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Clippers-Hornets Preview: Clippers Try to Keep the Good Times Rolling

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The Clippers, despite a bit of a downer with Austin Rivers’ Achilles injury, are suddenly in a good position. The team is playing well, the Western Conference is not super strong, and Blake Griffin is back. At home, they must defeat a mediocre Hornets team to keep the optimism going.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Basic Information:

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

When: 4:00 PM Pacific Time

How to Watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570 Radio

Projected Starting Lineups:

Hornets: Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Dwight Howard

Clippers: Milos Teodosic, CJ Williams, Wes, Johnson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan

Injuries:

Hornets: Cody Zeller Out (torn meniscus)

Clippers: Pat Beverley Out (knee), Danilo Gallinari Out (glute), Austin Rivers Questionable (Achilles)

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are, somehow, just one loss back from the 8th seed Pelicans, and a mere three behind the 5th seed. Blake Griffin has returned, and looked pretty healthy, albeit rusty. Lou Williams is a machine scoring the basketball. DeAndre Jordan, despite some defensive inconsistencies, is leading the league in rebounding, and is once again one of the most efficient offensive players in basketball. The young guys, like Jawun Evans, CJ Williams, and Jamil Wilson, all look like actual NBA players. While Austin Rivers is day-to-day with an Achilles injury (which I think, and hope, the Clippers will take great caution in dealing with), the rest of the team is as healthy as it’s been in months. If anything, there is now a minutes crunch, with several players deserving of playing time, and not enough minutes to go around for all of them. That’s a good problem to have, and certainly one the Clippers haven’t had in years. Yes, it will still be tough for them to make the playoffs. And yes, there are some doubts that the playoffs aren’t even ideal for this team, which could use more lottery-level young talent. But this team is fun, it plays hard, and as long as it can stay healthy, it should be pretty good. Team optimism is in full control right now.

The Antagonist:

The Hornets are not only one of the most disappointing teams in the league, they also have one of the saddest overall rosters. There is Nic Batum, who is still a solid player, but who never made the leap to stardom that he seemed destined for earlier in his career, and whose shooting has completely collapsed in Charlotte. Then you see Michael Carter-Williams, the Rookie of the Year for the 2013 draft class, who is currently shooting 25.5% from the field in almost 400 minutes this season, and who has Youtube videos chronicling all his missed layups. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist still can’t shoot, and his offensive usefulness has diminished in recent seasons as his trips to the free throw line have declined. He’s not a bad player, but considering Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard were picked shortly after him… it’s just a disappointing result. Keeping the Hornets even semi-respectable is Kemba Walker, the explosive scoring guard who just doesn’t have enough help. His shooting numbers don’t look great, but that’s because he’s often the lone legitimate shot creator on the floor for the Hornets, and Marvin Williams is the only other shooter. The Hornets are tied for 11th in the East with a 13-22 record, though they did just beat the Warriors, which is truly proof that anything can happen in the NBA.

Notes:

· Hornets Horrible on Road: The Hornets have a respectable 10-10 record at home. On the road, however, they are 3-12, the 4th worst mark in the NBA. As this is a home game for the Clippers, this is a contest they really ought to win.

· Matchup to Watch: DJ against Dwight Howard is always interesting. Howard was the best center in the NBA when DJ came into the league, and many Clippers’ fans wanted Jordan to model his game around Howard’s. He never developed the post game that Dwight had (and still has, to some extent), but at this point he has a big athleticism advantage. One way the Hornets could hang around is by collecting offensive rebounds, and DJ needs to do a good job in keeping Dwight at bay.

· Jamil Wilson: After starting for much of the time Blake and Gallinari were absent, Wilson was stuck on the bench Friday night. This was especially odd considering that by being with the team, the Clippers used another day of eligibility on his two-way deal. Either the Clippers don’t think they will need him much for the rest of the season, or they have a plan to bring him onboard full time. If he’s back with the team against the Hornets, it will be curious to see if Doc plays him or not. Wes Johnson was thoroughly unimpressive in his first game back, and Jamil’s shooting is so valuable it seems like a mistake to not play him, especially since he and Dekker played well in their limited minutes together. Wes is the vet who knows the system, and he has a guaranteed deal, but Wilson has probably earned minutes over him by this point.

· Watching Milos and Blake’s Minutes: Milos played a season (and therefore NBA career) high 33 minutes on Friday, which would seem to indicate that his minutes restriction is over. Similarly, Doc mentioned a desire to keep Blake’s minutes low, yet he played 32 as well. I think Milos has been back long enough to deserve 30+ minutes consistently, but despite Blake’s solid performance on Friday, I think a bit more caution should be used regarding his playing time. This would also be a chance to give Wilson more minutes at power forward.

· Who Starts if Austin Sits: I’d be pretty surprised if Austin played, to be honest. His MRI may have come back negative, but Achilles injuries are no joke, and playing on one with just a day’s rest strikes me as unwise. Doc likes keeping the bench unit intact, so instead of Lou starting, I would guess that CJ Williams moves down to shooting guard, with Wes Johnson replacing him at small forward. This would create a relatively punchless starting five, however, so maybe Doc goes super small with Jawun Evans instead. Austin being absent should give Evans more minutes, but might also serve as an opportunity for Sindarius Thornwell to get another shot in the rotation. Could be interesting.

The game thread will be up, as always, right before the start of the game. Check out At the Hive, the great Hornets blog, for a perspective on their team. Go Clippers!