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Clippers-Warriors Preview: Cloudy With a Chance of Three-Balls

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The midseason gets murkier with the roaring Warriors in town.

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

The Big Picture:

...is muddled. DeAndre Jordan is a first-time All-Star. That’s good! The Clippers’ defense has slipped to 11th. That’s bad. Blake Griffin is back and DIMING. That’s good! The Clippers have a rematch against the team that vaporized them Saturday. That’s bad. Carmelo Anthony might be coming. That’s, er -- let’s leave that for other columns.

The Clippers are one-for their last 10 against Golden State, which is a period that coincides with the Warriors becoming THE WARRIORS. The losses are getting worse, too, with the last three coming by 16, 17, and the ghastly 46 from the weekend. It’s still the regular season, so the results don’t have to be logical or informative. The Clippers CAN win. But first they can start by just being competitive.

The Antagonist:

If there was one hope for Warriors-haters after their triumphant summer signing period, it was the not-unreasonable belief that fitting a scoring champion into a lineup with another scoring champion would lead to some chafing. That hope is fading. The offense looks sufficiently lubricated, and the Golden State machine is running more smoothly with every passing game.

Stephen Curry had been looking mortal, at least enough that it was an open question whether he was playing like the West’s third-best guard, but reminded all that he’s the greatest shooter of the basketball in the known universe, smiting the Clippers with 43 points and nine threes. Kevin Durant doesn’t have four arms like Vishnu, he just blocks shots like it. Draymond Green keeps Draymonding, which includes passing, defending, and sneering.

No team is perfect for 82 games, and given the toll of last year’s wins-record pursuit, these Warriors won’t try to be. An opponent can catch them napping. But the Clippers are the opponent tonight, and the game is a national one. Expect the Warriors to be wide awake.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of Key Metrics: Despite their top ranking in both offensive AND defensive efficiency, the Warriors are not flawless. Their weaknesses are well known, having been very publicly exposed by the Cleveland Cavaliers last June. (Do I get credit for not mentioning that they blew a 3-1 lead? Aw nuts, I just did...) The Warriors turn it over (21st in turnover rate) and can be harassed on the boards (18th in defensive rebounding rate). Unfortunately, the Clippers aren’t designed to exploit either. They sit below the NBA average in both forced turnover percentage and offensive rebounding rate.
  • The Schedule: The Clippers get two full days off before kicking off a five-game Grammy trip that is more brief than usual.
  • Travel or Travail: Both teams will be playing the tired end of a back-to-back, but the Clippers won’t even get the benefit of playing without travel, having flown in from Phoenix overnight.
  • No CP, no D: The Clippers’ play has dropped in quality without Chris Paul, because, duh, teams get worse when they lose a star player. But it hasn’t been the offense -- they’ve basically kept that up. It’s the defense that’s cratered. And the culprit, a generous interior defense, has been easy to spot. Whether it’s a hemorrhage at the point of attack or an ulcer in the middle, the Clippers are bleeding points in the paint. The Warriors gouged them for 64 inside on Saturday. Any push for a Clipper victory will begin there.
  • Injury to Insult: Near-All-Star Zaza Pachulia will miss at least the next week with a strained rotator cuff. Reserve forward David West remains out with a broken thumb, removing another pillar from the creaky Golden State frontcourt. Also of note, Shaun Livingston missed last night’s tip against Charlotte with a back injury.
  • For the Warriors’ point of view, head over to Golden State of Mind.