropped a very winnable game against a Philly team that was sans Joel Embiid. They followed up a highly impressive win in Atlanta with a sloppy overall effort the very next night, which effectively killed the good vibes that came from the upset victory over the Hawks.

Still, the Clips are going to have to do their best to tread water as long as Chris Paul remains sidelined. Griffin’s return will clearly help, but they have already faltered despite a few opportunities to gain some ground on Houston for the No. 3 seed. The Rockets are just 3-6 in their last nine games overall, but LAC hasn’t been able to make up much ground. They’re only three games back, but if the Rockets keep stumbling the Clippers are going to need to capitalize on it by winning games they should be winning.

The Enemy

All the Clippers have to do tonight is try and beat the Warriors at Oracle Arena without CP3. Easy enough, right?

Golden State has lost just seven times all season, while three of those came at home against the Spurs, Rockets and Grizzlies. The first meeting between these clubs was one of the most-anticipated games of the year. The Clippers were flying high at 16-6, but promptly got housed by a Warriors team that was clearly more prepared.

The Clips had their full complement of players that night, were playing at home, and were still completely overmatched. Things aren’t looking too rosy for LAC on the road for this showdown tonight, but you never know with the NBA. Some teams have a way of rising up when they’re shorthanded, as we’ve seen plenty of times in recent memory with the Clippers.

Obviously, everything GSW does starts with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have each had to sacrifice some shots in order to seamlessly transition KD into the fold, but one would imagine each of them is happy to do so if it means accommodating a player like Durant. Except Draymond. He’s probably pissed about everything, all the time.

The MVP buzz is largely surrounding Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but Durant may actually be enjoying his best overall season as a pro. The Slim Reaper is averaging 26.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists and nearly two blocks per game in his first season in the Bay. He is also connecting on an absurd 54 percent of his shots, which would be a career-high by a wide margin if he were able to keep it going all year long.

Durant’s obviously elite offensively, but his defense has also been crucial to Golden State’s attack. KD often assumes the position as a rim-protecting center, especially when the Dubs opt to go small with Andre Iguodala taking Durant’s typical small forward spot. He clearly has plenty of length to effectively play that role, and he should be a lock for one of the All-Defense teams once the season wraps up.

Curry’s stats aren’t nearly as eye-popping as they were last season, but they really aren’t far off from his first MVP campaign back in 2014-15. The two-time defending MVP is averaging 24.6 points, 6.2 assists and 4.2 boards on 40.4 percent shooting from three-point range. While 40.4 is still an excellent percentage, it would actually be the worst mark of his career to this point.

The Clippers can’t play afraid

The last time these two teams met back in December, the Clippers started the game looking nervous. LAC turned the ball over four times in the first three minutes of the game and nine times in the first quarter alone. They also bricked 10 of their first 12 shots, which didn’t help. The steady stream of turnovers allowed the Warriors to get out and run in the open floor constantly, which we know is deadly. Griffin was particularly miserable in that game, as he shot just 5-for-20 from the field and coughed the ball up seven times.

They were clearly playing with the pressure of a team with monumental expectations given the red-hot start to the season, but the narrative has changed considerably since then. They cowered in the face of those expectations that night, but tonight nobody expects them to go into Oracle and come out with a W.

They have enough built-in excuses, but there is no real pressure on them in this game. It’s a random regular season game in January, anyway. The Warriors will be heavy favorites, as they should be. If the Clippers can somehow keep the thing relatively close and play the game at their own preferred tempo, they can surprise some people.

This Warriors team just lost the other night at the hands of a 16-win Miami team, so it’s not like they are invincible, either. The Clips are better than that Heat team even without Chris Paul. It’ll take a huge effort to get a win in this spot, but this team has shown enough mettle in the past to where we know it can be done.

Can they stop Golden State?

The most popular defensive strategy when it comes to trying to slow down Golden State is to just hope they miss shots they normally wouldn’t. The Cavaliers gave them some problems in the Finals, of course, but luck can be a powerful ally when going up against a team with such insane amounts of firepower. Sometimes you get lucky and they miss, sometimes you don’t and they don’t.

Rotations have to be crisp and defenders need to be aware of their surroundings at all times considering how maniacally the Warriors set screens all over the floor. One missed rotation or a lazy attempt at getting through a screen can lead to instant death by way of a wide-open three-pointer for one of Golden State’s shooters.

Luc Mbah a Moute figures to be tasked with guarding Durant after doing an admirable job against him in the first meeting. KD mustered just 16 points that night on brutal 5-for-17 shooting, including 1-for-5 from three-point range. Curry was also rather dreadful, as he missed all eight of his three-point tries.

The fact that the Clips still got wasted in that game despite Durant and Curry combining for one triple isn’t the most encouraging sign, but forcing the Warriors’ secondary players to beat you is probably the best way to approach this team defensively. If Green, Iguodala and the rest of them are making their shots, there isn’t much else you can do.

The fancy table

Game day song of choice

Normally with the GDSoC we pay homage to the home of the opponent by choosing a band or artist that hails from that part of the world. But we’re supposed to hate the Warriors and Bay Area teams (except the Raiders...for now) around these parts, so screw that trash. Let’s get some LA jams in here.

Young the Giant are from Irvine, which is close enough!

M83 was started by a guy from France, but Wikipedia says they’re based in Los Angeles. I have no idea why Anthony Gonzalez is dressed as Teen Wolf here, but we’ll go with it.

Ice Cube is Los Angeles’ own, and it’ll be a good day if the Clips can pull this thing out tonight. If you catch my drift...

This is a showcase game you can find on ABC, or you can hang out with Ralph and Mike on Prime Ticket. The game tips at 5:30 Pacific from Oakland.